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New Blueprint Outlines Steps to Improve Civic Education in Illinois

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

In the midst of a government shutdown, ensuring that all students receive a quality civics education seems all the more important. Two organizations are teaming up to ensure students in Abe Lincoln's home state get just that with the release of the 2nd edition of the Illinois Civic Blueprint

Illinois is one of ten states that does not require its students to take a stand-alone civics or government class to graduate high school, and students are not assessed on the subject in state standardized tests, according to a press release announcing the new blue print. It argues that llinois schools often lack the necessary support structures to build an effective civics curriculum.

To address the issue, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, an organization that works to improve civic education, is partnering with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, a nonpartisan consortium of education leaders, to release the new blueprint.

"When it comes to civic learning, Illinois doesn't make the cut," said David Hiller, the president and CEO of the McCormick Foundation in the press release. "Illinois' failure to prepare young people to participate in democracy has dangerous consequences for the state's civic health."

The blueprint is designed to serve as a guide to schools for creating, implementing, and supporting a thorough civics curriculum. It will include explanations of proven school-based civic learning practices, examples of schools using these practices, and recommendations for implementing these approaches, the press release says. Additionally, it provides resources to help schools and communities promote civic engagement among high school students in the state.

School leadership is highlighted as a central tenet to a valuable civic learning program in the blueprint. Through several vignettes, the document depicts examples of what school leaders and teachers can do to cultivate their schools' civics learning programs. 

The blueprint also outlines the basics of what a quality civics education should cover, including fundamental principals of the Consitution, the powers and limitations of the separate branches of government, and the ideals and principles of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Additionally, the blueprint recommends students engage in service-learning to bring their civics education to life.

And, the document features a set of recommendations for Illinois policymakers. They include:

  • Measure students' civic learning outcomes by including civics in state assessments and other accountability measures;
  • Utilize alternative forms of required state assessments, including project and portfolio-based assessments;
  • Include social studies/civic learning in district and school "report cards" and other public reports of school achievement; and
  • Endorse the discussion of controversial issues in the classroom with an affirmative statement in the Illinois School Code.
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