Street Law, Inc. has received a $1.1 million American History and Civics Education Grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase the discussion of contested and current issues in classrooms and communities across the state of Maryland.
The project—Talking About Local Current and Contested Issues in Schools (TALCCS)—will support Maryland social studies teachers through innovative instruction, high-quality professional development, and tailored curricula. Teachers will emerge with the skills, confidence, resources, and administrative support needed to prepare and guide their students through discussions of contested public issues—a step toward bridging divides in American society.
Throughout its three-year lifespan, TALCCS aims to benefit more than 36,000 elementary, middle, and high school students by supporting 450 teachers from all 24 Maryland school districts.
TALCCS will be a collaborative effort between Street Law, Inc., the Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative (WEC), and public schools throughout the state of Maryland.
The Need: Bolstering Teachers and Creating Opportunities for Students
America has never been more divided, and that polarization spills over into classrooms as well. Teachers and administrators are fielding calls from concerned parents and managing increasing challenges with class discussions about current and contested issues.
Proven, research-backed strategies, like discussion and deliberation of current and contested issues, are valuable tools for helping to bridge divides. However, despite these researched benefits, few students receive frequent opportunities for high-quality, effective discussions of hot-button policy issues and current events.
Additionally, teachers report that, while they want to facilitate important student discussions and build understanding across differences, they need more professional development and administrative support to bring these types of experiences into their classrooms.[i]
TALCCS will help fill an important need in education practice by equipping teachers and administrators to facilitate strategies that develop students’ abilities to skillfully discuss contested public issues and to create opportunities for students to practice this essential civic skill in the classroom and beyond.
The Project: A Scalable, Sustainable Approach
TALCCS will take an innovative, scalable, and sustainable approach by initially focusing on 12 classrooms, expanding to reach all 24 Maryland school districts, and eventually reaching into communities.
- Phase 1: 12 classrooms—12 teachers will pilot the project’s strategies in their classrooms and will prepare to serve as teacher-leaders for their districts.
- Phase 2: Four school districts—Teams of an elementary, middle, and high school teachers, school administrators, and district leaders from four districts will be supported as they incorporate the discussion of current and contested issues into their classes.
- Phase 3: All 24 school districts—Teacher training and support will expand statewide with 450 teachers from across Maryland participating to bring current and contested issues discussion into their classrooms.
- Phase 4: Communities—Focus will move beyond formal education settings and into communities where students and adults will come together to discuss a current and contested local policy issue with the goal of searching for consensus. These discussions can help bridge generational divides and the school/community gap, in addition to political differences.
Adaptability and sustainability are built into the project design and will be addressed throughout the three-year project.
Regular feedback loops between Street Law, the project evaluator (WEC), and participating administrators and teachers will help ensure that challenges and opportunities are addressed swiftly. An advisory group of students will frequently provide feedback on student needs, topic areas of interest, and what is and is not working in their classrooms from a student lens.
The project will build teacher capacity to not only conduct deliberative discussions in their classroom, but also to train other teachers, develop curricular resources, and serve as model teachers and leaders in their districts.
“Street Law brings decades of experience working alongside teachers and school districts to help students discuss contested issues,” said Street Law Executive Director Ashok Regmi. “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to channel our proven expertise into this important effort to ultimately build in young people the desire and skillsets to work across differences.”