5
Fostering Sustainable Programs

Key Points

  • Understanding how effective science education programs can be sustained requires an examination of the assertions and associated assumptions underlying those programs.

  • Sustainability can be defined as the ability of a program to maintain core beliefs and values and use them to guide adaptations to internal and external changes and pressures over time.

  • A comprehensive literature review has revealed more than 25 factors associated with the sustainability of effective science education for grades K-8, including some that have not been widely discussed before.

  • Sustainability requires and expects that a program’s operating principles are likely to be adapted to different circumstances as they are instituted in new places, but that its core beliefs and values will remain largely intact.

  • Program planning should accommodate future as well as current goals.

  • The critical components of effective programs need to be identified in clear language to learn from innovation.

  • Patience, a long-term perspective, and flexibility are all critical to sustainability.

Several assertions underlie many efforts to improve science education programs, according to Jeanne Century, director of science education and research and evaluation at the University of Chicago’s Center



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5 Fostering Sustainable Programs Key Points • Understanding how effective science education programs can be sustained requires an examination of the assertions and associated assumptions underlying those programs. • Sustainability can be defined as the ability of a program to maintain core beliefs and values and use them to guide adaptations to internal and ex- ternal changes and pressures over time. • A comprehensive literature review has revealed more than 25 factors as- sociated with the sustainability of effective science education for grades K-8, including some that have not been widely discussed before. • Sustainability requires and expects that a program’s operating principles are likely to be adapted to different circumstances as they are instituted in new places, but that its core beliefs and values will remain largely intact. • Program planning should accommodate future as well as current goals. • The critical components of effective programs need to be identified in clear language to learn from innovation. • Patience, a long-term perspective, and flexibility are all critical to sustain- ability. S everal assertions underlie many efforts to improve science education programs, according to Jeanne Century, director of science education and research and evaluation at the University of Chicago’s Center 

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 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.1 Among the most prominent of these assertions are the following: • Effective practices need to be identified. • Those practices need to be scaled up and sustained. • Decisions need to be based on evidence. Embedded in each of these three assertions are important assump- tions that need to be investigated to learn how effective science educa- tion programs can be sustained, Century said. Her research group at the University of Chicago has been investigating these assumptions through a comprehensive review of the literature on both effective science educa- tion as well as on sustaining reforms in economics, business, marketing, and health. This noneducation research offers “a different angle on the question” of sustainability, she said. “We are pretty insular in science education, and that hasn’t served us well in research because we don’t benefit from the work that other people have done.” We are pretty insular in science education, and that hasn’t served us well in research because we don’t benefit from the work that other people have done. —Jeanne Century PREVIOUS WORK ON SUSTAINABILITY About a decade ago, Century was involved in a project that looked at nine school districts around the country that had sustained elementary science programs for between 10 and 30 years (Century and Levy, 2002). The study conducted surveys with teachers and principals, interviewed teachers and school district leaders, and analyzed documents and news clippings. One outcome of the project was case studies of the districts. But an even more interesting result was the identification of a number of factors extending across the districts that either contributed to or inhibited the sustainability of their programs. A subset of the factors fell into a category that Century called the “usual suspects,” because they are both important and often discussed. 1PowerPoint slides from this presentation are available at http://www.nasonline.org/ site/DocServer/CenturyPresentation.pdf?docID=54982. Additional information about the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education is avail - able at http://cemse.uchicago.edu.

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 FOSTERING SUSTAINABLE PROGRAMS These include instructional materials, leadership, accountability, money, professional development, policy alignment, and culture. “We know that we need these things to make a program happen,” Century said. In addi- tion, some factors emerged that Century categorized as unusual suspects, including adaptation, critical mass, perception, and quality. Whereas the usual suspects centered mostly on the implementation of programs, the unusual suspects were critical for sustainability. A third important prod - uct of the earlier study was a definition of sustainability. In the past, the term has had many different meanings. Based on the data collected for the study, the research team settled on the following definition. Sustainability is the ability of a program to maintain core beliefs and values and use them to guide adaptations to changes and pressures over time. Thus, Century said, sustainability is not necessarily judged by the ability of a program to find additional funding or to be embedded in a district budget. Instead, sustainability is focused “on core beliefs, values, and adaptations.” FACTORS UNDERLYING SUSTAINABILITY In their study, Century and her colleagues used a very broad array of search terms to identify papers connected in some way to the concept of sustainability. This process resulted in 30,000 abstracts. Team members read the abstracts and narrowed down the list to about 600 papers. They then coded the text in those 600 papers to identify the factors involved in sustainability. “We went through a very iterative process of clearly defin- ing what every single factor meant.” The team first had to tackle the question of what is lasting in a pro - gram. Is it the program itself, the effects of the program, or the philosophy of the program? For example, in one case studied by Century and her colleagues, a program disappeared when funding was lost. But funding for the program was later restored and the program was resumed. Even during the period when the program was not operating, the philosophy of the program to rely on hands-on experiences and not on textbooks was retained. Without determining exactly what about a program needs to be last- ing, Century and her colleagues simply called that enduring quality “the it,” where “it” may refer to the program, its impact, its philosophy, or some other entity. Similarly, they abandoned the word “sustainability”

