On August 21, 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Public Act 99-0434 , which required that every high school in the state must provide at least one semester of civics coursework for its students. 

The law, which stated that the course should “help young people acquire and learn to use the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that will prepare them to be competent and responsible citizens throughout their lives,” was set to go into effect by July of 2016 and apply to all incoming high school freshman of that year - meaning that it had to be fully implemented by the start of the 2019-2020 school year. 

CivXNow has just released Implementation in Illinois: What States Can Learn From How Illinois Implemented its 2015 Civic Education Law that takes an in-depth look at Illinois’ four year mission to establish the course. A follow up to the recently released case study on how Massachusetts passed its sweeping legislation to establish civic education reform, this case study is meant to provide guidance for other states as they contemplate what it might mean to implement better civic education throughout an entire state.

Illinois is a fascinating example for how such an undertaking might work. An incredibly diverse state, it includes massive suburban districts, rural districts, and the country’s third-largest school district, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

For the broader state of Illinois, the implementation focused on establishing a massive teacher professional development network, developing a wealth of supporting materials, and establishing a powerful public-private partnership led by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to orchestrate the effort. It also saw the Chicago Public schools create its own, different implementation plan, as the CPS wrote a curriculum to support the civics course. 

Implementation in Illinois explores these parallel plans.

It also looks at a 40-year history of smaller-scale efforts to improve civic education in the state through the work groups such as the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago , Mikva Challenge , and the Democracy Schools Initiative - and a long-term effort to establish service learning and other civic education programs in the CPS. The paper tells the story of how all of those disparate efforts ultimately laid the groundwork for the implementation - in the hopes that policy makers and educators can find some helpful takeaways. 

The law and its effective implementation has literally transformed entire schools. As depicted in the CivXNow documentary , since embracing the new state requirement for civic education, CPS’s George Washington High School has seen a complete turnaround. Academic achievement is up, discipline incidents are down, and the school is a place where students thrive and feel a sense of belonging and pride. 
The state’s story holds valuable lessons. Effective policy and implementation, building public-private partnerships, and investing in educators’ development and the civic life of schools suggests a pathway for a new kind of education reform, one in which fueling democracy through education will also fuel education through democracy. We think this is a model worth exploring, and we encourage other states and districts to follow Illinois’s lead. 
Implementation in Illinois is available to read online or to download at CivXNow.org

Join us for a CivXNow Webinar on Wednesday, April 8th at 12pm ET to hear from Brian Brady of Mikva Challenge , Shawn Healy of McCormick Foundation , and Steven Rothstein formerly of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to discover firsthand their hurdles and successes of passing and implementing civic education policy and how your state can learn from the MA and IL models.

*Phone Dial-in: +1 (669) 224-3412
Access Code: 653-742-805  
*Please only use audio on either your computer or phone to avoid feedback and other sound quality issues

Inside this Newsletter:
  • Mark your Calendar for SXSWedu - CivXNow Happy Hour and Panels
  • What do Students Think about Civic Education?
  • Member Spotlight - Laura Tavares, Facing History and Ourselves 
  • Florida Moves to Increase Civic Learning Opportunities
  • Webinar with Media Training Expert Jess Todtfeld

Mark Your Calendar for SXSWedu CivXNow Happy Hour and Panels

CivXNow will be leading two panels at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas on March 9th and 11th as well as co-hosting a happy hour on March 10th! Join us to hear about Civics on the Legislative Slate and Pass the Mic: Students Discuss Equity in Civics .

