Monday, November 12, 2012

McCormick Journalism Program Launches News Literacy Collaborative

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Foundation Communications Intern

Got news literacy? On October 24, the McCormick Foundation Journalism Program and Midwest Journalism Education Initiative(MJEI) gathered representatives from 10 secondary education schools and organizations to consider this question. Over the next seven months, the first collaborative news literacy project will be conducted to help student journalists and young news consumers apply critical thinking skills to media.

The foundation recently announced plans for a three-year, $6 million initiative called “Why News Matters.” The initiative will expand innovative approaches to improving news literacy skills and programs in Chicago. MJEI works with leading organizations in the identification and development of resources to enhance the practice of journalism and media instruction. MJEI is leading the collaborative project that is funded by the foundation.

Project participants include: Bartlett High School, Benito Juarez Community Academy, Downers Grove North High School, Elk Grove High School, Free Spirit Media, Oak Park-River Forest High School, Perspectives Math and Science Academy, Roberto Clemente High School, Rolling Meadows High School and Wheeling High School.

"The goal of the project is to provide reporting that is accountable, verifiable and independent of bias," said Stan Zoller, director of MJEI.

Zoller is developing the curriculum for the project that is based on Stony Brook University’s news literacy course. At the initial meeting, he explained that the students participating will be expected to do investigative reporting on a specific issue. Teachers and advisors brainstormed on topics ranging from the depletion of vocational courses to equipping ELL students for advanced placement opportunities.

"You guys [teachers] are pioneers for doing this," said Clark Bell, director of McCormick Journalism Program. "This is something that can be and should be replicated nationally."

Bell said that from this pilot project the foundation hopes to host a national conference on news literacy in 2014 and a showcase for related projects in 2015.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Journalism as the Future of Civics Curriculum

by Ashlei Williams, Robert R. McCormick Communications intern

McCormick Foundation intern, Alyssa Niese, presented research on civic learning policy that has interesting implications for the Journalism Program’s work in news literacy.

During Niese’s presentation, she defined civics as the fostering of active and engaged citizens. She noted a national absence of civics caused by insufficient language in state constitutions and regulations of the "No Child Left Behind Act."

Since as early as 1997, organizers have brainstormed solutions for civics education. One of the initiatives recognized is Illinois Civic Mission Coalition’s Democracy Schools, which requires curriculum evaluation, extracurricular opportunities and student government. Niese pointed out five ways that civics education could be improved in schools:
  1. Require civics coursework
  2. Add professional development workshops for teachers
  3. Develop project-based assessments in schools
  4. Implement service learning curriculum
  5. Commit to the Democracy School model
These suggestions reflect recent academic discourse on how to improve journalism electives and programs in secondary schools. According to Elia Powers, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, journalism class requirements began disappearing when national achievement standards changed.

The McCormick Foundation Journalism Program has been actively supporting after-school journalism programs and news literacy education through in-classroom coursework.

In an interview with Education Week, noted education author Frank Baker said, "Media literacy is not an add-on: it is simply a lens through which we see and understand our world."

The McCormick Foundation Civics Program conducted evaluations that showed that students found discussions and projects about current events particularly stimulating. Program evaluations also revealed that interactive methods are more effective with students than lectures. Also, research from National Assessment of Educational Progress Civics Assessment suggests that civics education can engage students and help them score higher on standardized tests.

There are numerous barriers to restructuring civics and journalism curricula, such as measurement of student comprehension and budgeting for new media technology as Niese and Powers noted.

The McCormick Foundation’s Journalism and Civicsprograms are working to improve education in schools and communities.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mayor's Smart Investment in Early Learning

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

The McCormick Foundation applauds Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s August 3rd announcement of a three-year investment in early education that will allow about 5,000 more young children in Chicago to enroll in quality preschool. In a nod to research showing that children with access to quality early education have higher graduation rates and lower school drop-out rates, Mayor Emanuel’s decision demonstrates his commitment to education choices grounded in evidence. And, in a time when politicians are often accused of being short-sighted and thinking only of the next election, this decision defies that skepticism, looking out at least 10 years and acknowledging that Chicago will be a better place if we start children on a path that leads to better academic outcomes and increased civic engagement.

