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Final Report On the Illinois #CivicsIsBack Civic Education Initiative

Read about CIRCLE's major evaluation of innovative K-12 civics policy and implementation in Illinois

The past decade has seen innovations in K-12 civic education policy. That’s resulted in renewed efforts to understand how policy can be targeted to affect a state’s particular policy environment and educational system, with the goal of ensuring that more students and schools have support for implementation—especially schools in lower-income districts, and those that are far away from the economic centers of the state. CIRCLE has been at the center of trying to understand what has worked through evaluation partnerships in Florida, Illinois, and Massachusetts. 

Illinois in particular is a unique example of a state that embedded pedagogical recommendations into civics legislation and centered peer mentors and extensive teacher support in its implementation. In August 2015, Illinois House Bill 4025 (HB 4025) was signed into law, requiring all high school students across Illinois to complete a semester-long civics course starting with the high school graduating class of 2020. Since then, CIRCLE has been working as a research partner with McCormick Foundation to provide an iterative, action-oriented evaluation of the Foundation’s efforts to support teachers and school districts in implementation. We're pleased to share our final report.

At the heart of the Illinois Civics Team (made up of McCormick staff and peer teacher mentors) effort to support the civics course implementation was supporting teachers in adopting best-practice pedagogies and embedding them in their civics curriculum. In addition to the course requirement, the law also mandated the use of research-backed proven practices in civics as described in the Guardian of Democracy report, which are content-based direct instruction (i.e., current and controversial issue discussions, service learning for informed action, and simulations of democratic processes).

Shortly after the law was signed, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved a new Social Science standards which mandated that teachers use inquiry-based learning, as recommended by the National Council of Social Studies’ College, Career and Civic Life Framework. As a result, the Illinois Civics Team designed a peer-to-peer mentor-based model in which they recruited teachers who were specially trained to be regional mentors to high school teachers and school districts across the state. The 34 teacher mentors were part role model, part coach, part resource and part advocate to teachers in their region and led a grassroots movement to change teaching practice in civics across the state.

This report provides a detailed assessment of implementation efforts in the past three years through the perspectives of high school teachers, the peer mentors, and stakeholders in the Illinois civic education ecosystem. The report has data from three main sources collected over the summer of 2019 and in the two years prior: 

  • 19 in-depth interviews with peer mentors
  • 22 in-depth interviews with stakeholders including professional development (PD) providers, university and institutional partners, Chicago Public Schools (CPS personnel), district administrators, curriculum specialists, and more
  • A survey of high school teachers across the state (number of respondents=57). The appendix provides a list of partner and mentor interviewees
  • Comparative analysis from the annual reports CIRCLE provided in the last two years that included data from mentors, teachers, and partners surveys in Year 1 and mentor and student surveys in Year 2.