by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar and Director of Professional Development
As we enter the holiday season, Washington has provided the national civic learning community with little reason for cheer.
During a time of severe fiscal constraints, coupled with a decade-long standardized testing craze and No Child Left Behind
(NCLB), the social studies survive in a wounded state, and the health of our democracy is subsequently imperiled by a citizenry lacking the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes for informed and effective participation. Current developments in Washington warrant cautious optimism, as the social studies vie for their former seat at the core
The federal government has a role to play in supporting teacher professional development and innovative instruction, not to mention addressing inequalities in civic learning opportunities based on demographics alone. However, after eliminating all federal funding for civics in 2011, and cutting back on Teach American History grants, the federal government spent $2.44 per K-12 student on history in the U.S. This compares with $25.64 for literacy and $19.45 for science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM).
From this vacuum has flown the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2011 (HR 3464). Introduced in the House by Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK) and Mike Honda (D-CA), it would restore funding for civic learning, replacing a former earmark with $30 million of competitive grants. Since its inception, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, mandating testing in reading, math and science, and marginalizing the social studies and other subjects that collectively constitute a “well-rounded” education. NCLB’s authorization expired in 2007. While funding has remained, its reauthorization is under consideration in both houses of Congress.
The Senate version, Harkin-Enzi bill, includes bipartisan support for a well-rounded education. It authorizes the Secretary of Education to provide grants to state educational agencies to support teacher and curriculum development in
the social studies, civics included. Similar to the O’Connor Civic Learning Act, Harkin-Enzi also provides funding for competitive grants to nonprofit agencies to support civic learning opportunities that are innovative, equitable and scalable. While federal policies are among the causes of the current predicament, the Harkin-Enzi version of NCLB’s reauthorization, working in tandem with the O’Connor Civic Learning Act, represent a renewed federal commitment to civic learning and New Year’s resolutions we can all get behind.
Today, Illinois and its many public and private sector leaders in the early learning field have reason to reflect on the saying, "it is not the destination but the journey." Although Illinois – a long-time, national role model for its early education system – was not selected by the U.S. Department of Education as a winner of the Early Learning
Challenge Fund competition, Illinois is to be commended for its participation in this national competition. The path for this competition – a process with an aggressive timeline and a demanding application – gave birth to new ideas, many of which will benefit young children in Illinois for generations to come. While not a recipient of the federal funds announced today, Illinois can stand tall and take pride in its many significant milestones it has achieved on its way to being recognized as one of the best early education systems in the United States:
First state to establish a statutory set-aside to fund services in the critical first three years of a child's life, irrevocably attaching the hard science of brain development to the State’s policy for education funding (1997)*;
First state to pass legislation which authorized universal high-quality preschool for both three and four year olds (2006)*;
First state to extend its definition of "children of limited English-speaking ability" to include 3- and 4-year olds participating in state-funded preschool programs, thereby requiring school districts to provide them
bilingual education services (2009)*; and
One of only a few states that has defined its principal certification as Preschool to grade 12,
requiring principal candidates to receive training specifically in early learning and child development*
And the benefits of the process do not end with new ideas alone. This path also forged new partnerships and re-kindled old ones. At a time when news stories are often saturated with conflicts and partisan bickering, this process
resulted in both public sector and private sector leaders in Illinois coming together for countless productive discussions around how to refine a vision for a better early care and education system for our most vulnerable young children. So in the spirit of "the glass is half full," we applaud Illinois and all those who participated in this
process for daring to plan for the world class early education system we want – and need – for our youngest children.
We invite you to learn more about the Early Learning Challenge Fund through the resources from our colleagues at the First Five Years Fund and watch the Foundation’s site or more information about the positive changes in store for Illinois:
PBS Newshour aired an excellent piece last evening on one of our grantees, the News Literacy Project (NLP). NLP helps kids in middle schools and high schools become smart consumers of news and information—and distinguish fact from fiction, news from noise, in all the media they are deluged with every day. Knowing who and what to believe can be a real challenge, particularly for young people. So NLP mobilizes seasoned journalists to help students develop critical thinking skills.
Over the past three years, we’ve worked with Alan Miller, NLP’s founder, to bring the program to Chicago area schools. NLP is currently in ten middle and high schools and partners with 17 community organizations in Chicago, reaching nearly 1,500 kids. Nationally, in 2011, NLP has worked with 25 teachers in four cities to reach more than 2,000 students. If you missed the Newshour segment, which was titled News Literacy Project Training Young People To Be Skeptical Media Consumers,check it out.
