Political Science Now

Essential School Supports for Civic Learning

Chapter 9: Essential School Supports for Civic Learning

Shawn P. HealyRobert R. McCormick Foundation Democracy Program

This chapter summarizes previous research on essential school supports for students’ civic development in the context of high schools. Through analysis of survey data, school mission and vision statements, student handbooks, school-wide civic assessments, and structured interviews with 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.

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 community. Although 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.

Finally, this chapter draws parallels from findings at the high school level for translation to higher education. Challenges are acknowledged, but opportunities abound, as colleges and universities have an important civic mission that must ultimately form a P–20 continuum as we prepare students for informed, effective participation in our democracy.

Download the book & read the full chapter.


About the Author

Shawn Healy, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Democracy Program’s civic learning scholar, serves as the Foundation’s internal resource for knowledge on civic education and engagement. Healy plays a key role in the Democracy Program’s work in the areas of advocacy and public policy, serving as a chair of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, and leading the state’s Democracy Schools Initiative.

Healy recently chaired the Illinois Task Force on Civic Education and led the successful push for a required high school civics course in Illinois. He also led the Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force in 2014-2015. Its recommendations were adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education in June 2015.

Healy makes regular appearances as a guest speaker and panelist at academic and professional development conferences across the country, is a frequent contributor to local media, and produces original scholarship in the area of political participation and civic education.

Before joining the McCormick Foundation, he served as a social studies teacher at West Chicago Community High School and Sheboygan North High School. A 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin, he holds a MA and PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in political science and earned a bachelor’s degree with distinction in Political Science, History and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Healy’s doctoral dissertation is titled “Essential School Supports for Civic Learning.”

Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines / Copyright ©2017 by the American Political Science Association / pp: 124-133