Tuesday, March 10th at 5pm CT
Austin Taco Project
Join us on March 10th from 5 to 6pm CT in the game room at Austin Taco Project, 500 E 4th St, Austin, TX 78701 to meet your CivXNow team members and network with other CivXNow partners! Please do not hesitate to forward this information to your coworkers attending SXSWedu, and thank you to our happy hour co-host, Generation Citizen !
Wednesday, March 11th at 3:30pm CT
Hilton Downtown - Room 412
Civic education is on the verge of a major revival. Led by a growing movement for legislation that requires civic education and makes it relevant to today’s youth, more than 80 bills pushing for better civics were brought before state legislatures this past year. Federal legislation may soon follow. This panel with CivXNow featuring Louise Dube of iCivics , Shawn Healy of the McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Program , Emma Vedehra of Next100 , and Andrew Wilkes of Generation Citizen will look at what’s happened so far, what’s next, and what we can learn from states that have already passed new laws.
Monday, March 9th at 5pm CT
Hilton Downtown - Room 400
Are students getting what they need from their civic education? This session will pass the mic to the students, allowing them to share their insights and experiences working with adults to bring equitable change to their civic learning environments. If students are our primary stakeholders, why aren’t we asking them what they think? This session,with Amber Coleman-Mortley of iCivics, student voice advocate Jaden Deal from Iowa, and two of our Youth Fellows A’Niya Bakston of California and Alexandra Henderson of Louisiana, will focus on the impact of the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship , highlighting student voice as central to the discussion on equity in civic education. 

Other CivXNow members also have meet ups, panels, and panelists at SXSWedu - a sampling of which are below:

Monday, March 9th at 11am CT, Austin Convention Center - Austin Suite
PBS NewsHour

Monday, March 9th at 12:30pm CT, Hilton Downtown - Salon E

Tuesday, March 10th at 11am CT, Hilton Downtown - Salon H
Generation Citizen

Tuesday, March 10th at 12:30pm CT, Hilton Downtown - Room 408
Aspen Institute

Tuesday, March 10th at 12:30pm CT, Austin Convention Center - Room 10AB
Participatory Budget Project

Tuesday, March 10th at 2pm CT, Hilton Downtown - Room 412
PBS NewsHour

Wednesday, March 11th at 11am CT, Hilton Downtown - Salon H
Aspen Institute

Wednesday, March 11th at 4pm CT, Hilton Downtown - Salon G
Democracy Prep Public Schools 

Do you have an upcoming event we could help advertise? Let us know by replying to this email!
What do Students Think about Civic Education?

There’s a lot of talk about civic education, but what do students think?

The Youth as Civic Experts Network is launching a national, student-led social media campaign on equity in civic education - help us amplify their voices! 

Join thousands of classrooms across the country on March 2nd for the Tweet-Out! We want students thinking about and answering tough questions, modeling civic learning, and engaging in civic acts in their schools and communities. 

Follow the student-run social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram, and use the #CivicsForUS hashtag to share relevant ideas, blog posts, videos, and more. 

Learn more about the campaign here !
Member Spotlight - Facing History and Ourselves
Laura Tavares
Program Director for Organizational Learning and Thought Leadership

This month’s member spotlight shines on Laura Tavares, the Program Director for Organizational Learning and Thought Leadership at Facing History and Ourselves . Laura leads the organization’s strategic partnerships, and she designs learning experiences for educators and classroom resources. Laura also represents Facing History and Ourselves on the Steering Committee of “ Educating for American Democracy: A Roadmap for Excellence in History and Civics Education for All Learners ” - the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and U.S. Deptartment of Education funded project led by iCivics , the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, and Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life .

Q: Most of the readers of this newsletter know Facing History and Ourselves, but tell us about the program.   

Tavares: Facing History and Ourselves is a global education nonprofit that uses lessons of history to challenge teachers and students to stand up to bigotry and hate. More broadly, our approach to humanities education helps young people become more equitable and engaged, and more responsible decision-makers, who can help to build more just and inclusive societies. We've been around for about 44 years. Throughout that time, we've integrated the study of history and literature with civic learning using resources and case studies that help teachers to address moments in history from the Reconstruction Era and Civil Rights in the US to the history of World War II and the Holocaust in Europe. We also offer professional learning and ongoing support for teachers in schools. We currently have about 100,000 trained educators in our network, and many more who are accessing resources online.

Q: So how does this translate into the classroom? What does a Facing History lesson or program look like in action?

