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Showing posts from 2018

Do You Have 19 for 19?

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
While the last remaining days of 2018 are slipping away and many of us are looking forward to a well-deserved holiday break — the end of the year also marks a time of new beginnings. The new year brings with it a fresh start and resolutions for improvement both in and out of the classroom.


One of my favorite non-civics-related podcasts is “Happier”, hosted by bestselling author Gretchen Rubin and her sister, T.V. writer Elizabeth Craft. I find the podcast gives me practical tips to embrace habits that help me be, well, “happier” in both work and play. On their most recent podcast, they reflected on their resolutions for 2018 and started creating their “19 for 19” — a list of 19 items they would like to complete upcoming year. As you contemplate the new year, what is on your list? Are there new strategies related to the proven practices of civic education you would like to try? Is there a new lesson plan you would like to explore? How…

Teach like our democracy depends on it — because it does: #NCSS18 recap

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
Earlier this fall, I was part of a conference put on by Dr. Diana Hess, the Dean of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The conference t-shirts read, “Teach like our democracy depends on it — because it does.” The recent 98th Annual National Council for the Social Studies conference held in Chicago highlighted this message throughout.

IllinoisCivics.org and the Department of Social Science and Civic Engagement at Chicago Public Schools hosted a special strand of Illinois programming around “Inquiry as Engagement: Connecting Across Differences” had the message, <strong>“Engage students like our democracy depends on it — because it does.”</strong> Session attendees learned how deliberation, student voice, and informed action can be leveraged to connect classrooms across cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic differences in this diverse state to promote culturally sustainable teaching.

The day concluded with the firs…

Scholastic Journalism Endangered in Chicago and Other Underresourced Districts

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
On November 1-4, 2018, the Journalism Education Association hosted its semiannual convention in Chicago. More than 6,000 student journalists and their advisers attended, including a cohort of Chicago Public Schools students and teachers sponsored by the Chicago Scholastic Press Association, an affiliate of Roosevelt University and longtime McCormick Foundation grantee. Sessions were standing room only and enlivened by enthusiastic student journalists. However, the lack of racial diversity among conference attendees was stunning, especially in a city where students of color compose 90% of CPS’ enrollment, not to mention a majority of K-12 students statewide.

Scholastic journalism is vital to the civic mission of our schools and serves as an important pipeline into the journalism profession, where people of color are also vastly underrepresented. The 2011 Scholastic Journalism Census produced by the Center for Scholastic Journalism at…

Celebrating Novinquiry with #sschat

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
Every Monday from 6-7 p.m., social studies teachers from across the nation gather on Twitter to deliberate essential questions related to their craft on #sschat. The #sschat facilitators have declared this month “Novinquiry” as all discussions are designed to support student centered inquiry in the classroom.

IllinoisCivics.org joined Facing History and Ourselves and Chicago Public Schools Social Science and Civic Engagement Department to kick off Novinquiry hosting a chat on the topic of “Inquiry as Engagement: Connecting Across Differences” The seven questions that scaffolded the discussion were:
What does a great current and controversial issue discussion that engages students across differences look like, feel like and sound like?What are your “go to” resources for inquiry that prepares students for these conversations? What do we gain from difference in the classroom? What do we lose without it? What would you say to a teacher that …

Review: Why Learn History (When It's Already on Your Phone)

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
For the last four years, the McCormick Foundation has been privileged to partner with Sam Wineburg and his colleagues at the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) to develop “critical online literacy” assessments. An offshoot of the category-leading work SHEG has done with “Reading Like a Historian” and its related assessments, the critical online literacy research attracted significant national attention in the aftermath of the 2016 Election and rise of the now ubiquitous term “fake news.”

Wineburg recounts this work within a larger, book-length narrative about the current challenges of teaching history titled Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) [University of Chicago, 2018]. He begins by documenting century-long concerns about the lack of historical knowledge among our youth and the population as a whole. In modern times, the sporadic National Assessment of Education Progress in History reveals low levels of hist…

Civic Renewal Transcends Two Parties, Takes Root in Local Communities

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
At the conclusion of the most divisive midterm election in memory, “Blue America” is riding a state of ballot-driven euphoria, while “Red America” licks its wounds and prepares for its next battle in two years. Election 2018, like those of the previous quarter century, falls into the fractured paradigm framed by Mark Gerzon in his 2016 book The Reunited States of America, where “liberals are right, and if elected, will strengthen America.” The 1994, 2000, 2004, 2010, 2014, and 2016 elections reversed this tired narrative, substituting “conservative” for “liberal.”

