About Illinois Democracy Schools

An initiative of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Metea Valley High School Recognition Ceremony

A healthy democracy—one that truly thrives, not just survives—depends on the informed and active participation of all citizens. Yet, civic learning experiences have nearly vanished from many of our schools, leaving the next generation ill-prepared for meaningful engagement in public life.

The Illinois Democracy Schools initiative supports a growing network of high schools that are committed to reversing this trend, and empowering students to nurture and sustain our democracy.

Our Approach

High-quality civic learning experiences allow young people to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions that facilitate informed participation in public life. Research has shown that these experiences also promote civic equality, build 21st century competencies, improve school climate and reduce high school drop-out rates. The Illinois Democracy Schools initiative was therefore launched to recognize and support high schools that are dedicated to expanding and improving civic learning experiences across the curriculum.

Research has identified five common elements required to sustain a school-wide commitment to high-quality civic learning. The Democracy School recognition process allows schools to assess the extent to which they embody these elements, as well as identify opportunities for improvement


Recognized schools join the Democracy Schools Network, a community of faculty and administrators that supports sustained commitment through peer-to-peer learning and collaboration between schools. Member schools also receive financial support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to pursue civic learning improvement plans.

Supporting Policy Efforts

In addition to the Democracy Schools Initiative, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition advocates for policy reform that supports high-quality, school-based civic learning.


5 Common Elements

Necessary to Sustain a School-Wide
Commitment to Civic Learning

Vision & Leadership
A vision for the importance of civic learning and shared leadership to see it through

A strategically designed curriculum that incorporates effective approaches to civic learning

Teacher Hiring, Assessment & Professional Development
Hiring practices, performance reviews and professional development that assert and support the importance of effective civic learning

School-Community Connections
Opportunities to involve the community in the school and the school in the community

School Climate
A school climate that nurtures and models civic dispositions such as personal responsibility, student engagement in decision making, and mutual respect and tolerance

These elements are explored in depth in the Illinois Civic Blueprint, 2nd edition.

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Robert R. McCormick Foundation
205 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 4300
Chicago, IL 60601

Phone: 312 445 5000
Fax: 312 445 5001
Email: info@mccormickfoundation.org