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Showing posts from 2019

2019 Was a Very Good Year for Civic Learning in Illinois

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
With Winter Break in sight and the books on 2019 about to close, this year-end retrospective recaps what was a very good year for civic learning in Illinois.

2019 began with the promise of a renewed push for middle school civics, culminating in the #CivicsInTheMiddle Campaign. Representative Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) sponsored legislation to require a semester of civics in middle school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, embedding proven civic learning practices (direct instruction, discussion, service learning, and simulations).

The legislation sailed through the House by Spring Break, gaining a bi-partisan supermajority, and moved to the Senate under Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago). The formula repeated itself in the upper chamber, although the Senate committee hearing was more contentious, but by May 23, middle school civics cleared the Illinois General Assembly, once more with a filibuster-proof, bi-partisan vot…

#NCSS2019 Recap Blog

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
Last month, thousands of educators throughout the United States convened in Austin, Texas, for the 99th Annual National Council for the Social Studies conference. We asked a few of our colleagues in the Land of Lincoln to share their top takeaways for those who were not able to attend. Here are some ideas and resources for your consideration.



Dan Fouts from Maine West High School in Niles recommends the Drafting Table from the National Constitution Center for, "resources on how the language of the Constitution—within articles and amendments—was adapted before being put in final form. Great teaching moments await!"

Jason Janczak from Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake recommends two civics resources.
My Part of the Story by Facing History and Ourselves can be used to "Learn how you can help guide students to find their place in the identity of the United States and how each person’s story contributes to th…

Students Address Daylight Savings Through Service Learning

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by Mary Ellen Daneels and Logan Ridenour
This past July, the Civics Is Back newsletter featured Logan Ridenour from Carlinville High School, an Illinois Democracy School, for their service learning project to end Daylight Savings in Illinois. Logan credited he Civics Is Back professional development workshops he has attended over the years, incorporating tools such as Root Cause Tree Analysis to “tweak” his Civic Action Project. Logan explained, “All of my students, including this group, have said they enjoy the project because it is very student-centered, and it allows them to explore their connections to the community and the processes necessary for enacting change. My students learned that they can put things into action by furthering their own understanding of the systems that govern their lives.” At the time, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) took the students’ service-learning project and introduced Senate Bill 533. The students testified at the Capitol and their bill received…

Count Me In: Schools as Critical Partners in #Census2020

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
The stakes could not be higher for Illinois in the upcoming census. As Shawn Healy shared in a blog post almost a year ago, “According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, $800 billion of federal funding supporting 300 programs is appropriated annually to states based on census counts. Due to Illinois’ undercount in 2010, the state lost $952 per person of federal funding. In 2015 alone, Illinois lost $122 million for every 1% of the population we failed to count.”

Shawn continues to explain, “It’s widely known that Illinois is losing population in recent years, with losses most pronounced outside of metropolitan Chicago. In fact, 89 of Illinois’ 102 counties experienced population loss from 2010 through 2017. Rockford, Kankakee, Decatur, and Metro East (suburban St. Louis) have been particularly hard hit, while Lake County is the only Chicago area county with a shrinking population. Given the stakes of Census 2020…

Media Literacy Learning Opportunities Widespread at Democracy Schools, but Inequities in Access and Outcomes for Students of Color Concerning

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
On the heels of media literacy week, my analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) turns next to media literacy learning opportunities and outcomes disaggregated by race/ethnicity (read the full analysis of questions related to media literacy).

Learned how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of news and information;Learned how to find different perspectives and multiple sources of information about a current event or community issue;And discussed how to tell if the information you find online is trustworthy. However, on each of these measures white and Asian students are overrepresented at the highest frequency and Black and Latinx students at lower frequencies as illustrated in the graph below.


Most students across race and ethnicity (54%) reported discussing how to effectively share their opinion on social or political issues online twice or more in class…

Illinois Democracy Schools Largely Embracing Lived Civics Principles, but Civic Empowerment Gap Persists

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
Since 2006, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, convened by the McCormick Foundation, has recognized 74 Illinois high schools as Democracy Schools. The recognition process has evolved significantly, broadening civics to a cross-curricular priority, measuring the organizational culture undergirding students’ civic learning experiences, and most recently, centering racial equity through a lived civics framework and disaggregating student survey data by race/ethnicity.

This spring, eleven members of our Democracy Schools Network piloted a revised student survey and schoolwide assessment process. What follows is a summary of trends in the student survey data, disaggregated by race (read the full analysis of questions related to lived civics).

