CPS Civics Initiative Fares Well in its First Year

by Shawn Healy, Resident Scholar, Civics Program 

Last August, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in partnership with the McCormick Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, launched the Global Citizenship Initiative (GCI) in 16 high schools. The GCI is designed to close a “civic achievement gap” as wide as those in reading and math, and to strengthen the civic mission of CPS high schools. Despite a tumultuous teacher strike, extensive principal turnover at GCI pilot schools, and a polarized debate about pending school closings, the GCI penetrated district high schools and prepared students for college, career, and civic life.

A senior year civics course debuted at the 16 GCI schools last fall. It was taught by 21 teachers and reached roughly 1,300 students. The course content emphasizes both elections and public policy, and the curriculum leverages proven civic learning practices like discussion and service-learning. Students responded positively to the course. One wrote, "I find my civics class very intriguing. I am learning how to become an active citizen and be a participant in the process of bettering my community."

Fourteen of the 16 GCI schools also created student voice committees, where students identify issues of concern in their schools, and work with administration to resolve them. For example, Steinmetz Academy’s student voice committee, led by History teacher David Gonzalez, demonstrated how a malfunctioning metal detector caused student tardiness, and ensured its repair along with a broader revamp of school security measures.

GCI teachers completed more than 45 hours of professional development last year, including a weeklong civic boot camp. Community partners, including the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, Facing History and Ourselves, and the Mikva Challenge, supported both the curriculum development and these extensive professional development opportunities.

The vast majority of GCI pilot schools (14 of 16) remain committed for the second year of the initiative, and an additional 17 signed on for 2013-2014. The GCI constitutes a massive experiment in urban education to strengthen schools’ civic mission and close the civic achievement gap. Year one was an unqualified success on both counts, and the McCormick Foundation is proud to partner with CPS to insure that no citizen is left behind.


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