The McCormick Foundation is proud to have contributed to this effort with a grant supporting the development of the competitive process for quality preschool services for vulnerable children. Programs will be evaluated under the competitive process for quality as well as neighborhood need. Read the Mayor’s full press release.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A 'Teaching Hospital' Model to Journalism Education

by Clark Bell, Journalism Program Director

The McCormick Foundation is among the leading journalism funders calling for reform of journalism education.

In an Open Letter to University Presidents, the foundation leaders recommend a 'teaching hospital' model that blends professional practice with research and scholarship.

The release of this letter was timed to the annual meeting of the Association for Education and in Journalism and Mass Communication, which begins August 9 in Chicago.

Journalism and communications schools need to recreate themselves if they are to succeed in playing their vital role as news creators and innovators, a group of foundations said in an open letter to university presidents.

The foundations, all of which make grants to journalism education and innovation, urged more universities to adopt a model that blends practice with scholarship, with more top professionals in residence at universities and a focus on applied research.

"In this new digital age, we believe the 'teaching hospital' model offers great potential," as scholars help practitioners invent viable forms of digital news that communities need, said the letter, signed by top representatives of Knight Foundation, McCormick Foundation, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism FoundationScripps-Howard FoundationBrett Family Foundation, and Wyncotte Foundation.

The model was described in the 2011 "Carnegie Knight Initiative for the Future of Journalism Education" and is practiced at the Arizona State University, where student-powered News21 has become a major national news source. But it is by no means widespread.

The funders said they would support efforts by The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications to modernize standards, including the integration of technology and innovation into curricula, and would not support institutions that were unwilling to change.

"Simply put, universities must become forceful partners in revitalizing an industry at the very core of democracy," it said. "Schools that favor the status quo, and thus fall behind in the digital transition, risk becoming irrelevant to both private funders and, more importantly, the students they seek to serve.

Schools interested in the 'teaching hospital model' could start by reading the Carnegie Knight report and New America Foundation’s report on journalism schools becoming community content providersThe University of Missouri boasts the nation’s oldest journalism program, runs a community newspaper as well as commercial television and public radio stations where journalism students learn by doing. Other examples of student-produced journalism include Neon Tommy at USC, the Medill News Service from Northwestern University, Mission Loc@l by UC Berkeley students, reesenews at the University of North Carolina and the New York World by Columbia University students. Universities also may apply to participate in News21.  -- By Eric Newton, senior adviser to the President at Knight Foundation

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Ben Bernanke: The Economics of Early Childhood

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

As Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke knows he must choose his words carefully because his assessments of the economy, taxes and spending can move Wall Street and influence Capitol Hill. But what happens when he personalizes those numbers and discusses the economy in the context of our children and our education system? On July 24, he was invited to Ohio to address a different type of audience -- the Children’s Defense Fund Annual Conference. He again chose his words carefully, speaking about the crucial role of education in our "ever changing, globalized economy." He cited research demonstrating the need to start early in educating our children and preparing them – and our economy – for success. Undoubtedly, he speaks from personal and professional convictions: the son of a school teacher, he was a professor at Princeton University before becoming Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The question is this: can the man whose words reverberate across Wall Street and Capitol Hill influence our opinions on education and its relationship to economic success?

WATCH Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke champion early childhood education at the Children's Defense Fund National Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio (July 24, 2012).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Complete the Degree: Personal & Collaborative Approach to Working with Veterans

Guest blog by Clifton Williams, Center Director for Complete the Degree Chicago

"Transitioning back to civilian life after having served my country is enough stress without the added pressure of looking for a job or deciding a career path."

Statements like these are frequently heard by the Complete the Degree advisers who are dedicated to working with veterans. Complete the Degree is a free program that was recently launched in April with the primary goal of helping adults who did not finish college return and obtain their college degree. The Chicago Workforce Investment Council, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, the Illinois Education Foundation, and Women Employed, four non-profit organizations committed to adult education and success, founded the initiative.

