A comprehensive civic education teaches not just civic knowledge but civic skills, civic values and dispositions, and civic behaviors in a relevant and engaging way while fostering civics and reflecting democratic ideals throughout the school climate, culture, and leadership. Students who experience this type of high quality civic education are more likely to vote and discuss politics at home, complete college and develop employable skills, volunteer and work on community issues, and are more confident in their ability to speak publicly and communicate with their elected representatives. Where many of us look to address the current shortcomings of our constitutional democracy through education, we may well also fuel education through democracy.
That’s exactly what happened at George Washington High School, a public school in Chicago.
Less than a decade ago, Washington High was very much a school in trouble, struggling as an Illinois Priority School because it had ranked in the bottom 5% for achievement in the state for three years or more. Since then, the school has seen a complete turnaround. It is now a Level 1 school, the highest ranking Chicago Public Schools awards. Academic achievement is up, discipline incidents are down, and the school feels like a place where students thrive and feel a sense of belonging and pride. That experience, described in greater detail in an article in the August 2019 edition of Education Next, was transformational, and the school’s story holds a valuable lesson.
How did this happen? There is not one magic bullet. Instead, improvement came through a combined focus on basic literacy, leadership, relationships, building on the strengths of some great teachers, and a new state requirement for civic education at the high-school level that provided the leverage and resources for dramatic change.
The success is the result of long term investments and direct work by the McCormick Foundation, along with its many partners including CivXNow member Mikva Challenge, to dramatically improve and expand civic learning in Illinois. We celebrate their success.
Now, one need only walk into the school to feel how invested students are in it. As Ward 10 Alderwoman Garza stated, “Now, kids want to come here…and that filters out back into the community.” Investing in 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. Learn more about best practices in civic education, and join the CivXNow movement to ensure every school in the nation fulfills its historic and vital civic mission!