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Showing posts from August, 2019

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 …