#CivicsIsBack in School!

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Lead Teacher Mentor

Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin has declared that “September is the new January,” signaling that for many of us, the new school year marks new beginnings and an opportunity to put those summer resolutions into practice.

As Shawn has highlighted in his recent blog posts, the #CivicsIsBack campaign is designed to support teachers, schools, and districts throughout Illinois in implementing the new high school civics course requirement and related, revised K-12 social studies standards. Leading the way in this endeavor are regional mentors seeded throughout the state of Illinois to support teachers in their areas with resources to enhance classroom practice. You can contact your regional mentor through the illinoiscivics.org website or at a regional workshop in your area.

As you prepare to return to the classroom, here are some of our favorite resources at #CivicsIsBack to start the school year.
  • Engage student voice in setting classroom rules and procedures. If students help create the rules of engagement, they have responsibility to help uphold those protocols. Facing History and Ourselves has a wonderful Class Contracting protocol to this end.
  • Teaching Tolerance also has resources around establishing civil discourse in the classroom.
  • Give this quick seven minute podcast episode about “Lessons in Personhood: How to Truly Lead Your Classroom” on the way to your first day of class to be inspired from Jennifer Gonzalez from Cult of Pedagogy.
  • Are you looking for ice breakers to get to know your students? Here are some “Ice Breakers that Rock” from Cult of Pedagogy.
  • Would you like to learn a bit more about the implicit biases you and your students bring into the classroom. Project Implicit from Harvard University has an assessment to promote awareness. Take it yourself to reflect on your own habits of mind, and then consider sharing the assessment with your students.
  • Looking for a Monday morning lesson plans that embraces the proven practices of civic education? We have you covered! More lessons will be added soon!
Do you have any resources to help teachers start the school year? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare students for college, career and civic life.

Students in Civics Courses Building Skills, Becoming More Involved in Their Communities

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

This post represents the third and final analysis of year two evaluation data provided by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) on our #CivicsIsBack Campaign in Illinois to support implementation of the new high school civics course and K-12 social studies standards. 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. This concluding post will further analyze the student outcomes data touched upon in the preliminary piece.

More than 3,000 Illinois high school students 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. They 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 population, skewing slightly more white (54% white, 24% Latino, 21% Black, 11% multiracial, 3% Asian, and 2% American Indian/ Alaskan Native).

More than three-quarters of survey participants reported taking a social studies course “…that was completely about how the government works and (their) role in participating in public decisions and discussions.” These students were significantly more likely to report discussing current events and controversial issues, including issues they care about personally, and also to consider multiple viewpoints with respect to these issues (see graph below).


Students in civics courses also reported significantly more exposure to simulations (65% to 46%), greater participation in a class project to improve their school or community (66% to 52%), and exposure to instruction on government institutions (95% to 82%) and how public decisions are made with respect to these structures (92% to 76%).

Civics course participants also demonstrated strong information literacy skills, proving more able to determine the trustworthiness of a news source (92% to 88%), to identify political bias in online information (89% to 81%), and to create or share something online related to a social issue (48% to 36%).

Students in civics classes exhibited stronger civic values, including a responsibility to be concerned about state and local issues, to believe that they can make a difference in their communities, and to exhibit trust in fellow community members (see graph below).


Not only did students in civics courses feel more knowledgeable about and skillful in participating in politics (62% to 46%), but they are much more likely to report engagement in a range of civic behaviors:
  • Helping to make their city or town a better place for people to live (38% vs. 27%).
  • Helping out at their place of worship (37% vs. 30%).
  • Helping a neighbor (54% vs. 44%).
  • Helping out at their school (62% vs. 54%).
  • Volunteering their time (at a hospital, day care, etc.; 37% vs. 30%).
  • Discussing politics or public issues online (36% vs. 30%).
  • Serving as a leader in a group or organization (50% vs. 40%).
  • Participating in student government (22% vs. 15%).
  • Working to solve problems in their school or community (38% vs. 30%).
These results, and a final data point demonstrating that students in civics courses were more likely to cooperate with others to solve a community problem (66% to 55%), are heartening given earlier findings that young Illinoisans ranked in the bottom ten among fifty states and the District of Columbia on measures of social capital like exchanging favors with neighbors and working with them to solve community problems. It affirms our fundamental belief that the long-term solution to Illinois’ civic health lies in preparing young people for informed, effective, and lifelong participation in our democracy.

Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors: Classroom Trailblazers, Trusted Colleagues

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Two weeks ago, I summarized a comprehensive evaluation of our #CivicsIsBack course and standards implementation efforts two years into a three year cycle. Today’s post will delve further into our findings from thirty Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors that completed the survey. They serve as our foot soldiers in implementing these policies in every county in the state, providing frontline support to teachers, schools, and districts in their respective regions.

Twenty-eight of the thirty mentors that completed the survey are currently in the classroom and they reach a combined 1,759 students annually. Mentors reported hosting workshops and giving presentations to other teachers as well as college students in education programs. They also emailed teachers and administrators with suggested resources to further curricular integration.

In line with the encouraging student outcomes illustrated in the previous post, mentors reported strong student responses to new instructional strategies and standards (see graph below). However, challenges surfaced relative to the balance between standards coverage and student reflection on key content, and a small, yet significant percentage of students not taking civics classes seriously or demonstrating dispositions to engage civically.


The student-centered proven practices embedded in the law were deemed its greatest strength by mentors. They also reflected on how it has shifted instruction away from rote memorization. One mentor wrote, “One of the strengths of the civics requirement is that it is not dependent on a paper-and-pencil test. (It) actually calls for students to practice the skills and dispositions rather than rotely memorize these concepts.”

Implementation barriers center on time pressures, resource availability, and support from various stakeholder groups, although the latter two variables are lesser factors in year two (see graph below).


Mentors’ final reflections on their experiences two years in were highlighted by a call to “get the law implemented at the middle school level as soon as possible.”

Another mentor’s reflection aligns with the basic goals of the new policies directed at high school classrooms: “This has helped myself and many other teachers throughout the state become better teachers and ultimately will prepare numerous students to be more active citizens in our communities!”