Tavares: Most of our work focuses on looking deeply at moments in history and works of literature that tell stories about the fragility of democracy. We're called Facing History and Ourselves because the moments we look at are typically hard moments, when neighbor turned against neighbor, when human rights were violated, when democracy fell apart. What that looks like in the classroom might be a teacher in a US history course teaching a three-week really deep case study about the Reconstruction Era, for example - which is a history that has been often mistaught or too little taught in schools. Our approach connects a deep learning of that history with students thinking about questions of justice and belonging and participation in our own democracy today. Facing History units always begin by exploring students' own identities and big questions about the relationship between the individual and society. Then we look deeply at the historical case study or at a work of literature. It could be a memoir like Elie Wiesel's Night . It could be a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird . Afterwards, we ask “how does this study of history and literature educate me about my responsibilities today?”

Q: How do you define that as civics, or rather, how does that fit into the civics framework?

Tavares: Civics is not just about how governments work, about levers of power, about systems and structures. Civics is also really about the relationship between citizens. It's not just how citizens relate to the government, but how people relate to each other within societies. I think all of our case studies are really designed to help students think about the complexities of history and the complexities of how democracy works. Not just in the abstract, but actually the social and political context in which governments function, and the role of individuals in making change and upholding democracy and standing up for basic rights.

We really believe that civic education begins not just in curriculum, but with how teachers approach the classroom, how they create a learner-centered environment, how they are able to value students' identities. We invite students into learning in a way that students are not just receiving information, but actively constructing knowledge, looking for meaning, and understanding their own agency. All of our work drives towards that bigger goal of helping students understand the importance of individual choices in history and, therefore, the importance of their own decision-making in our world. We’re building not just knowledge, but the skills and dispositions of citizenship.

Q: We live in very polarized times. There are a lot of difficult moments right now. Talk about how this type of program is important right now.

Tavares: Everyone understands that democracy is at risk right now, not only in the United States but all around the world. When we ask why democracy is at risk right now, it's not so much because people don't understand how governments work. It is because of polarization. It's because of inequality. It's because people have failed to understand the history that has shaped the challenges that we face in the present. Through studying history and literature, and with Facing History's approach, students are not only learning history but they're also cultivating some really essential civic skills like perspective taking and toleration for different viewpoints.

We actually did a randomized controlled trial a few years ago that showed that students, after studying with Facing History, had tolerance for different political views, increased capacity for civil discourse, and this belief that they can make a difference. I think we see right now a lot of disenchantment with democracy, or cynicism on the part of young people. I think having experiences in school that show you that your voice matters, and that you can make a difference, are really essential to the health of democracy.

Q: What are some of the most-used Facing History lessons right now?

Tavares: We keep close track of what our educators are doing. What's popular right now is not only the study of history, but also educators really wanting to teach about current events. We launched this program to support teachers to teach about what's happening today and understanding it in light of the past and historical legacy. We've seen a huge demand for that. We created a new collection of resources that's growing all the time. We have a lot of teachers who are subscribing, coming to webinars. Teachers right now are really interested in finding tools not just to teach about the past, but also help their students engage with the complexities of the present.

Q: Social Emotional Learning is a big part of what you do. Could you talk about that?

Tavares: That really grew organically from the fact that Facing History began with teaching difficult histories. We always knew that you can't study difficult histories just with your head. Your heart is also going to be implicated. Paying attention to students' emotional engagement with learning, helping them to develop historical empathy and also empathy in the present, as well as ethical reflections, has always been part of our work. We see that our programs have a lot of impact on students' self awareness, social awareness, and responsible decision-making, which are some of the key pillars of social emotional learning. I think what that really means in the classroom is that teachers are paying attention to how they use classroom contracting, for example, to create a space where students can ask big questions, can share their opinions, can be open both intellectually and emotionally to engage with the complexities of the past, and really have the ability to practice perspective thinking and practice civil discourse.

Q: Can you give an example of what that looks like in a classroom? 

Tavares: We have a civics case study called Choices in Little Rock, which is about the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. When we begin the study of that history, we look not just at the legal factors that led to integration, like Brown v. Board. We also look at the personal experiences and stories of young people, both members of the Little Rock Nine, but also white students who went to Central High School who were bystanders, students who were bullies or perpetrators, and also ones who defended and were allies to the Little Rock Nine.

