New Research Study Confirms Impact of Professional Development in Civics

Jan 23, 2017 / James Madison Legacy Project, Message from the Center

“A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power

which knowledge gives.”

– James Madison

James Madison, noted as the father of the U.S. Constitution, reminds us in the preceding quote of the importance of an educated citizenry.  Many institutions help to develop Americans’ knowledge and skills and shape their civic character and commitments.  The family, religious institutions, the media, and community groups are important influences to this end.  Our nation’s schools, however, bear a special and historic responsibility for the development of civic competence and civic responsibility.

That is why our Center is very pleased to be administering the James Madison Legacy Project (JMLP), a three-year nationwide teacher professional development program designed to expand the availability and effectiveness of civics instruction through professional development with an emphasis on digital content. The JMLP project is funded by a Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and it is a prime example of how the federal government can promote excellence and equity in our nation’s classrooms.  Through this project more than 2,000 teachers of civics will enhance their knowledge , skills and capacities to provide highly engaging and effective civic education to more than 200,000 students in schools with significant populations of high-need students.

The JMLP began October 1, 2015, and is now entering its second year. On November 30 Dr. Diana Owen, a nationally acclaimed researcher at Georgetown University, released a report on a randomized quasi-experimental study showing the impact of the project on the first cohort (group) of teachers receiving training in the first year.  The study can be read here:

The study revealed significant and positive outcomes, including the following:

  • Teachers’ civic knowledge increased significantly after completing the JMLP professional development (PD) program when compared with control-group teachers.
  • After the PD program, JMLP teachers were significantly more inclined than the control-group teachers to promote the goals of educating students about core democratic principles and the basics of American government. JMLP teachers also became more committed to preparing students to take an active role in public affairs and engage in the political life of their communities.

The teachers’ evaluations in the study were equally positive:

  • The vast majority of teachers found scholar lectures and professional development activities related to civics content, classroom pedagogy, and resource familiarization led by mentor teachers to be very effective.
  • 95% of teachers felt that practical exercises for implementing activities and lessons in the classroom were effective.
  • 82% of respondents reported that they felt well prepared to implement the We the People program in their classrooms.
  • Participating teachers valued the experience of their mentor teachers in preparing them to lead simulated congressional hearings with their students.
  • 88% of teachers agreed that they will use the JMLP network to access professional development opportunities and to assist them with gaining information about We the People or civic education events.

There is abundant evidence that knowledgeable, skilled, and dedicated teachers are one of the most important factors, if not the most important single factor in providing a sound civic education for our students.  Such are essential to the civic mission of our schools.  Through the exploration of meaningful content using innovative teaching methods they can inspire their students to become active and lifelong participants in the democratic process.

The James Madison Legacy Project is dedicated to the implementation of Madison’s notion that in our democratic system citizens must be armed with “the power that knowledge gives.” We are very pleased that the research noted above clearly indicates that the project is serving this worthy goal.

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