These winner-solves-all mantras have instead produced policy paralysis and political polarization at levels unseen since the Civil War. For 2018 to represent a departure, Tuesday’s victors and all citizens must instead embrace the precept that “Americans can work together with people different than (them)selves to find common ground that can strengthen the country we all l…

Empowering Students to Take a Stand at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

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by Amy Corey, Grayslake Middle School, Grayslake, Illinois, and Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center Educator Advisory Committee Member
On September 27, 2018, I had the privilege and opportunity to attend a workshop at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie entitled “Inquiry as Engagement: Empowering Students to Take a Stand,” which was facilitated by Mary Ellen Daneels of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. This workshop was great for many reasons, from the topic and presentations being interesting, to finally having some ideas on how to incorporate the new Illinois Civics standards into my teaching, it was three of the best hours of PD I have had in a while!

The new Civics standards that the state of Illinois has begun to mandate have felt rather overwhelming when teaching 8th grade due to them being written in such an open manner without a lot of specific focus in many cases. Having that much leeway is the same as having too many good food options on a restaurant m…

Improving School Climate to Support Student Success

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by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager
The Learning Policy Institute recently published a research brief in September 2018, titled “Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success,” by Linda Darling-Hammond and Channa M. Cook-Harvey. As a key element of Democracy Schools is “school climate,” I was excited to read more about their findings and connect their ideas to strengthening civic learning in schools.

The research brief examines, “how schools can use effective, research-based practices to create settings in which students’ healthy growth and development are central to the design of classrooms and the school as a whole.” The report explores findings related to the science of learning and development, school practices that should come from this science, and policy strategies that can support this work on a wider scale.

Related to the science of learning and development, a key finding from the report that connects to our work in civic learning…

How Should We Live Together?

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
As we return to the classroom this week, once again we will create a safe civic space to help students process a national tragedy. As I struggled to articulate my thoughts and role in responding, a friend eloquently posted, “My heart breaks for the families of the 11 killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue yesterday. It is especially cruel that these people were killed in the name of hate and in a place that should be sacred. I will continue to work to erase hate and promote understanding”

Another friend replied with a charge for all of us in the classroom, “As we search for ways to react meaningfully, Social Studies educators have a special opportunity. Our classrooms are the homes for students to learn empathy, respect, [and] how to listen to others with understanding.”

The new Illinois social science standards and high school civics requirement promote active student inquiry into the most essential question facing our communities — How s…

Conceal and Carry in Schools? An Opportunity for Service Learning

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
One of my most fundamental responsibilities as a teacher is to keep my students safe. This blog has, on numerous occasions, discussed how to create a classroom that is safe, equitable, and inclusive for all learners. We have also processed how to create safe civic spaces to help students process current events in troubling times. We have yet to address how to keep our students safe from school violence?

Barbara Laimins, the #CivicsIsBack Mentor Liaison, recently attended a local school board meeting where the membership was deliberating whether they would endorse a resolution being presented at the upcoming IASB Joint Annual Conference to allow individual districts to choose whether they want to arm faculty members as part of a student safety and protection plan.

The exact language of the Student Safety and Protection Resolution from Mercer County CUSD 404 that will be voted on at the upcoming conference, November 16-18, 2018, is as foll…

Strategies to Support Struggling Readers in Civic Inquiry

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

In recent blog posts, Shawn highlighted compelling data analyzing the impact the #CivicsIsBack initiative has had on bridging the civic empowerment gap in the state of Illinois. While the results are encouraging, there are still important questions to tackle in order to meet the need of ALL learners in the civic classroom. One of these questions is, What are some strategies or resources that can be used to support students of varying reading levels in conducting research and building background knowledge to participate in civic inquiry?

In an article documenting a study of the literacy challenges faced by students and teachers in an advanced, project-based version of the US Government and Politics course, Dr. Walter Parker and Dr. Shelia Valencia from the University of Washington stated that:

Students in this study, when working with course texts, encountered densely constructed textbooks, challenging specialized vocabulary, and lack of tea…

School Leaders Say Civic Learning Marginalized by Test Pressures in Other Subjects

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
In June, I recapped an administrator academy that Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels and I delivered for Springfield (IL) Public Schools. The academy was designed to build greater support for school-based civic learning among administrators, familiarizing them with new state policies impacting civics, but also making the empirical case for doubling down on civic learning.

Education Week has increased its coverage of civic learning in the wake of the 2016 Election and Parkland tragedy earlier this year. This spring and summer, respectively, they conducted and reported on a national survey of school leaders’ views on civic education (n=524). More than half of school leaders (52%) said that their schools provide “too little” civic education. The remaining 48% said there was just the right amount (one administrator said there was “too much”).

These leaders are seemingly well-positioned to support expanded civic learning opportunit…

Closing the Civic Empowerment Gap through the #CivicsIsBack Campaign

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
In August, we published a three-part series analyzing year two evaluation data of Illinois’ statewide civics course implementation plan provided by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). The first piece provided a broad overview of the findings, and the second did a deep dive on the results of our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentor program.

The concluding post further analyzed the student outcomes data derived from more than 3,000 Illinois high school students that completed surveys during the 2018-2019 school year measuring their exposure to proven civic learning practices and a stand-alone civics course, along with related civic dispositions and behaviors.