Although the program works with all adult retuning students, Complete the Degree has services and staff specifically dedicated to serving active and inactive military personnel. At a time when so many veterans are returning home, veterans need immediate access to a variety of services and resources.

Recently, Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched a "Returning Veterans Initiative" to help find jobs for soldiers coming home to Chicago in order to lower unemployment rates for veterans. He cited figures that show that the jobless rate for veterans is three times higher than the national average. Complete the Degree adviser Donna Clayborn states, "One of the first issues many veterans discuss is their lack of access to jobs. However, many will eventually need to update their skills and qualifications in order to compete in a changing economy and our organization is committed to guiding them throughout that process."

The Mayor’s Initiative seeks to streamline the variety of services offered to veterans. Will Schmutz, Director and Community Liaison for the city’s Advisory Council on Veteran’s Affairs believes that veterans needs someone they can look in the eye and make personal contact with to help them sort through the thousands of websites and resources dedicated to veterans. Complete the Degree partners with colleges and other community-based organizations so that it can offer a variety of information and services to veterans. Although the process is not exactly one-stop shopping, it does greatly reduce the time and energy veterans will ultimately expend seeking the services they will need.

Complete the Degree’s program is a win-win project for a variety of reasons.
  1. Studies have repeatedly shown a correlation between income and education. Complete the Degree seeks to ensure that all returning students, especially those who serve our country, have the financial means to adequately support their families.
  2. A workforce with higher education levels will be in a better position to help the city of Chicago attract and retain employers. Everyone from President Obama to Mayor Emanuel believes that failure to address the talent deficit faced by employers will have negative ramifications on the local and the national level.
  3. Finally, the more income grows, the more revenue is generated in both the public and private sectors. Complete the Degree is one crucial answer to these pressing issues and the organization will continue to be a part of the solution one returning student at a time.

To learn more about Complete the Degree, click here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

D-Day: 68th Anniversary

by Colonel Paul Herbert, Executive Director of the First Division Museum

This is the 68th anniversary of "D-Day," the Allied landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. On D-Day, more than 5,000 ships placed 130,000 Allied soldiers on a hostile shore. From Normandy, Allied forces liberated Europe and ensured that Nazi Germany could not concentrate against the Soviet Union, thus forcing Germany’s unconditional surrender.

The heaviest fighting occurred on Omaha Beach where the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division led the assault. There, strong German defenses placed the invasion in danger. Iron-willed soldiers and sailors of all ranks met the crisis. US Navy destroyers placed 5-inch direct fire on targets ashore. Colonel George Taylor urged his men that only the dead would stay on the beach as he led them to the bluffs above. Sergeant John Pinder repeatedly left safety to search for radio parts on the deadly beach where he was killed. General Willard Wyman calmly walked under heavy fire giving direction to soldiers. Private Carleton Barrett rescued many wounded comrades from the surf. Lieutenant John Spaulding led his men through a crease in the German defenses to the top. Lieutenant Jimmie Montieth commandeered two tanks and directed their fire in support of his platoon that likewise scaled the bluffs. These and many others bought victory at a cost of some 10,000 Allied casualties, including more than 4,000 dead.

The Battle for Normandy allowed the Western Allies to meet the Soviets on the Elbe River and not the Rhine, thus allowing a democratic West Germany to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and setting the stage for victory in the Cold War. These benefits to generations of Americans and Europeans are the legacy of D-Day. Normandy stands as a testament to Allied partnership and to the valor of countless Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen. Lest we forget.

Friday, May 25, 2012

In Memory

by Colonel Paul Herbert, Executive Director of the First Division Museum

Memorial Day is to honor those who died in military service to our country - people like Samuel T. Watts, 20, of Wheaton, Illinois, who died May 19, 2012, of wounds sustained in combat in Afghanistan.

I think we should remember each of them as a distinct person, equally entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Each put that at risk for us - their loss was of a future, of hopes, plans and dreams once held.