When you read those personal accounts, for example, Elizabeth Eckford's story about the first day of school in her own words, you hear her sense of that she was engaging in something that was a fight for justice. It was about making history. You also hear her saying things like, "I was also wondering about my dress that I was going to wear, my outfit for the first day of school. Did I look okay? Who was I going to sit next to at lunch?" We encounter these figures in history as people who, in some ways, are not that dissimilar from us. Of course, these historical figures were teenagers just like the students who are studying the history.

I think, in that way, students are really able to emotionally connect with the study of history, understanding it as a human story, which is a bridge to social emotional learning. Then they begin to be able to ask questions about their own decision-making, when they think about how students in Little Rock Central High School were motivated by fear, by peer pressure, by conformity. These are all things that are a bridge between the past and the present that help students understand, how did those forces play out in this moment in history? Also, how are they playing out in my own environment and my own decision-making?

Q: Let’s talk about your work with the NEH Educating for American Democracy program. Why did you decide to join the Steering Committee?

Tavares: Having just come from the first convening in Baton Rouge, it's an incredible opportunity to work across different disciplines, across different entry points into the fields of civics, across different ranges of opinions and approaches to civic learning to create something that I think really can have a national impact. What Facing History sees in this partnership is a chance to really leverage the expertise, not just the nonprofits like us, of scholars, of historians, of political scientists. The presence of active educators on the Steering Committee is critical too. I think this effort is likely to be successful in creating something which can be used and embraced by teachers all across the country.

Q: What are your first impressions of the project after the first convening at LSU? 

Tavares: One of the big questions that we face as a working group, is thinking about who is the “we” in U.S. history? How do we integrate a more inclusive story of the American past than perhaps has typically been told? How do we integrate multiple perspectives and untold stories while still creating a common story? That's a big task. It's one that, I think, is really crucial and also really exciting. Being with the group at LSU, and seeing that we had representation from all over the country from different types of organizations and perspectives, makes me hopeful that we will find a way to offer a framework of U.S. history that has an entry point for all of the students who are in our schools.

Q: Is there anything else that you want people to know or any thoughts you want to share?

Tavares: It's exciting to see with the CivXNow Coalition, organizations and individuals from all over the country who are really putting our heads together about the importance of teaching civics right now. I think if we at Facing History have learned anything from our study of history, it's that democracy is a really fragile enterprise and it's never done. It's not a product. It's a process that is always ongoing. I see the work of the Coalition and the work of Educating for American Democracy collaboration as a really important part of that ongoing democratic process.

Share Insights from Laura on Social Media

“Civics is not just about how governments work...Civics is also really about the relationship between citizens. It's not just how citizens relate to the government, but how people relate to each other within societies.” -@facinghistory #CivXNow

“actively constructing knowledge, looking for meaning, and understanding their own agency...helping students understand...the importance of their own decision-making...We’re building not just knowledge, but the skills and dispositions of citizenship.” -@facinghistory #CivXNow

"we see right now a lot of disenchantment with democracy, or cynicism on the part of young people. I think having experiences in school that show you your voice matters, & that you can make a difference, are really essential to the health of democracy.” -@facinghistory #CivXNow

“Teachers right now are really interested in finding tools not just to teach about the past, but also help their students engage with the complexities of the present.”
-@facinghistory #CivXNow

"@HistoryCivicsEd is] an incredible opportunity to work across different disciplines..different ranges of opinions&approaches..to create something I think really can have a national impact..which can be used&embraced by teachers all across the country." -@facinghistory #CivXNow

"democracy is a really fragile enterprise and it's never done. It's not a product. It's a process...I see the work of @CivXNow and the work of @historycivicsed collaboration as a really important part of that ongoing democratic process."
-@facinghistory #CivXNow
Florida Moves to Increase Civic Learning Opportunities

Multiple recent developments in Florida promise to continue the State’s national leadership in providing civic learning to all its K-12 students.

On January 24 th , Governor Ron DeSantis announced the completion of a review of Florida’s K-12 Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, with recommendations for improvements. Among the improvements is infusing Civics throughout the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. The State has developed a comprehensive grade by grade reading list on civics and history topics that will be a requirement for use in all Florida schools. Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Cochran commenting on the revised standards, stated, “They not only incorporate civics throughout every grade, a first of their kind in the nation, ensuring that our students are well versed in the United States Constitution and the responsibilities of citizenship, they also provide educators with clear and concise standards.” 

