A new report from AAAS, the world's largest general science society, explains how ten K-12 school districts, serving some of the nation's poorest inner-city regions, are improving performance and closing the gap between minority and non-minority students in science and mathematics.
A second companion analysis by the Urban Institute -- also set for release at the 2005 AAAS Annual Meeting during the AAAS Forum for School Science -- reports on curricula and professional development efforts intended to improve science and mathematics performance at the middle- and high-school levels. The two reports, supported by the GE Foundation, are intended to help promote "seamless" educational change, from kindergarten through the workplace, for improving science and mathematics achievement.
"Producing the capacity to lead, measure and sustain science and mathematics performance for all students across an entire school district is a community responsibility," said Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, when asked to summarize the AAAS and Urban Institute studies, supported by the GE Foundation.
"The good news is that it is possible to increase student performance in mathematics and science while closing the performance gap that usually characterizes achievement levels of minority and poor students," Malcom added. "But, there is no single magic bullet for effecting change overnight. Similarly, 'boiling the ocean,' or attempting to change everything very rapidly and all at once, is never the best solution. Our analysis shows that carefully devised, multi-faceted strategies, sustained over time, are the only sure path to success."
The AAAS report on K-12 science and mathematics education, A System of Solutions: Every School, Every Student, identifies six factors that are critical for achieving sustained success in improving the performance of science and mathematics education for all students. U.S. school districts surveyed as part of the AAAS report are: Atlanta; Boston; Brownsville, TX; Columbus, OH; El Paso; Houston; Los Angeles; Miami; Portland; and San Diego
The bottom-line message for K-12 educators, parents and students interested in improving science and mathematics performance across school districts is summarized by the AAAS report as follows:
"This work is hard and will take a long time to get it right," concludes the System of Solutions report, which will be available online as of 21 February. "It is not cheap. It needs to take place in a climate where failures and mistakes begin to be seen as opportunities to learn and correct."
At the same time, although the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 was generally applauded by school district leaders interviewed by AAAS researchers, many expressed strong concerns about inadequate funding for program initiatives. Others raised concerns about the fact that NCLB currently focuses only on reading and mathematics, while science is being squeezed out of the school day because it is not scheduled for testing under NCLB until 2007.
The AAAS study is based on a re-analysis of ten school districts selected for support under the U.S. National Science Foundation's Urban Systemic Initiatives/Urban System Program (USIs/USPs), as well as in-depth interviews with educators in leadership positions. (For details, see Academic Excellence for All Urban Students, by Jason J. Kim and colleagues.
Six success factors were identified by AAAS as essential for affecting change in science and mathematics performance, as follows:
1) Ownership & Accountability -- Ownership of student achievement must be "community property." Problems and solutions must be widely shared across stakeholder groups at all levels.
2) Resources, Notably Time -- Communities underestimate how long it takes to improve learning. They need to build in sufficient design and planning time (approximately one year) and commit for the long term while monitoring performance.
3) Data & Research-based Practice -- Research-based approaches and/or curricula are being used by "more successful" districts. While NCLB urges research-based models, guidance on their strengths and weaknesses is not provided.
4) High Expectations & High Standards -- Tying the work of the USIs to national standards effectively raised the bar for the reforming systems. Providing assistance to teachers to meet these new standards must be accompanied by efforts to build public support and a sense of urgency to undertake such change.
5) Management & System Capacity -- School systems are "large businesses," often poorly managed. Transformation is not free, and additional support will likely be needed. Corporations may be able to assist in "expertise sharing."
6) Implementation & Technical Assistance: Going to Scale -- Despite all NSF-funded sites beginning with the same drivers (design principles), the "less successful" sites in increasing student achievement were failures of implementation, not of design.
"There is some irony in the fact that major efforts at systemic reform were undertaken with populations and districts for whom the public has the lowest expectations," the report concludes. "And yet, it anticipates the challenge that America must meet: to provide to the many, from a shifting demographic, the kind of high-level subject matter competence necessary for America's future."
Materials provided by American Association For The Advancement Of Science. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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