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Illinois Civic Blueprint

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The Civic Blueprint for Illinois High Schools was designed to give educators, policymakers, parents, and all residents of Illinois:

  • Explanations of promising approaches to high school level civic learning
  • Examples of Illinois high schools, educators, and students using these approaches
  • Recommendations for implementing these approaches in high schools throughout Illinois
  • Resources that support schools and communities in promoting civic engagement among Illinois high school students

In 2009, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, in partnership with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, published a visionary report titled Educating for Democracy: Creating a Civic Blueprint for Illinois High Schools. The report captured the proceedings of a February 2009 conference that crafted a Civic Blueprint for Illinois High Schools, and articulated a vision for high-quality, school-based civic learning in the state.

Shortly after publication, the Civic Blueprint was endorsed by the Illinois State Board of Education, appropriately on Constitution Day. The Democracy Schools Initiative (DSI) of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, a program designed to deepen school-wide commitments to high-quality civic learning, continues to abide by its principles and has proliferated throughout the state. In fact, both houses of the Illinois General Assembly have passed resolutions endorsing the DSI. The Illinois Senate commended the schools that have already completed the process, encouraged others to seek recognition, and recommended this distinction appear on school report cards. As of September 2013, 22 Illinois high schools have been formally recognized as Illinois Democracy Schools, and a growing number of high schools across the state were in various stages of the application process.

In celebrating the successes of the past four years, we are obligated to revisit the initial parameters established in the Civic Blueprint. Research in the field of civic learning and engagement continues to proliferate and inform our work. The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition has grown in size and scope, and the network of Illinois Democracy Schools continues to expand.

Collectively, these dynamics pointed to the need for a revised Civic Blueprint, and the pages that follow reflect this product. In the intervening four years, the promising approaches to high school civic learning became “proven practices,” reflective of the emerging research cementing their effectiveness. The Democracy Schools Initiative has scaled up significantly, and thus new examples of school-wide commitments to civic learning abound.

A thorough review of research on continuous school improvement has demonstrated that while challenging curriculum remains central to Democracy Schools, other essential supports underpin schools that live their civic mission (Bryk et al, 2010; Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, 2010).

These supports include school leadership, staff development, school climate, and school-community relationships. The available resources that support these essential characteristics of Democracy Schools are also broader and present within schools, the programs offered by Illinois Civic Mission Coalition members, and the communities where schools are situated.

In the introduction that follows, Carolyn Pereira, the founding chair of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and Emeritus Executive Director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, makes a compelling case for the urgency of high-quality, school-based civic learning in Illinois schools. Carolyn is a true trailblazer in the field of law-related education and continues to play an integral role in advancing civic learning in Illinois and nationally.

Chapter 2 details the benefits of school-based civic learning, and includes a vignette written by Jolie-Grace Wareham, a recent graduate of Glenbard East High School in Lombard, reflecting on the importance of the civic learning opportunities she experienced while in high school.

Chapter 3 is divided into five parts and lays out the common elements for a sustained, school-wide commitment to civic learning. They include:

  • Vision and leadership
  • Proven civic learning practices
  • Staff development
  • A reciprocal relationship between schools and their surrounding communities
  • School climate

Like the original Civic Blueprint, Chapter 3 articulates indicators of each of these common elements, along with empirical evidence of their effectiveness. It also provides vignettes written by representatives of Illinois high schools and community partners whose practices or programs exemplify the common elements.

Chapter 4 describes the Democracy Schools Initiative in greater detail, including its history and intent. It also includes general information on the application process, and concludes with information on, and a testimonial from, current Illinois Democracy Schools.

Chapter 5 details advocacy efforts of and policy recommendations from the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition. It begins by describing the history of the Coalition and its achievements to date, and then references current and future advocacy and public policy initiatives. In concludes with policy recommendations for various stakeholders, including state and local policy makers, school faculty and administration, postsecondary institutions, scholars and researchers, and funders.

In the conclusion, Darlene Ruscitti, Regional Superintendent of Schools in DuPage County, urges us to make student preparation for civic life a priority. Darlene is a prominent local champion of civic learning, and the large number of Democracy Schools in DuPage County is testament to her leadership in this space.

Download the Illinois Civic Blueprint