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IES Grant

Title: Connecting Classrooms to Congress: Fostering Informed Civic Engagement via Online Deliberative Town Halls
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Kahne, Joseph Awardee: University of California, Riverside
Program: Civics Education and Social Studies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2021 - 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $2,000,000
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A210359

Co-Principal Investigator: Esterling, Kevin

Purpose: In this project, the research team will develop and test a social studies intervention, centered on an online Deliberative Town Hall, to engage high school seniors and teachers directly with their member of Congress. The intervention is designed to embed a democratic experience within a real-world activity to motivate students to deepen their understanding of a controversial policy topic, and to develop their capacity for analytical thinking, argumentation, and writing.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop the curriculum and the related technology in year 1, conduct the feasibility study among six diverse schools in years 1 and 2, conduct a randomized control trial (RCT) to carry out a pilot test of the impact of the intervention among 42 schools in diverse locations in Illinois and Florida in year 3, and then analyze and write up the results for dissemination in year 4.

Products: The research team  will produce a scalable, 14-day, writing-focused module that will fit with existing 12th grade social studies curricula, along with a custom, web-based platform that will package the curriculum, online student writing notebooks, and easy-to-use web-based tools for both horizontal and vertical deliberation. The project team will produce knowledge of the causal effect of exposure to the curriculum module that will be disseminated to teachers, school administrators, policy makers, and to academic audiences in education and in political science through reports and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The researchers will implement the study in Illinois and Florida, in urban, suburban, and rural schools, and with Democratic and Republican members of Congress. The researchers will recruit schools in collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools, the McCormick Foundation Democracy Schools in Illinois, and the Lou Frey Center in Florida. Remote technology enables students from different areas within a state to engage with each other as well as with their member of Congress.

Population/Sample: All students in grade 12 in participating schools will take part in the intervention. The feasibility study will include six schools in California, Illinois, and Florida. The RCT will include 21 schools in Illinois and Florida for each experimental condition, for a total of 42 schools, or about 147 teachers, 420 classes, and 12,600 students.

Intervention: The curriculum module will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, as well as state specific standards for Illinois and Florida. The module will be structured so that it can address issue areas that involve controversial topics that are relevant to students' interests, allowing teachers to choose which one is the best fit for their course and students' interests. The curriculum module unfolds over four phases: pre-assessment of student writing and survey outcomes; preparation for deliberative town hall including issue research and horizontal deliberation with students from a different school; the online Deliberative Town Hall; and a reflection, structured writing, and post-assessment. The module will provide the opportunity for a deliberation with a member of Congress wherein students develop and explain their own positions on a controversial issue to students in a school in a different part of the state.

Research Design and Methods: In year 1, the researchers develop the first draft of the module and professional development materials for teachers and begin collaborating with them on the feasibility study with careful attention to fidelity. The feasibility study will continue through year 2, providing a basis to revise the curriculum, professional development materials, and technology. In year 3, the researchers will conduct the RCT to evaluate the efficacy of the module developed through the feasibility study collaborations. In year 4, the researchers will conduct all data analysis, write up, and dissemination findings and information on the intervention.

Control Condition: Schools assigned to the control condition will receive identical pre- and post-assessment as those administered to the treatment condition. Control schools will use the three-class period issue research component of the module, but not implement the deliberation with other students or with their member of Congress.

Key Measures:  The researchers will measure students' analytical writing ability using the Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum and integrative complexity, which measures demonstrated understanding of competing aspects and trade-offs for a policy topic. The researchers will assess student pre-post outcome surveys that include measures of policy knowledge, argument repertoires, civic dispositions such as political efficacy and political interest, and civic participation.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will examine the causal effect of exposure to the curriculum using data generated by an RCT analyzed using Bayesian multilevel models to accommodate the nested structure of the data.

Cost Analysis: The researchers will conduct a cost-effectiveness analysis for the curriculum module relative to the issue-only control condition using the IES-funded CostOut approach.