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IES Grant

Title: Project Citizen Research Program
Center: NCER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Irion-Groth, Alissa Awardee: Center for Civic Education
Program: Civics Education and Social Studies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (09/01/1908/31/22) Award Amount: $3,299,888
Type: Efficacy Award Number: R305A190360

Co-Principal Investigator: Owen, Diana

Purpose: In this study, researchers will evaluate the efficacy of Project Citizen for improving outcomes in middle and high school level civics. Project Citizen is a widely used civics intervention. Students identify and research a public policy problem in their community, evaluate alternative solutions, and create an action plan to enlist local or state authorities to adopt their proposed policy. Prior research demonstrates the promise of Project Citizen to improve students' civic skills under researcher-controlled conditions.

Project Activities: Researchers will implement Project Citizen as a class-wide intervention. In Year 1, researchers will recruit schools and randomly assign them to receive the intervention or to serve as a control school. In Years 2 and 3, treatment schools will implement Project Citizen in grade 7 to 12 classrooms. Teachers who implement Project Citizen will receive professional development consultations from the developer at the start and at various points during the year. During this time period the researchers will collect and analyze data.

Products: The products of this project include evidence of the efficacy of the Project Citizen program, a publicly available data set, peer reviewed publications, and reports provide to stakeholders in the field as well as the general public through social media and networks.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will occur in 120 public and private middle and high schools throughout the United States. The researchers will recruit a sample of schools that represent the diversity of the nation in respect to such factors as urban, rural, and suburban settings, socioeconomic status, and race and ethnicity.

Sample: In this project, 30 students per school will complete the study or 600 students per condition (a total of 1,200).

Intervention: In Project Citizen, classes of students work cooperatively to identify a public policy problem in their community. Students research the problem, evaluate alternative solutions, develop their own solution in the form of a public policy, and create a political action plan to enlist local or state authorities to adopt their proposed policy. Students develop a portfolio of their work and present their project. Many of the classes involved in the program take the next step of direct civic engagement by contacting public officials and attempting to influence them to adopt their policy proposal. Since its inception in 1993, Project Citizen has been implemented in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and in more than 70 nations.

Control Condition: Schools in the control condition will employ a standard civics, social studies, or American government curriculum where the teachers work from a textbook and use standard pedagogies, such as lecture and class discussion.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will randomly assign 120 participating middle and high schools to use the intervention or to the control. The study will employ a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The core quantitative study design will consist of multi-site, school-level, randomized control trials based on pretest/posttest surveys to assess the impact of the professional development program on middle school and high school teachers and the Project Citizen curriculum intervention on students. The school will be the unit of randomization, as Project Citizen is most frequently implemented as a school-based project that can involve more than one teacher and/or class. The qualitative components of the research design will include ethnographies of the professional development program summer institutes, classroom ethnographies to observe the implementation of the Project Citizen curriculum, and teacher interviews.

Key Measures: The measures will be developed from the extant academic civics literature. The team will select items that have demonstrated statistical reliability and will include items designed by the research team. The measures will focus on student knowledge of government, on public policy processes, and in the acquisition of civic skills and dispositions. The team will also integrate concepts and measures from across disciplines, including items in reading, math, and (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) STEM competencies.

Data Analytic Strategy: To estimate the effect of Project Citizen, researchers will use analysis of covariance models to estimate differences in the adjusted mean knowledge scores for subjects in the intervention and control groups, while controlling for covariates. Researchers will specify the models with posttest knowledge as the dependent measure, intervention/control group as a fixed factor, school as a random factor, and pretest knowledge as a covariate. They will assess students' civic knowledge gains, development of civic dispositions and skills, and learning in math, reading, and STEM. They will assess teacher content knowledge and pedagogy.

Cost Analysis: Researchers will determine the costs associated with implementing the intervention using the "ingredients method." This will entail systemically collecting and analyzing all expenditures on personnel, facilities, equipment, materials, and training.

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