Civics Education Resource Site

Civic Education Implementation Plan

The #BringCivicsBack Campaign

On August 21, 2015, Governor Rauner signed House Bill (HB) 4025 into law, requiring that future Illinois high school students complete a semester-long civics course. Course content will center on government institutions, current and controversial issues discussions, service-learning, and simulations of democratic processes. HB 4025 is now known as Public Act 099-0434.

A separate bill (HB 800) passed by the Illinois General Assembly to provide further clarity on Public Act 099-0434’s effective date. The course mandate would take effect on July 1, 2016, and apply to incoming freshmen for the 2016-2017 school year. HB 800 is now known as Public Act 099-0485.

See the full text of Public Act 099-0434 and Public Act 099-048.

Responsibility for statewide implementation of a new high school civics course falls on the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), its Regional Offices of Education, individual school districts, and ultimately high schools and teachers within them. Central to this implementation effort is the need for teacher professional development opportunities and access to classroom resources. Public Act 099-0434specifies that “School districts may utilize private funding available for the purposes of offering civics education.”

To ensure adequate support for professional development activities and classroom resources, the corporate and foundation communities are creating a new public-private partnership that has committed at least $1,000,000 annually for a three year implementation period. The effort is being managed by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation with support from other interested philanthropies and civic organizations.

The proposal that follows draws upon models already in place in Illinois and other states. It represents a comprehensive approach to strengthening Illinois’ civic education system over the course of three-years.

The #BringCivicsBack Campaign has three central elements. It begins with implementation of the new high school civics course, and follows with integration of new Illinois Social Science Standards addressing civics. The Campaign addresses the teacher training pipeline from college to classrooms, and incorporate an ongoing evaluation plan for each of these elements.

Course Implementation

Needs Assessment

Based upon our research, 60% of Illinois public high schools currently require at least one semester of civics and/ or government in order to graduate. These courses are well-positioned to meet the mandate assuming they address the best practices specified in the civics legislation. While these schools may need some support in the near-term, they will not need as many resources as schools without a course (see Figure 1). 2

Figure 1: Civics Course Teacher Professional Development School Focus

An additional 27% of Illinois public high schools offer (but do not require) a course that can be categorized as civics or government. These schools will need help in scaling elective courses for the entire student body and aligning with best practices (discussion, service-learning, and simulations). They are important targets of our implementation efforts.

The primary focus, however, will be on the 13% of schools with no existing course or whose curricular offerings in this subject area are unknown. They will need strong support from the outset and reliable models to emulate.

To help plan for implementation, current and prospective civics teachers within each ROE area, service region, and CPS have completed a needs assessment.1 The assessment was disseminated by partner organizations, including ROEs, CPS, charter school networks, teachers unions, the Illinois Council for the Social Studies, and civic education nonprofits, with data analysis to follow. It will illuminate the prevalence of best practices in civic education and related training needs specific to each region or district.

Organizing the Support Effort

Given Illinois’ large number of school districts, Regional Offices of Education (ROEs; 35 in total) are well-positioned to partner with and help guide implementation.2  In conjunction with the Illinois State3 Board of Education, ROEs supervise all school districts in their regions and advise and assist teachers and school officers within these boundaries. Among many responsibilities is providing professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators in line with license renewal processes. Beyond the ROEs, Cook County has three service centers (the equivalent of ROEs) with whom to partner.

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Global Citizenship Initiative, which includes a semester-long civics course in 35 district high schools as of the 2015-2016 school year, is another model for course implementation.

Teacher Professional Development

Outside of Chicago, regional professional development workshops and ongoing supports are being designed in response to needs assessment data. Workshop staples will include content and pedagogies consistent with the new course mandate.

Figure 2: Illinois public school regions

Local and national professional development providers with proven expertise in these areas would first train mentor teachers in the early summer, and these mentors, in turn, will co-facilitate two-day summer institutes for subscribing civics teachers in their respective regions. The mentors will also be responsible for leading fall and spring follow-up inservice sessions for these same teachers.3  This cycle will repeat itself over a three-year implementation period and respond to ongoing needs assessments.

In line with best practices in teacher professional development, summer institutes and inservices will be content-focused, connected to teachers’ daily classroom experiences, collaborative in nature, and continuous. Their impact on teachers’ classroom practice would be assessed regularly.

Selected professional development providers will receive funding for their services and related resources (curriculum and other materials). Workshops will be held regionally at partner sites located in Regions I-VI as defined by the Illinois State Board of Education (see Figure 2). Workshop hosts will receive funding for recruiting and convening teachers in their respective regions in partnership with local ROEs nested within these larger public school areas.

For further information, visit Guidelines for School Administrators.