The sample of 3,904 students was broadly representative of Illinois’ demographic and geographic diversity. White and Latinx students were slightly overrepresented, and Black students underrepres…

Resources for Media Literacy

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist
October 21-25th marks the 5th Annual U.S. Media Literacy Week. The mission of Media Literacy Week is to raise awareness about the need for media literacy education and its essential role in education today. Organizations, schools, and educators from all over the country will be sharing resources via #MediaLitWk. In the 2017 report, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution”, cites media literacy as a complementary stream of civic education. The report explains:
...young people are increasingly empowered to influence the topics and stories that are widely shared. At the same time, they are deluged with unreliable information and actual propaganda, and research shows that most young people perform poorly at distinguishing fake news from reliable news. This skill can be taught effectively in schools, and students can learn to be effective producers of news. Given these recent developments, the need for…

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Resources to Understand the U.S. Supreme Court

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
Monday marks the start of a new term for the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The 2019-20 term is sure to provide many teachable moments as SCOTUS takes up issues related to immigration, abortion, gun rights, and LGBTQ workplace discrimination. For #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms, there are plenty of opportunities to use the courts to engage in the proven practices of civic education embedded in both the middle and high school civics mandates. Here are some resources to start with.

Direct Instruction on the Supreme Court
The official website for the United States Supreme Court allows access to a variety of information on the Court, including a calendar and schedule for the current term, and the audio from oral arguments, posted each Friday after arguments take place. There is also an overview of the Supreme Court where you can research the Court’s procedures and biographies of justices.iCivics has a curriculum packet on the …

Classroom Resources to Understand Impeachment

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
Last night, my Twitter feed was abuzz with colleagues seeking out grade-level appropriate materials to help students understand the process of impeachment. The information around this current and controversial issue is changing daily with competing narratives from the left and the right. This teachable moment IS political, but it does not have to be partisan. Here are a few resources that you can start with.
“A look at past impeachment proceedings” and how they’ve ended from PBS News Hour gives a historical perspective on impeachment.The lesson, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” from the Constitutional Rights Foundation has both background information and a simulation of a House Judiciary Committee determining if an act rises to the level of impeachable.Khan Academy has an explainer video on Impeachment as does TedEd.Annenberg Classroom has a historical timeline of past impeachments starting with Judge Samuel Chase.Episode 10 of the Civic…

A Shining City Teeming with People of All Kinds

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
On Tuesday, I had the great privilege of serving as the keynote speaker at a U.S. Naturalization Ceremony hosted at our sister site, Cantigny Park. My remarks follow.

232 years today, September 17, 1787, the United States Constitution was officially adopted at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Framers set forth a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

But the question of who constituted “the people” has been a matter of perpetual national debate, as originally only white, male property owners over the age of 21 enjoyed the entirety of rights embedded in both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights adopted four years later as its first ten amendments.

Decades, even centuries, of fierce and sometimes bloody struggles have expanded the notion of citizenship, first to former slaves, then extending suffrage to women, and ultimately opening the doors of immigration from northern and western Europe to its sout…

Constitution Day 2019

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
It seems fitting that less than a week after commemorating the events and legacy of 9/11, “we the people” pause and recognize our commitment to form a “more perfect union” on Constitution Day.

In the Land of Lincoln, the U.S. Constitution is the foundational document grounding the IL Social Science standards in civics as well as the proven practices of civics embedded in both the 6-8 and 9-12 civics mandates. While we hope that every day is “Constitution Day” in the #CivicsInTheMiddle classroom, here are some curated resources to mark September 17th.

iCivics and Discovery Education are hosting a virtual viewing party for free in which students will explore how they have a voice, how it is protected, and how they can make their voice heard.The Civic Renewal Network has created a Teacher Toolkit complete with activities and a press release template that can be used to engage the community in recognizing Constitution Day.The National Co…

Remembering 9/11

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was preparing to chaperone a field trip of 120 freshmen to Chicago when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. In the hallway, my friend Jim exclaimed, “There has been a terrible plane accident in New York!” We proceeded to walk the students over to the local train station to make the trip into the city.

As the train stopped at our station and students were lined up to board, my department chair screeched into the parking lot and flew open the door to her car. “Get off the train! America is under attack. Get off the train!” There was no field trip that day. Everything changed.

One of my former students is now an administrator in our building. He recalls the confusion and unease in the days that followed and my attempt to create a safe space for students in those troubling times. He mused to me, “I remember that you were calm, but we could tell that you were kind of freaked out too. You answ…

Asset Mapping for #CivicsInTheMiddle

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
Starting in the 2020-2021 school year, civics will be required “in the middle.” Public Law 101-0254 requires at least one-semester civics within grades 6,7 and 8. This mandate not only prescribes what is taught in the classroom per the Illinois Social Science standards and school code requirements but also how it is taught, using four proven practices of civic education.