We should remember their families and friends, who sometimes grieve forever and often feel guilt we can’t assuage. Could I have prevented his death? What if I had insisted that he not go? Should I have gone in his place?

We should remember that they were not "sacrificed." On the contrary, someone hoped and prayed and longed for the safe return of each. Each died in faith in us that his (or her) service, with all its dangers, was necessary. As Abraham Lincoln said so well, we cannot add or detract from the honor they paid us by such faith.

We should carry them in our hearts forever. We should gather occasionally to honor them. Mostly, we should live our lives with gratitude, and build lives and families and communities and a country worthy of their faithful service. Lincoln reminded us that from our honored dead, it is for us, the living, to be consecrated to the great tasks remaining before us. We have such tasks.

We should conclude a Memorial Day as Lincoln concluded:

"We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Thank you, Sam. Rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Chicago Reporter Keeps Churning Out Top Work

by Mark Hallett, Senior Program Officer, Journalism Program

Last Friday at a Chicago Headline Club event with some 350 in attendance, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists unveiled another year’s worth of Lisagor awards—more than 100 of them. By our count, the Trib came away with 13, the Sun-Times eight, WBEZ six Crain’s and the Southtown Star four apiece. Topics ranged from military couples to immigration limbo, pension games to corruption in Cicero to criminals fleeing the country. Reading through the list of winners is truly inspiring. We’re lucky to have so much rich talent in the Chicago area.

Oh, and the Chicago Reporter, the nonprofit investigative outfit headed by Kimbriell Kelly and housed at 130-year-old Community Renewal Society, took eight. At McCormick, we’ve been supporters of the Reporter for many years, and are amazed at its sustained, inspired work. We thought we’d ask Angela Caputo, who was named in three of the Reporter’s awards, to walk us through a recent story.

In the current issue online, the feature story is “Abusing the Badge.” This nifty piece of reporting reveals that:
  • 1 in 4: The number of investigations of police misconduct opened by the Independent Police Review Authority in 2010 that are still open
  • $45.5 million: Total payments between January 2009 and November 2011 by the City of Chicago in damages
  • 91%: The percentage of lawsuits reviewed by the Independent Police Review Authority that ended without an investigation because they weren’t backed by a sworn affidavit

But perhaps most remarkably, the story identifies 140 “repeaters,” police officers who were named in at least two cases. They represent 1 percent of the entire force. And the story names names; as it turns out, 1/3 of this group of repeaters was named in 5 or more police misconduct suits in the past decade.

We asked Angela to lay out the story:
  • On timing and resources: "I started the police story in mid-February and we went to the printer April 14. I had one primary intern—a recent Medill grad, Yisrael Shapiro—working with me. A couple other interns chipped in an hour here and there."
  • On compiling data: "I started the project by compiling city settlement reports in an Excel file. My primary data set was a build out from that. The city reports include the case number related to each settlement, the damages paid by the city. Yisrael and I went into pacer to download most of the related files. I pulled others manually from the Cook County courthouses. In those court case files, we found the police officer’s names and the addresses where the alleged misconduct occurred. We logged all of that info into that main spreadsheet. I then used mapping software, Access and Excel to analyze it."
  • Analyzing multiple databases: "I also downloaded city payroll data to see which of the officers are still on the department’s payroll. I did the same with a database of police board rulings to see which of the 'repeaters' faced discipline."
  • Requesting information through FOIA: "Also, through FOIA, I got some great data from the Independent Police Review Authority. They gave me two sets of files—one data set of all complaints and another of closed investigations--which I joined in Access then analyzed in Excel. I also used FOIA to get police reports from CPD to learn the nitty-gritty about some of the allegations. I also FOIA’d the state’s attorney’s office to see how many police officers are facing prosecution in the criminal courts. I looked those up manually at the courthouse as well."
  • On what surprised her the most: "That a vast majority of the allegations behind police misconduct settlements are never investigated. In 91 percent of the complaints forwarded from the civil courts to the Independent Police Review Authority, an investigation was never opened. Where’s the oversight?"

