In a culture where a school’s performance is defined by students’ standardized test scores, civic education has been overshadowed. Yet new empirical research by the UChicago Consortium shows that what happens in the classroom is vitally important in developing civically committed young people—far more important than the backgrounds or extracurricular activities of students.
This new research brief, written specifically for a community audience, summarizes a working paper entitled Developing Citizens: A Longitudinal Study of School, Family, and Community Influences on Students’ Commitments to Civic Participation. This brief explores the relationship between various kinds of civic learning opportunities in classrooms and students' commitments to civic participation. The brief also includes some “best practices” from classrooms and service learning projects—examples that demonstrate how to get students involved in their own learning across myriad subjects.
The study of some 4,000 juniors in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high schools shows that students who experienced a focus on topics such as social issues and community involvement in any of their classes developed a stronger commitment to civic participation. The research also reveals that too few students benefit from this kind of rich learning. About one-third of surveyed students reported that they had not discussed issues they care in any of their classes over the course of the year, they had not been required to keep up with politics and government, and they had not been encouraged to make up their own minds about political and social topics.