Anytime a new initiative is added to the required curriculum, it can be daunting. To begin this process, schools would be wise to identify the assets already in place and build on these foundations to meet the middle school civics requirement with fidelity. To this end, we have developed a simple Asset Mapping Tool for Middle School Civics to start the conversation. Educators can make a copy of this document to discern areas of strength and opportunities for growth.


In the upcoming months, the IllinoisCivics.org web site, blog, and newsletter will feature free …

Illinois and the Social Sciences: What Are Our Middle School Students Learning?

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by Scott McGallagher, Research Intern
When outstanding advancements in education occur, it is a shame to be stingy and not spread the news far and wide. As previous blogs have mentioned, #CivicsintheMiddle is now officially Public Act 101-0254, signed into law by Governor Pritzker in early August.

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, all public middle school students will be required to complete a semester of civics in either 6th, 7th, or 8th grade. New civics instruction will also reflect the proven practices of civic education, engaging students in direct instruction, simulations, discussions of current and controversial issues, and service-learning experiences. This summer, after many moving conversations with educators across the state, I was able to establish a baseline on the course sequence for Social Studies in middle-grade schools. In conjunction, several educators shared with me unique units and extracurricular projects which engage students in deeper learning beyond …

#CivicsInTheMiddle Is Law in the Land of Lincoln - What Now?

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by Mary Ellen Daneels, Instructional Specialist
As Shawn shared in last week’s blog, a required semester of civics within grades 6-8 is now Illinois law. Starting in the 2020-21 school year, middle school students are mandated to receive at least a semester of civics instruction that focuses not only on the disciplinary content outlined in the Illinois Social Science Standards, but also employs the proven practices of civic education. These methods include direct instruction on democratic institutions, simulations of democratic processes, current and societal issue discussions, and service-learning.

Schools that have embraced the pedagogical shifts reflected in the new standards are well-positioned to fulfill the requirements of this mandate. Many middle schools have redesigned their civics curriculum to go beyond teaching to the perceived “Constitution Test” requirement, but used the new standards to create essential questions that serve as a catalyst to student-led inquiries that…

#CivicsInTheMiddle Is Law in the Land of Lincoln

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
On Friday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill (HB) 2265 into law. Now officially Public Act 101-0254, the law requires a semester of civics in grades 6, 7, or 8, employing direct instruction, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes. It takes effect at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

We are deeply appreciative of Representative Camille Lilly’s sponsorship in consecutive General Assemblies of a middle school civics requirement. While she believed deeply and supported the high school requirement passed in 2015, Rep. Lilly felt that high school was too late to begin cultivating students’ civic development. Beginning next fall, middle school students for generations to come will benefit from Public Act 101-0254, entering high school, and later adulthood with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors necessary for informed, effective, and lifelon…

Broad Public Support for Civics Transcends Ideological Divides; Parents Must See Value Proposition

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by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director
PDK’s 51st annual Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools (N=2,389) produced a promising finding of near universal support for the teaching of civics (97%), with 70% agreeing that the subject should be required. This is a timely data point in Illinois with Governor Pritzker signing House Bill (HB) 2265 on Friday, legislation to require a semester of civics in Illinois middle schools. Now Public Act 101-0254, it takes effect next July prior to the 2020-2021 school year.

Until recently, civics has been increasingly marginalized as schools focus narrowly on literacy and numeracy, tested subjects that arguably correlate with success in college and careers. According to the PDK Poll, a plurality of teachers rates the civic mission of schools as the primary goal of public education, while most parents prioritize academics.


Parents are also less supportive of required civics courses than the adult population at large (60% …

Guest Blog: Student Voice = Essential Questions + Memorable Conversations

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Dan Fouts has taught AP government, philosophy and US history in the Chicagoland area and is a member of the Social Studies Department at Maine West High School, an Illinois Democracy School. Dan has served as a member of the committee on pre-collegiate instruction in philosophy through the American Philosophical Association from 2012-2016. Additionally, he has presented at several National Council for the Social Studies conferences and has instructed online courses since 2004 through Aurora, Quincy, and Adams State University. To fuel his passion for teaching teachers how to create and use essential questions in their classrooms, Dan manages a blog with Teach Different and a personal blog SocratesQuestions, both of which celebrate the power of inquiry-based classrooms. Having a good classroom conversation is hard these days.

Consider what we’re up against.

Outside school, amidst the polarization of political views and clutter of social media, our students have few places to go …