Preserving the Public in Public Schools

by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar, Civics Program

"…We educate children for a number of reasons, but ultimately to preserve our democratic republic."
Preserving the Public in Public Schools

But not everyone believes that. For some, preserving prosperity is the current rage, with schools placing an increased emphasis on reading and math, skills deemed essential by the business community. Lost in the process is the commitment to developing good citizens, the foundation for a strong democracy.

In their recently published book, Preserving the Public in Public Schools, Phil Boyle and Del Burns argue that public schools in the United States have served as the perennial battleground for the nation’s competing ideals of a good society.

The authors believe that the debate surrounding the purpose of public education consistently focuses on the issues of liberty, community, equality and prosperity. They contend:
  • Liberty manifests itself best in the current debate over school choice—neighborhood schools, charter schools, magnet schools, or publically-funded vouchers to attend parochial schools.
  • Community is emphasized when we "help students learn to function as effective citizens in a democracy", and "design school experiences to nurture in all children the habits of judgment that democratic life requires."
  • Equality remains the "great unfinished task of American democracy", as our schools remain segregated by race, class, and increasingly, student performance.

When the balance shifts toward a prosperity-based model, the civic health of our communities is weakened, and the underlying fabric of our democracy frayed. Boyle and Burns suggest that we re-balance the equation by aligning economic goals for schools with those that are more democratic. We should teach students to balance self-interest and the common good.

Boyle and Burns leave us to ponder this question: "Shouldn’t education not only prepare children for this world but also develop their potential to help make a better one?"

Monday, April 30, 2012

Street Law Connects Community College Students to Civics

by Andrea Jett Fletcher, Senior Program Officer, Civics Program

The early mission of the nation’s two-year colleges was a practical one: to develop the local workforce by teaching concrete skills and trades. Preparing students for meaningful participation in civic life wasn’t part of the agenda. Thanks to the work of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Street Law, that’s about to change. Today, City Colleges of Chicago—one of the largest community college systems in the country, serving 120,000 students annually—is piloting a law-related civics course designed for community colleges.

Launched at Harold Washington College this spring, this innovative course offers a practical understanding of the U. S. legal system by exploring areas of the law that directly affect students’ daily lives.  Before this year, almost 40 percent of the community colleges in the United States offered law classes, but only as part of career training programs such as pre-law and criminal justice. None of them directly connected the curriculum to democratic engagement. Now Street Law is making that connection.

For Lee Arbetman, executive director of Street Law, professional training and civic literacy should not be mutually exclusive.

"Some think that increased focus on civic learning will mean less attention to workforce preparation. We think they are mistaken… High quality civic learning develops powerful skills that are essential for both democratic practice and workforce preparation: complex problem solving, advocacy and communication, and the ability to collaborate with diverse colleagues," he said.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), most students entering public community colleges received much less civics education in K–12 than their peers attending private four-year colleges. With community colleges becoming the largest, fastest growing and most diverse segment of the higher education market, these institutions could play a critical role in narrowing that gap.

This new course is indicative of a budding national movement of community colleges to develop and expand programs, projects and curricula that engage students in civic learning and democratic practice.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Early Math, Foundational Math

Guest blog by Professor Jie-Qi Chen, Ph.D. Erikson Institute

Education Week featured an excellent piece by distinguished scholars Deborah Stipek, Alan Schoenfeld, and Deanna Gomby about the importance of early math in school readiness and life achievement, and actions we can take to advance this agenda. As someone close to the matter, I couldn’t agree more strongly: early math instruction matters.

Early math matters because it sets the foundation for later learning. Number sense, for example, a concept mentioned in the article, connects quantities to counting and is one of the building blocks for learning arithmetic in the primary grades. To help children develop foundational mathematics concepts in children, teachers must first understand them well themselves.

Early math matters because it fosters positive attitudes toward mathematics learning. In addition to developing math skills, enjoyable early math experiences increase children’s interest in math and create a pleasant emotional response to math activities. Just like a love for reading, a love for math can develop early in life and can propel math imagination and exploration throughout life. Of critical importance in fostering such passion and love for math in young children is their teachers’ positive attitudes toward math.

