Essential School Supports for Civic Learning
Healy, Shawn P.
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This dissertation tests the respective contributions of traditional and innovative civic learning practices to students’ civic knowledge and skills via statistical analysis of student performance on the past three iterations of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Civics. Their ability to close the “civic achievement gap” across race and ethnicity, family income, parental educational attainment, and English language proficiency is also determined. Next, through analysis of 2013 Illinois Five Essentials survey data, school mission and vision statements, student handbooks, school-wide civic assessments, and structured interviews with 25 teachers and administrators at Illinois high schools recognized for their strong civic learning programs, common elements for sustained, systemic commitments to students’ civic development were deduced. Exposure to selected traditional and innovative civic learning practices collectively contributes to students’ civic knowledge and skills. The latter do not universally outperform the former. In fact, they appear most impactful when offered in tandem. Moreover, the vast majority of these practices fail to close the aforementioned “civic achievement gap.” They do, however, make positive contributions across demographic groups. Unfortunately, exposure to powerful practices at ideal dosages is inequitably distributed, where white, non-poor, English proficient students whose parents completed college are more likely to benefit. Finally, schools with sustained, systemic commitments to students’ civic development have strong civic mission statements and shared leadership in their pursuit. They boast challenging curriculum with traditional and innovative civic learning practices woven across grade levels and subject areas. They also leverage reciprocal relationships with parents and the surrounding commitment, where all parties view one another as vital resources. While the selected schools have room for improvement in the areas of civic-oriented staff development and a school climate that nurtures students’ civic development, these indicators are vital to sustaining and systematizing school-based civic learning.