The National Science Foundation and Systemic Reform
By Janice Earle and Julia C. Wan
The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Statewide Systemic Initiatives
(SSI) Program represents a new federal strategy for NSF. Previously, NSF
funded individual program components but these components did not address
issues of systemic reform such as comprehensiveness, scale and
sustainability. A primary operating assumption in systemic programs is
that a tighter and more coherent alignment of state policies and resources
will produce improved instruction in science and mathematics with
subsequent improvements in student achievement. In order to create
alignment, several of the significant components of the system must be
examined and modified. For example, the SSI states have worked with
curriculum through creating or revising state curriculum frameworks that
are based on national standards, and creating or disseminating new
materials. Some states are revising assessment and accountability
programs. All SSI states are working on professional development programs
for teachers and administrators. Others focus on policy alignment through
changes in teacher certification, state graduation requirements, and
pre-service education programs.
A primary goal of the SSI is high quality science, mathematics, and
technology (SMT) education for ALL students. This means making the
education "systems" more equitable in terms of learning opportunities and
in terms of who takes (and succeeds in) advanced science and mathematics
courses. The under-participation of certain groups of students in advanced
science, mathematics, and technology education is well documented. The SSI
seeks to effect change in student participation and performance by
transforming school curriculum, classroom instruction, and teacher
education, and by increasing parental support so that ALL students have
opportunities suited to their needs to learn science, mathematics, and
technology education. This includes benchmarks for curriculum, assessment,
professional development, management and governance, policies,
partnerships, articulation, and evaluation which have been developed by
the states to guide this effort.
What Strategies are States Using to Implement SSI?
One key SSI strategy is the creation or strengthening of partnerships.
Successful systemic reform requires the collaboration of educators at all
levels, state and local policymakers, business and industry, parents, and
the community at large.
Strong connections and articulation between K-12 and higher education are
critical elements in SMT education reform. The crucial roles that higher
education can play in K-12 reform fall into three categories: (1) the
professional community from the disciplines can provide up-to-date content
expertise in the development of curriculum frameworks, instructional
materials, and standards implementation; (2) the science and mathematics
education researchers can provide knowledge on pedagogy and
developmentally appropriate concepts in curriculum and instruction; and
(3) science and mathematics educators are key players in teacher
pre-service and in-service development. The following examples illustrate
how four SSI states are creating partnerships for reform.
Expertise in Curriculum, Instructional Materials, and Standards
Montana's SSI is a partnership of the Montana Council of Teachers of
Mathematics, the University of Montana and Montana State, and the
Department of Public Instruction. The SSI's primary area of focus has been
the development of a 9-12 mathematics curriculum that uses an integrated,
interdisciplinary approach. Integrated mathematics means integration
across mathematics topics, integration with other disciplines (arts and
sciences), and integration with technology. This initiative is led by two
mathematics professors, one from each of the two major state universities,
working collaboratively with a team of high school mathematics teachers.
Teaching modules for grades 9 and 10 have been created, field-tested,
revised, and reviewed by national experts. This curriculum has been used
in more than a quarter of the state's ninth grade classrooms to date.
Tenth-grade materials are now being piloted and revised, and the eleventh-
and twelfth-grade materials are being written.
The Montana SSI goal is that this curriculum will change mathematics in a
majority of the state's high schools. Eventually, this curriculum will be
commercially available nationwide.
Montana is also revising teacher certification standards for mathematics,
to align them with the changes in the mathematics curriculum promoted by
Mathematics and Science Pedagogy
A cornerstone of Ohio's SSI is a program of intensive, six-week summer
institutes for middle school teachers that focus on inquiry teaching.
Courses are offered in Physics, Life Science, and Mathematics by Inquiry,
supplemented by academic year professional development seminars. The
summer institutes are developed and conducted by higher education faculty
at Miami University and Ohio State University. To date, almost 700 middle
school teachers have participated in the program. Observers in these
teachers' classrooms describe less use of texts, and high rates of
questioning, use of student journals, active teaching, checking for
understanding, and letting students analyze findings rather than having
teachers explain everything.