Early math matters because learning math is so dependent on school-based experiences. Compared to reading, children have much less exposure to early math outside of school. Most parents read to their children often. The same practice does not hold with math. So, school-based instruction may play a larger role in most children’s mathematical experience than it does in their reading experience.

Chicago has made a concerted effort to address the issue of early math education in classrooms. Collaborating with the McCormick Foundation, Erikson Institute’s Early Math Project has had a noticeable impact on improving early childhood teachers’ mathematical competence and child outcomes. Early math that is foundational can build understanding and promote lifelong learning.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Solving the Vanishing Voter Mystery

by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar

Chicago’s voter registration rolls sank to their lowest level in the post-World War II era, according to Monday’s report from the Chicago Board of Elections. Clearly this doesn’t bode well for participation in next month's primary.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown dissected these figures with local Election Commissioners Chairman Langdon Neal, surmising that the pending March 20th primary is a "low-interest election" for Chicagoans given the city’s deep-blue Democratic hue and a contested presidential nomination process relegated to Republican contenders. Their point that the city’s population is declining and voter registration lists have been subsequently scrubbed is also spot on.

Neal and Brown agree that voters also feel disconnected from the political process, but are at a loss in explaining its root cause. I believe this disconnect is a product of two deficiencies: one related to voter registration itself, and the other, our failure to prepare young people for their roles as citizens in a democracy through our formal education system.

Illinois residents cannot register to vote at frequently-visited facilities like schools, college campuses, and hospitals. Moreover, Illinois does not allow for Election Day registration like neighboring states who regularly lead the nation in voter turnout (Minnesota, formerly Wisconsin). In order to vote on March 20th, residents must register by next Tuesday, February 21st.

Even more important, however, is the general lack of preparation for participation in the democratic process. Two generations ago, civic learning was embedded in schools’ formal curriculum. Three civics courses in high school were standard, one focusing on government institutions, another on current events, and a third on civic engagement. Today, we’re lucky if schools offer a single American government class as the social studies have been squeezed by high-stakes tests that focus solely on math and reading.

Select schools throughout the Chicagoland area have embraced proven civic learning practices, and in the process prepare young people for roles we are all assigned, that of citizens. High-quality civic learning pairs knowledge acquisition with skill development, and leads young people to believe that they can make a difference and that government will respond to their concerns. This formula neutralizes collective apathy, and is among the recipes for civic renewal.

Local and statewide adoption of these practices, coupled with liberalized voter registration laws, would revitalize registration rolls and simultaneously solve the local vanishing voter mystery.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Home Visiting Helps Combat Effects of Toxic Stress in Young Children

Guest blog by Diana Rauner, President, Ounce of Prevention Fund & Gaylord Gieseke, Vice President, Voices for Illinois Children

The number of children at risk for the short and long-term effects of toxic childhood stress is growing dramatically. This was the dismal news highlighted in a policy statement released last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics and in a recent op-ed from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Both cite new research that demonstrates that the cumulative effects of growing up in environments replete with violence, parental depression, chaos and other uncertainties can literally alter the healthy, normal development of a young child’s brain. These stressors can impede a child’s capacity to “power down” from the fight or flight reflex, which reduces his ability to manage his temper and emotions or show empathy to others. It can also lead to later drug and alcohol use, obesity, heart disease and even early death.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Voluntary home visiting programs can help young parents learn to nurture and emotionally support their babies during the first 36 months of life and mitigate those environmental risks. Research also shows these programs reduce child abuse and neglect, improve health and education outcomes and reduce reports of parental depression – all key indicators for chronic childhood stress.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund and Voices for Illinois Children have long championed such services for Illinois children. As leaders of the Illinois Early Learning Council’s Home Visiting Taskforce, and in partnership with the McCormick Foundation, we have been at the forefront of efforts to use state and new federal investments to improve and extend the impact of home visiting programs in Illinois.

Today, more than 20,000 children and families in Illinois receive home visiting services. The need, however, is far greater. Estimates are that each year 68,000 young, at-risk children, along with their families, do not have access to services. In the last year the Task Force has helped secure $10 million in funding to enhance Illinois’s home visiting infrastructure and increase access to services.