These students attended schools affiliated with teacher mentors and span from the suburbs of Chicago and St. Louis to rural communities throughout Central and Southern Illinois. And they are broadly representative of the state’s student pop…

Teaching Resources to Understand the Kavanaugh Hearings

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
In a previous blog post, I shared resources to understand the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process and earlier this week, Shawn shared why the Kavanaugh hearing is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, explaining that, “The midterm elections are an important backdrop to the Kavanaugh confirmation process, as Democrats have an outside chance of taking control of the Senate, and with it vetting future presidential nominees. Should Kavanaugh not be confirmed and the Senate falls to Democrats, the clock is running out on Republicans to appoint a like-minded conservative.”

Beyond understanding the importance of the 2018 midterm elections and the system of checks and balances that scaffold the appointment process of federal judges, the Kavanaugh hearings have provided classrooms an opportunity to engage in current and controversial issue discussions related to power, justice and equity.

Navigating these quickly changing events can be ch…

The Kavanaugh Nomination: A Pivotal Moment in Our Nation's Political Life

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
A month ago, my colleague Mary Ellen Daneels previewed the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation process for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, sharing a plethora of classroom resources ripe for immediate use. Little did we know of the dramatics that would follow.

Kavanaugh was a fairly conventional nominee for a Republican President that vowed to select individuals vetted by the conservative Federalist Society. He did have a significant paper trail given his previous service as a lawyer in the Bush Administration, but twelve years on the federal bench and an Ivy League education placed him on par with his presumptive peers on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

However, history suggests that some of the most contentious nominations center on the ideological positioning of the Justice being replaced in relation to the nominee. In this case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on an otherwise evenly divided Court, decided to retire in June, o…

Face and Embrace Conference

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by Sonia Mathew, Civic Learning Manager
On August 15th and 16th, nearly 300 teachers came together for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), “Face and Embrace: Waking up to Racial Equity in Education” conference at North Grand High School, sponsored by the CPS Social Science and Civic Engagement Department.

Guiding principles for this conference included the opportunity to:
Reflect on our own awareness and relationship to raceBuild knowledge, skills, and convictionEngage in building equity to make strategic and informed decisions Throughout the two-day conference participants, speakers, and presenters worked to answer these guiding questions:



Presenters created sessions that connected to the essential questions, which provided a great framing for attendees as well as questions for educators to reflect on their practice as it relates to building racial equity in education.

I presented a session on Racial Equity in Democracy Schools, where teachers had the opportunity to analyze the…

Confronting Civic Inequities

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
In his most recent blog post, Shawn Healy illustrated how APGOV scores in Illinois raise important questions about “deep inequities along racial and ethnic lines.” This data is not an isolated incident. The evidence of inequity and a civic empowerment gap has been well documented by researchers and has been referenced in previous blog posts. While measurements documenting the impact of the new Illinois civics requirement are encouraging, there is work still to be done in the area of equity. Mandating an equal opportunity for students to have civic instruction is a start but it does not guarantee equity. I do not have all of the answers concerning this important issue, but I am willing to engage in the conversation and collaborate with you to affect change.


I recently had the opportunity to “start the conversation” at a conference hosted by Dr. Diana Hess at the University of Wisconsin- Madison that engaged teachers who used the Legis…

Civic Opportunity and Achievement Gap Mar APGOV Test Results in Illinois

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
The Advanced Placement Test for U.S. Government and Politics (APGOV) is among the most popular in Illinois, ranking behind only English, Calculus, U.S. History, and Psychology among exams taken by Illinois students in 2017. For many students, APGOV is their seminal civics course, taught by the most esteemed member of the social studies department.

Based on my analysis of 2017 score distributions, more than half of APGOV test takers in Illinois (54.0%) earned a score of 3 or higher, qualifying many for college credit and/ or preferable registration status. But beneath these impressive numbers are deep inequities along racial and ethnic lines.

In Table 1 below, I juxtaposed the racial/ ethnic breakdown of APGOV test takers with the composition of the student body in Illinois schools as a whole. White and Asian students are disproportionately more likely to take the APGOV test than their Black and Hispanic peers. Black students are u…

SCOTUS Takes Center Stage

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor
This week, the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be the 114th justice to serve on the United States Supreme Court will be front and center in many #CivicsIsBack classrooms. Nina Totenberg from National Public Radio states that abortion, gun rights, presidential power and campaign finance reform are likely to be current and controversial issues addressed in the hearings.

It is the perfect opportunity to address essential questions such as:
How should the government balance individual rights with the common good?Are the branches balanced?What responsibilities do people in charge have to others?Who has the power and why?What should be the role of the judicial branch?How should the courts interpret the law?Does the structure of the federal court system allow it to administer justice effectively?To what extent has the judiciary protected the rights of privacy, security, and personal freedom? To help #CivicsIsBack classrooms expl…