Closing the Civic Empowerment Gap through the #CivicsIsBack Campaign

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 population, skewing slightly more white (54% white, 24% Latino, 21% Black, 11% multiracial, 3% Asian, and 2% American Indian/ Alaskan Native).

Last month, we published a companion piece disaggregating student participation and performance on the Advanced Placement American Government and Politics Exam by race, revealing deep inequities in terms of both access and outcomes. In a similar vein, we asked CIRCLE for disaggregated student survey data from our civics course implementation evaluation. My analysis of this data follows, which is available in its entirety here.

In terms of access, the results are mixed, as LatinX and Asian American students were less likely and Black students more likely to report taking a civics course (see Figure 1 below). Given that the course is a state mandate, more must be done to ensure equity of implementation across schools and districts statewide.

Figure 1: Did you take a social studies course that was completely about
how the government works and your role in participating in public decisions?

Similarly, while Black and Asian-Pacific Islander students were more likely to participate in extracurricular activities with exposure to a civics course, this distinction had no impact for LatinX students and overall participation in extracurricular activities is cause for concern among with LatinX and Black students (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Did you participate in a school club, sports team, or other
extracurricular activity during this school year (percent yes)?

These concerns considered, students enrolled in civics courses reported relatively equal access to proven civic learning practices across race (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: This year, in my classes, I have discussed controversial issues (percent agree/strongly agree).

The student survey concluded with a battery of questions assessing students’ civic behaviors and attitudes. While course exposure had a positive effect across races, significant gaps remain, privileging white and Asian-Pacific Islanders over their Black and LatinX peers. Figure 4, which asks students to assess their preparedness for political participation, is illustrative of both course benefits and remaining gaps.

Figure 4: I have the skills and knowledge necessary to participate in
politics and public issues (percent agree/strongly agree).

Course implementation continues in earnest with a quest for racial equity front and center. As these results demonstrate, we must do more to ensure universal access to both a required civics course, but also extracurricular activities critical to students’ social, emotional, and civic development. While access to best practices in civics courses is relatively equal by race, we must dig deeper and search for equity so long as students of color express less confidence in their civic skills and dispositions. In part, this entails a wholesale interrogation of existing curricula in a quest to align classroom instruction with students’ lived experiences. Stay tuned for further details on an emerging “lived civics” agenda.

No comments :

Post a Comment