Recent reports show that other universities (11 institutions of higher
education in partnership with the Ohio SSI) have mathematics and science
faculty attending the inquiry courses with middle school teachers.
These universities are now attempting to implement inquiry courses in
their own institutions. These courses are aimed at future teachers.
Faculty have struggled with implementing these ideas in their
institutions, and comment particularly on the dilemma of "breadth versus
depth" (hands-on approaches mean you cover less content, but the content
is better understood by students). While these courses are now electives,
they are undergoing an approval review process, and it is anticipated that
the inquiry courses in mathematics, physics and life sciences will be
available for all pre-service teachers.
Teacher Pre-service and In-service
Connecticut and Louisiana are examples of SSI states that have
strengthened pre-service and in-service delivery as part of the states'
systemic reform plan.
Connecticut has increasingly focused on institutions of higher education,
beginning modestly in 1991 to foster "dialogues" between those in the K 12
system and in institutions of higher education. Out of these dialogues
grew partnerships to establish "co-teaching" in over 20 locations. Co
teaching involves having K-12 teachers work in colleges and universities
co-teaching methods courses. Mathematics and science professors become
actively engaged in elementary and secondary schools.
Following the dialogues, a grants program was instituted. Currently,
Southern Connecticut State University, Quinnipiac College, Connecticut
College, Western Connecticut State University, St. Joseph College, Central
Connecticut State University, and the University of Connecticut have all
received funds to work closely with K-12 schools and to modify courses at
the undergraduate level. The Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs) that
train over 90 percent of the state's teachers have restructured student
teaching experiences, provided resources for a mathematics and science
resource center, and institutionalized co-teaching. Another program at
Wesleyan University provides intensive professional development to middle
school mathematics and science teachers. Half of the teachers in this
program come from Connecticut's high poverty, high need districts.
Another example of a strong K-12 and higher education partnership in
systemic reform is the Louisiana Statewide Systemic Initiative. The
Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education is the lead institution
for the Initiative, which had professional development of grades 4-8
science and mathematics teachers as a major focus.
The professional development model is based on: (1) specifically designed
course content with emphasis on reasoning, investigating, and practical
understanding of concepts; (2) recruitment of 30 mathematics and/or
science teachers in pairs from schools for each workshop or institute; (3)
summer and/or academic-year institutes providing 120-180 hours of
concentrated, integrated exposure to grade-level relevant content and
methods; (4) academic-year follow-up activities including classroom visits
and day-long workshops; (5) 0 allotment per teacher for classroom
materials; (6) graduate credit for successful participation in the
project; and (7) stipends of per day for program participants.
The Louisiana professional development activities described above are
jointly planned and implemented by mathematicians/scientists,
mathematics/science educators, and teacher leaders as site coordinators.
Site coordinators are the bridge connecting summer workshops and classroom
instruction. They are chosen from K-12 and higher education for their
extensive classroom experience and knowledge of curriculum and assessment.
Louisiana SSI professional development projects are awarded competitively
to universities, based on recommendations of out-of-state expert panels.
In the past three years seventy-four projects, involving most of the
private and public universities in Louisiana, have been implemented and
over 2,400 classroom teachers have participated in these intensive,
in-depth teacher in-service activities.
Although the SSIs are still in the middle of implementing their
initiatives, we take note of the following preliminary observations on the
contributions of strong K-12 and higher education partnerships:
1. The partnerships strengthen K-12 programs because they bring the
expertise of faculty in mathematics, science and pedagogy to the reform
2. Teacher preparation and development programs are improved because of
the perspective and active involvement of K-12 teachers;
3. Mathematics and science professors have become more reflective of their
own teaching practices and are using new pedagogy with their students;
4. The synergy of the partnerships has accelerated each state's progress
toward reform, through providing a common vision and agenda for
improvement and developing strategies that will make the reform