If you’re interested in knowing more about news literacy, or sharing your views on the topic, you can find additional information on our website.
Chicago is well known as a city of neighborhoods – diverse, energetic and always changing. I had the opportunity recently to spend time in one of Chicago’s most unique neighborhoods, Chinatown, and to visit two of the agencies we fund in our Communities Program: the Chinese American Service League (CASL) and the Pui Tak Center Chinatown is the destination for large numbers of immigrants as well as home to many generations of Chinese Americans. Education, English language training, and job training are high on the agenda of community needs. The CASL offers early childhood education, family and community
support programs, and specialized elderly services to over 17,000 clients annually. As you can see from the video I shot, our welcome was warm. Pui Tak serves over 3,000 individuals annually through a variety of education, social service, and cultural programs. Through our partnership with Chicago Tribune Charities, we currently support their Adult Literacy Program. No video for that one, but once again it was an amazing experience to see what’s accomplished by a group of
deeply committed people.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I am grateful to all of our partners and their amazing people who work so hard to improve the lives of people in our communities every day. They are an inspiration. During the holidays, please consider supporting the work of agencies in your community. To find out more about how you can help, please visit our donations page. And have a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.
“A man who is good enough to shed blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterward.” – President Theodore Roosevelt
As we commemorate Veterans Day, it’s important that we not forget our nation's younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are experiencing new and complex challenges as they transition to civilian life. While advanced technology on the battlefield has saved many lives, it also has created a depth and breadth of physical and mental injuries never before experienced by our armed services or our nation.
These issues are of national proportion, but we’re learning through our work that the solutions must be local. The Foundation believes local, public-private partnerships focused on a coordinated system of care are essential in making a smooth transition for veterans. In order to reach the large number of returning veterans, we need a collaborative
and coherent network of nonprofits providing services from health to education, to jobs, to family counseling and legal issues. This network must function in concert with the public sector services.
Here in Illinois, there is strong support for this kind of collaboration. From the Governor’s office on down and throughout the business and philanthropic communities, there is an understanding that we can only solve problems by working together.
The evidence is stark– U.S. students fall well behind their peers in industrialized nations. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report in 2009 ranking the U.S. 21st among 30 other industrialized countries in science achievement and 25th in math. This fall, the McCormick Foundation has partnered with the University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois State Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Community Trust to launch the World Class Education Colloquium Series to examine effective strategies that can build a birth to 20 system of excellence for children of Illinois and Chicago. This three part series engages education leaders and stakeholders in dialogue with experts from nations and states that have successful systems and asks how we can adapt those policies and practices in Chicago and Illinois. The ultimate goal – based on shared learning and inquiry – is to explore priorities for the Illinois birth to 20 education system and begin to develop plans to help our children become productive, contributing citizens.
Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, spoke about redesigning state education systems based on strategies of top-performing nations, and presented seven strategies for success;
Charles Pascal, professor at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, shared lessons from Ontario's quest for excellence.
Please join us for the next session set for Dec. 5. Pasi Sahlberg, a representative from Finland's education ministry,
will be one of two keynote speakers. We look forward to this valuable presentation and have much to learn as Finland is ranked number one globally in math and literacy education achievement exams.
One of the things I love most about working at the McCormick Foundation is the opportunity to learn something every day from the amazing people in our community who are working to help others. Coming together, sharing ideas, and joining effort – that is a true learning community. And it’s the only way to tackle the really hard issues our communities face, whether in education, healthcare, public safety, you name it.
At our Foundation, we all believe in lifelong learning and in active participation in the civic life of our community. It’s never been more important than it is today that we as citizens get off the sidelines and engage in constructive debate — and work together toward real solutions.
That’s the spirit in which we launch this new website, with its sense of shared community and commitment to progress. We hope that you will find it to be a valuable source of information, as well as an opportunity to air your thoughts and share with us your knowledge. We will tell the stories of people in the community who are making things better. We will learn from what works, and also from what doesn’t.
And we want you to be part of this. We invite you to take a few minutes to explore this site, as well as our social media pages. Then join the conversation. We would love to hear from you.