Illinois #CivicsIsBack Campaign Impacted Teachers’ Professional Development and Students’ Civic Engagement

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Last week I introduced a summative report on the #CivicsIsBack Campaign produced by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University titled “Building for Better Democracy Together”. This second of a five-part series will review the impacts of the Campaign documented in the report.

The #CivicsIsBack Campaign began by breaking down the civics course requirement into its component parts (direct instruction, discussion, service learning, and simulations), presenting empirical evidence on their efficacy and demonstrating classroom application. We pursued the same approach for revised K-12 social studies standards. It’s therefore heartening to learn that most teachers know “a great deal” or “a lot” about the course and standards (57% combined) and only ten percent “a little” and two percent “none at all.” 

We’ve documented the impact of Illinois Civics professional development opportunities on teacher efficacy, and the summative report found that 85% of workshop attendees started to implement content and pedagogies in their classrooms.

However, only “one in three teachers said their schools fully trained teachers to use the best practice pedagogies (35%). Almost fifty percent of the schools are still trying to train teachers and one in five (18%) have not really started.” 

On the plus side, the vast majority of schools have fully (50%) or partly integrated the revised social studies standards (38%), and existing civics courses were revised, or new ones created, in alignment with the mandate. And nearly all teachers are being encouraged to employ the instructional strategies embedded in the law.

We also detailed students’ response to the new civics course, finding both exposure to the instructional practices embedded in the law and favorable civic engagement outcomes across students’ race and ethnicity. Teachers affirmed these findings in CIRCLE’s summative report, reporting increased understanding and engagement among students in response to these new instructional practices. 

One caveat is a sense that the practices worked better among some students than others, and a mixed review of the extent to which students both better understand policy issues and elections and are more civically engaged. We’ve emphasized the importance of building a more inclusive civics curriculum representative of students’ cultures and identities and believe this may help address historic and current inequities in civic learning and empowerment.

We also measured the impact of Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors, and CIRCLE built upon these findings by learning that 75% of teachers surveyed in 2019 were contacted by Teacher Mentors, 35% of them monthly or more frequently.

Finally, some of our civic education nonprofit partners were adversely impacted by the #CivicsIsBack Campaign.

One unintended, but unsurprising consequence was that some PD providers and organizations could not cater to the new territory both geographically and in terms of the different demand. Subsequently, they suffered financially due to loss of demand and organizationally as they could not expand. This may also speak to the maturation and sophistication on the part of schools. In part due to the training given by this network and the McCormick Team, curriculum directors and teachers understood what would help them teach the standards and the Civics course better, and what would not and made informed choices of PD providers. Looping back to our theoretical framework, HB 4025 and subsequent investment made the supply-demand to not only scale up as a whole, but more selective at the same time because consumers became more educated. If the suppliers (PD Providers) could not respond to the shifting market needs, they did not remain. In absence of systemic evaluations of most major curricula and PD providers in the Civics field nationwide, we think it is rare (if not unique) to see such an active Civics market.

Our civic education nonprofit partners were critical in laying the groundwork for transformational civics policies in Illinois and supporting their implementation. Since Summer 2019, the Illinois Civics team has convened a cohort of teacher professional development providers to better align their curriculum and resources with the course requirements and standards and build a community of practice. The final two posts of this five-part series will say more about their roles in a sustained statewide system of supports for teachers, schools, and districts.


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