Here is a link to Florida’s new ‘Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking’ (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts (ELA), the comprehensive civics and history related reading list begins on page 168: www.fldoe.org/standardsreview

Last year the Florida Legislature passed a measure ( HB807 ) directing the Commissioner of Education to conduct a review of “instructional material for certain civics classes; to identify any errors or inaccuracies” and for a review of “statewide civics education course standards.” The review of the instructional material was done in consultation with several national civic education organizations and institutions of higher education. The instructional material review has been completed. The results of the standards review have not yet been announced. 

On January 27 th , Governor DeSantis announced the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative with The Marcus Foundation, for elevating civic knowledge, civic skills and civic disposition for middle and high school students. The Marcus Foundation has committed $5 million over a three-year period to the Florida Education Foundation to increase Florida students’ access to speech and debate programs. The Florida Civics and Debate Initiative is expected to:

  • Promote the expansion of middle and high school debate and speech programs to all of Florida’s public school districts;
  • Increase middle school civics end of course state passage rate from 71% to 80%;
  • Increase high school civics end of course state passage rate from 71% to 75%;
  • Implement a National Civics, Speech, and Debate competition for all students - the first-of-its-kind in the nation; and
  • Make Florida a nationwide leader in training high school teachers in all Florida counties and train other states to continue or begin to successfully run competitive speech and debate teams at their schools.

In announcing the Civics and Debate Initiative, Governor DeSantis said, “By offering civic debate, we can better challenge our students to think critically and provide them with the knowledge of our nation’s founding principles and institutions. I hope that this initiative will have a strong impact on classrooms and school campuses across our state as we look to build a bolder, brighter, and better education system in Florida.”

Florida State Representative Ben Diamond (D), joined by State Rep Vance Aloupis (R), (with State Senator Jeff Brandes (R, sponsoring the Senate version), have sponsored HB 581 , a bill that would allow high schools to include a nonpartisan civic literacy project in their existing government curriculum. Students would formally identify an issue or problem in their community, research it from multiple perspectives, and develop strategies to address it. The bill enables students to apply in the real world what has been taught in the classroom.

Students who successfully complete a civics project would be eligible to receive community service hours that apply toward Bright Futures Scholarship requirements. Schools that integrate these projects into their curriculum and demonstrate a commitment to high-quality civic instruction would be recognized for their efforts. This measure successfully passed its first Committee hurdles in both Chambers as of the first week in February.  
Webinar with Media Training Expert Jess Todtfeld 

Renowned media training expert Jess Todtfeld gave a special webinar to the members of the Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship on the Do’s and Don’ts of giving interviews to the media. The program - which was also made open to all CivXNow members and their communications teams - included a crash course on strategies for pitching the media, techniques for preparing for interviews, and tips on answering media questions in a way that translates into the soundbytes that all organizations need.
Listen to the webinar recording for Todtfeld’s top takeaways on getting more interviews and feeling calm and comfortable with reporters from any medium. 
Todtfeld, the founder of Success in Media, is one of the leading communication and media training authorities in the U.S. With more than 15 years as a media trainer and consultant, he has been a TV host, reporter, and producer - and holds the Guinness Record for most media interviews given in 24 hours (112 radio interviews). For more information on Jess Todtfeld, visit https://www.successinmedia.com/ .
Your CivXNow Team

Our CivXNow team facilitates the publication of this newsletter.

In addition, we are supported by (and very grateful to) several members of the Coalition who - very generously - contribute their energy, time and guidance including: Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics , Mikva Challenge , PACE , McCormick Foundation , Tufts University , Citizen University , Ronald Reagan Foundation , JFK Library Foundation , ConSource , National Conference on Citizenship , Generation Citizen , and many many others who support individual projects.

This important work is generously funded with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York , The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation , and The Robert R. McCormick Foundation .


Louise Dubé
Executive Director
iCivics, Inc.
Cambridge, MA