Propagating Civic Education Practice in Illinois

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

I’m delighted to share some of the results from the first full year of our civics course implementation efforts. In 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed bi-partisan legislation requiring high school students to complete a semester-long civics course effective with the Class of 2020. The McCormick Foundation, in partnership with other local funders, committed more than $1 million annually to support statewide implementation efforts in the form of intensive teacher professional development opportunities paired with related curriculum and resources.

We have also partnered with the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), based at Tufts University, to evaluate our implementation efforts. By utilizing real-time evaluation data, we have made timely adjustments and adaptations to our programming, and also been able to communicate our progress to key stakeholders, policymakers included.

Through surveys of our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors, a broader statewide teacher survey, and interviews with partners and advocates, CIRCLE compiled a Year One report on our progress.

Our implementation model is articulated in more detail here, but CIRCLE elegantly summarizes it as follows:

By seeding champions, demonstrating use, and fertilizing judiciously with training, support, resources, and connections, the Illinois civic education efforts seeks policy implementation through a cultural shift in practice germinating from the ground up (see figure 1).

Interest in the new course requirement varies by audience, as mentors and teachers have had the most success in reaching out to social studies coordinators and colleagues in their own buildings, with some traction among principals, other teachers in the region, and superintendents. Local leaders and parents present growth opportunities for future outreach.

CIRCLE did find evidence of civics-oriented relationships forming at all levels as social studies teachers leverage opportunities previously afforded to only math and English Language Arts peers.

The extent to which schools have implemented the civics course requirement varies by practice. Controversial issues discussions are most implemented, and service-learning the least, yet the latter practice is at least two-thirds partially or fully implemented (67% combined; see figure 3).

Yet service-learning is listed as the most challenging practice to implement, far outpacing outreach to school leadership, alignment with the Danielson Framework, and using simulations of democratic processes (see figure 4).

These challenges considered, the #CivicsIsBack Campaign has room for growth as we are well into Year Two and begin planning for 2018-2019. This past summer, we offered eleven regional workshops, with new sites in Bloomington and Rockford, and Lead Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels is on staff full-time during the current school year to deliver customized professional development sessions for regional offices of education, districts, and even individual schools. Mary Ellen and our teacher mentors are designing standards- and course-aligned lesson plans for immediate classroom use, and in partnership with Illinois State University, our mentors have designed and are currently teaching a free online tutorial on the course requirement and embedded practices.

Stay tuned for further reflections on our Year Two programming, and please contact us with feedback on how we can better meet your course implementation needs.

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