Teacher Mentors

Teacher mentors have been recruited for each region (one per Regional Office of Education; 38 in total including Cook County’s three regional service centers) and assigned to schools with no existing course requirement. They are tasked with providing fall and spring in-services for teachers in their region and/ or consulting with them on a regular basis. Mentors will be compensated semi-annually for their services.4

This plan is informed by the longstanding work of Econ Illinois, including its use of consultants to serve every geographic region of the state, professional development provision in partnership with school districts, and increased reliance on web-based resources to serve new teachers that reportedly prefer online engagement options.5

For further information, visit Teacher Professional Development

Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science

The pending adoption of new Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science arrive at an optimal time parallel to the new civics course. The standards collectively embrace an inquiry arc6 premised on student-generated questions, having them draw upon disciplinary concepts and tools, evaluating sources and using evidence, and ultimately, communicating conclusions and taking informed action. Assuming adoption, their implementation will require alignment of existing resources among educational nonprofit partners, development of new curricula and assessments, and extensive professional development.

Pre-Service Teaching Programs

In order to sustain the aforementioned objectives, best practices in civic learning must be integrated into collegiate pre-service teaching programs throughout Illinois. Early work in this area may include support for existing, or the creation of new, site-specific programs. Assuming success, these programs can serve as models for replication at other colleges and universities and ultimately changes to state licensure requirements.


Given the Robert R. McCormick Foundation’s experience in convening the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, managing the Democracy Schools Initiative, and supporting the CPS Global Citizenship Initiative, the Foundation is leading and coordinating the private and nonprofit efforts to support the course implementation process.

Figure 3: Teacher Professional Development Provision Model

The Foundation is leveraging existing and emerging resources and helping coordination between Regional Offices of Education ROEs, civic education non-profits, and the schools they will serve (see Figure 3). The Foundation is working with ROEs to conduct local needs assessments with civics teachers, and is co-creating professional development opportunities and curricular resources in response to these needs in partnership with civic education nonprofits. These nonprofits will convene teachers regionally and provide training and resources aligned with proven civic learning practices in partnership with teacher mentors. Mentors are being recruited through ROEs, helping to facilitate teacher professional development workshops and providing ongoing support to schools throughout the implementation period.

Course implementation work is funded by the McCormick Foundation and other philanthropic partners. The fund is managed by the McCormick Foundation working with an advisory board consulted regularly and convened quarterly throughout the three-year implementation period. In addition to ROEs, civic education nonprofits, and teacher mentors, the advisory board will have representatives of ISBE, CPS, the Illinois Council for the Social Studies, the academic community, and funding partners.

The #BringCivicsBack Campaign is based upon successful local, state, and national models, and leverages a range of local and state resources, and meets the immediate and long-term needs of a stronger civic education system for Illinois.

For more information, contact Shawn Healy, Chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition at



1 This is similar to Ingenuity’s model for arts education in Chicago Public Schools. Ingenuity partners with CPS to assess the “State of the Arts” in each of the 664 schools in the district. Through a “Creative Schools Certification” that appears on school progress reports, Ingenuity rates schools’ art programs on a scale from “emerging” to “excelling.” Data from the certification process allows schools to identify strengths and areas of opportunity. Then, Ingenuity matches the more than 800 arts organizations with schools based on their needs and provides funding for their services.

2 Florida provides a useful model. In order to implement the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2010, Florida created the Joint Center on Citizenship, a partnership between the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida. The Joint Center was endowed by state with $7 million and receives recurring appropriations of $400,000 annually for teacher professional development aligned with a required 7th grade civics course. The Joint Center’s early stand-alone professional development offerings were poorly subscribed, so they turned instead to a school district organized model where social studies supervisors request the services of the Joint Center and subsequently recruit teachers to attend their workshops.

3 The Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago successfully employed a similar, statewide model two decades ago in their provision of law-related education teacher professional development.

4 The Florida Joint Center has documented a shift towards teachers’ use of online resources to support their middle school civics course (8,000-10,000 teachers access their site daily). This includes heavy use of narrated powerpoints, written background content specific to civics learning standards, and related assessment items.

5 Created in 1951, Econ Illinois focuses on content knowledge, pedagogy, and classroom application. Its services are aligned with ROEs, and it attempts to eliminate “deserts” through partnering with organizations in adjacent states and also building a statewide network of consultants (the equivalent of Democracy Schools mentors) with the capacity to reach every corner of the state. Econ Illinois also builds strong partnerships with school districts. Because it is increasingly difficult for teachers to leave school for professional development, Econ Illinois identifies inservice dates for districts well in advance and often holds trainings on these dates each year.

6 According to the National Council for the Social Studies, the “Inquiry Arc (central to the C3 Framework) highlights the structure of and rationale for the organization of (its) four Dimensions. The Arc focuses on the nature of inquiry in general and the pursuit of knowledge through questions in particular.” The dimensions are 1) developing questions and planning inquiries, 2) applying disciplinary tools and concepts, 3) evaluating sources and using evidence, and 4) communicating conclusions and taking informed action.