Illinois General Assembly Debates #CivicsInTheMiddle Grades
Fresh off successful implementation of a high school civics course requirement, the Illinois General Assembly is considering driving high quality civic learning down to the middle grades. House Bill (HB) 2265 would require a semester of civics within grades 6, 7, or 8, including instruction on government institutions, discussion of current and societal issues, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes.
The dilemma: Middle school students are ill-prepared for informed and effective civic engagement in our democracy.
- According to the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Civics, only 23% of 8th graders demonstrate proficiency in civic knowledge and skills, with a stark civic achievement gap along racial and ethnic lines.
- 44% of school districts have reduced time for social studies since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2001.
The solution: High-quality civic learning opportunities in Illinois middle schools for ALL students can help reverse this trajectory, building civic knowledge and skills.
- The more knowledgeable and confident a person is in their own civic competencies and skills, the more likely they will vote regularly, participate in a range of civic engagement activities, and believe that government is a source for good.
- By requiring a semester of civics in middle school infused with proven civic learning practices, HB-2265 will build students’ civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions, leading to lifelong, informed, and effective engagement in our democracy.
Why now? With the new high school civics requirement firmly in place, Illinois is well-positioned to strengthen civic learning in the middle grades.
- Since October 2015, the McCormick Foundation has provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development to more than 10,000 teachers statewide.
- These professional development opportunities have improved teachers’ feelings of competence in key instructional strategies, and a Spring 2018 survey shows strong civic outcomes among students as a result of course exposure, including enhanced knowledge and skills. Students are also more likely to report engagement in a range of civic behaviors (see graph below).
The plan: Like implementation of the high school course, the McCormick Foundation proposes a three-year, privately-funded $3 million plan ($1 million annually) to support middle school teachers, schools, and districts to incorporate a civics course in grades 6, 7, or 8.
- Ongoing teacher professional development opportunities, both in person and online, are central to our proposed effort. They will be offered in partnership with civic education nonprofits and institutional partners, including universities and regional offices of education.
- To ensure that expertise on best practices in civic education is embedded in Illinois middle schools, we intend to recruit and train instructional coaches in each school and/ or district serving students in grades 6-8.
- In addition to the McCormick Foundation’s ongoing investments in youth civic education and engagement in Illinois ($4.2 million in grants in 2018), our course implementation efforts have an annual operating budget of $1 million. We pledge to contribute an additional $400,000 to this effort each year and are working to raise the balance through local philanthropic partners.
The problems that plague our state and nation are generational in nature. By investing in the civic development of our youth, we will empower them to resolve these issues, building a better Illinois and a heathier democracy.
HB 2265 furthers this cause. It passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on School Curriculum and Policies on March 20 and advances to the floor with an April 12th deadline for consideration. Follow the Illinois Civics blog for further updates and the #CivicsInTheMiddle hash tag on Twitter.