Home visiting programs work, and are critically needed in Illinois and across the country. We must invest in proven solutions that will render social ills obsolete and support young children in realizing their full potential to grow up happy, healthy and become active contributors to our economy.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Climate for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar

Two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit the Greendale, Wisconsin, School District, outside of Milwaukee. Known for their exemplary commitment to "school climate," the Greendale Schools are outstanding examples of individual school culture effectively expressing their civic mission through positive school climate.

According to the No Excuses report produced by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, positive school climate is characterized by a clean, welcoming environment with visual reminders of the school’s civic mission—teachers and administrators who serve as civic role models—students who have the skills, confidence and opportunities to make a difference in their schools and communities—and policies, practices and infrastructure to support civic norms and values.

Why is this important? Because a primary role of schools should be preparing young people for their role as citizens in a democracy. And school climate is every bit as critical to this mission as academic content and teaching excellence. That applies to all students: Greendale students test better than their demographics would predict, and the racial achievement gap is among the lowest in Wisconsin.

What’s the secret of Greendale’s success? Superintendent William Hughes hires student-centered school leaders and staff with a commitment to civic learning. They engage in ongoing professional development, attending and presenting at conferences and sharing their learning with peers back in the district. Building principals know each student by name, and students have an authentic voice in school governance. Faculty focuses on the development of the whole child via district-wide character education initiatives. Service learning is embedded in the curriculum, and student autonomy and ownership are central to the design and execution of all service projects. We were so impressed that we intend to bring the Greendale recipe back to Illinois and work to embed it in the Democracy Schools certification process.

Related Links:
National School Climate Center
School Climate Research Summary, Center for Social and Emotional Education (Jan. 2010)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Democracy's Future: Renewing the Civic Mission of Our Schools

by David Hiller, President & CEO

There was an important national convening at the White House on Tuesday: "For Democracy’s Future: Education Reclaims our Civic Mission" addressing the critical, but too often neglected, role that higher education must play in preparing the next generation, not only to be career-ready, but also to be great citizens. The session released an excellent report and call to action – with specific recommendations – from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. The report and other materials from the meeting can be found on the Department of Education’s website You can find a video of the session on the White House’s YouTube channel.

This initiative builds on previous work related to improving civic education and civic engagement in K-12 education, including the recently released report "Guardian of Democracy: the Civic Mission of Schools" supported by the McCormick Foundation. You can find a link to that report and more information in our Research & Reports section.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Common Core Standards: Not a Silver Bullet for Education

by Sara Slaughter, Education Program Director

Long-time McCormick grantee Sam Meisels, President of the Erikson Institute, challenges us to look beyond the “panacea” of educational standards in his op ed, "Tripping over the Stairs in the Race to the Top: The Common Core and Early Childhood." He reminds us of what all athletes know: if you start a new sport or exercise with a physical challenge that is too great–one for which you have not spent time preparing–you will not succeed. In fact, you might give up, or worse yet, hurt yourself. We can’t afford to make that mistake in educating our children.

Dr. Meisels, a national expert in assessments for young children, points out that standards are indeed essential for both teaching and assessing children of all ages. But while many in the education field pin all their hopes for fixing our education system on the implementation of Common Core Standards, Dr. Meisels cautions us that they are not a silver bullet and in fact, they need to be modified. Standards should be coupled with sound professional development and assessments. Even more important, the Common Core Standards themselves must take into account the developmental issues of our youngest children. Standards must look beyond cognitive skills and acknowledge the importance of social emotional skills. Those are the skills that allow teens to turn off X-Box Live to study for tests and the skills that help kids stick with a math problem, even when it is really hard.

Children who encounter "stairs" that are too big—too unrealistic—and teachers who are not prepared to coach young children to meet new challenges, are a formula for losing any race. We can't afford for our children—or their teachers—to give up.

Related Link:
Common Core standards pose dilemmas for early childhood (Washington Post)