New study gives Illinois an ‘F’ for civics and history education standards
A recent study by the Fordham Institute critiqued Illinois’ education standards for U.S. history and civics education. Illinois’ standards lacked mention of historical concepts and did not offer goals for what each grade should learn in civics and U.S. History.
A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Illinois’ civics and U.S. history education standards failing grades. The Fordham study assigned letter grades for each state’s civics and U.S. history standards. Illinois brought home an F in U.S. history and an F in civics: these failing grades placed Illinois 44th on the ranking of states.
The Fordham Institute’s study reported that students, not just in Illinois but across the nation, suffer from bad civics and U.S. history education. The Fordham Institute concluded that 75% of students in America lack proficiency in U.S. history and 85% lack proficiency in civics.
The Fordham Institute’s conclusions mirrored other researcher’s claims. The Brown Center found that civics knowledge lagged in eighth grade students despite improvements in math and reading.
Illinois suffers from a lack of clarity and specific content within the state’s civics and U.S. history standards, according to Fordham’s analysis. Illinois’ civics standards scored 1 out of 7 points for content and rigor and 1 out of 3 points for clarity and organization. Illinois’ U.S. history standards scored 2 out of 7 points for content and rigor and not a single point for clarity and organization.
Fordham offered a list of the good and bad qualities of Illinois’ civics standards. The state’s civics standard succeeded in its clear outline of the “inquiry skills” that students should learn: This was Fordham’s only compliment for civics education in Illinois.
Notably, Illinois’ standards failed to guide teachers with a list of specific civics concepts. Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., provide each grade with recommended civics topics like the branches of government, the Constitution and Supreme Court cases. Illinois’ standards, instead, offer a series of unspecific goals for elementary students. Illinois’ guidelines for high school students offer similar vague objectives and make no mention of the recent civics class required in all Illinois high schools.
The singular commendable quality of Illinois’ standards, according to Fordham, was the state’s emphasis on history-related research.
The standards in Illinois didn’t provide teachers with a detailed roadmap of American history. Many other states provide teachers with a list of monumental figures, events and laws. In Illinois the standards make no mention of specific parts of U.S. history, like the War for Independence, the Civil War or the Great Depression.
The Fordham Institute advised Illinois to make the following changes to their standards: teaching more civics in elementary school, adding details which suggest topics for teachers to cover and testing more rigorously in high school.
For Illinois and the country, the stakes are greater than they appear. As explained by Rebeca Winthrop, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, improving civics education will be necessary if students hope to combat the political misinformation found across the internet. An informed electorate is also essential in terms of holding accountable elected officials and government agencies, two groups which are notoriously corrupt