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 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS and referred to the quality of lasting as “the concept,” with different aspects of this quality being labeled “concept A,” “concept B,” and so on. The researchers also emphasized the time frame over which change occurs, since different kinds of change can occur over different periods. Century and her colleagues identified more than 25 factors that affect “the it.” Among those factors are flexibility, adaptability, specificity, com - plicatedness, feasibility, and effectiveness. All of these are interconnected. For example, while effectiveness is an important characteristic of a pro- gram, it is only one factor. Similarly, when an effective practice becomes embedded in daily practice, it is sustained. But a practice can be embed- ded in daily practice and stay the same, or it can be embedded in daily practice and change. Century and her colleagues identified several factors that emerged as especially important in their study. One factor encompasses the character- istics of people in an organization, including their experiences and points of view. In addition, the factor “elements of the internal environment,” including the internal structures, social climate, and resources of a program, is important, as is the “external environment,” which involves the political climate, students’ opportunities for learning, and other external forces. An unusual factor that the researchers identified was “emotional mediators,” which include characteristics like trust, loyalty, and incen - tives. “These are things we don’t usually hear people talk about when they’re talking about the elements of reform. But we know that these things have a huge impact on why people do and don’t do things.” “Fit” is a measure of whether “the it” is consonant with the values, beliefs, needs, and practices of the people involved in the program. For example, if the fit of a program is too close to current practice, then change is not really occurring, whereas if the fit is too far from current practice, people become so uncomfortable that they are not likely to change. “You need to find a sweet spot,” she said. “If you find yourself in a place where you are very comfortable, it suggests that you’re not pushing yourself enough.” People change out of necessity and out of will. Feeling uncom- fortable is a sign that you’re doing something differently, and that’s where the opportunities lie. If you find yourself in a place where you are very comfortable, it suggests that you’re not pushing yourself enough. —Jeanne Century The factor “mechanisms” has to do with the spread or scale-up of “the it.” But does scale-up refer to the spread of a program, to the expansion

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 FOSTERING SUSTAINABLE PROGRAMS of a program’s benefits, or to the acceptance of a program’s philosophy? “We didn’t know what it meant, so we decided that we were just going to talk about types of movement, because we knew we had a grip on that. The ‘it’ moves from one place to another.” Similarly, the idea of replication does not help much in understanding sustainability, which is more about translation and adaptation. The interplay of the factors identified by Century and her colleagues is a dynamic and complex process. “All of these factors come into play at the same time, and they then all change, and then they all change again because the context and conditions around us are always changing.” REEXAMINING THE ASSERTIONS Given the importance of these factors, the three assertions with which Century began can be viewed in a new light. The first assertion was that effective practices need to be identified. As an example, Century dis - cussed the Slip! Slop! Slap! campaign in Australia (Montague et al., 2001). In an effort to encourage people to take steps to prevent skin cancer, the Australian government supported a program to encourage people to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat. These are easy things to do, said Century. But it took 10 years for the program to make much of a difference in people’s behavior. “It’s not that it wasn’t effective. But it didn’t fit with their belief systems, with current practice, or with the way people were functioning in their lives.” From a sustainability perspective, effective practices are useable, flex- ible, and resilient. “The it” is not necessarily the practice but something deeper. The next assertion was that effective practices need to be scaled up, which in the most common formulation means replicating a program in multiple places. But as Century pointed out, teachers never teach a lesson exactly as it was written. They take their knowledge and expertise and adapt that lesson to their context and conditions, because that’s how a lesson becomes effective. Any particular program, intervention, or model is going to change because of local circumstances. “It doesn’t just transfer and replicate. It translates every time it moves. So why are we focused on replication when we really should be thinking about how to capture and understand the way things translate as they move from place to place?” We really should be thinking about how to capture and understand the way things translate as they move from place to place. —Jeanne Century

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8 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS Translation requires more than the identification and replication of best practices. It requires hard thought about what is being replicated and how to replicate that quality. “It’s not really about identifying the best practice,” said Century. “It’s about identifying the processes by which we can thoughtfully and then effectively help them move and last.” The process of moving a program requires consideration of the time frame. Program directors need to ask themselves whether they want a particular program to be exactly the same 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and 20 years from now. “Planning is not something that happens at the beginning,” said Century. “It’s something that happens all the time. [It’s] an ongoing process by which we’re constantly thinking about the factors, adjusting our program, and hopefully improving.” Identifying the critical or essential elements of a program is important in this planning process. Some components may be necessary at the begin- ning of a program but are not needed later. Some parts of a program may need to be discontinued while other parts remain. “This is a good thing, because you toss away the things that aren’t necessary anymore.” The process of involving others in change through a collaborative process can be misleading if it involves convincing others to agree with and accept a preexisting model. From a sustainability perspective, the important thing is to have a process in place by which a model can be continuously examined and improved. A collaborative change process involves creating change together. Knowledge does not exist to be discovered or revealed, said Century. It is fabricated in practice through talking, writing, or acting. Information dissemination is different from knowledge building. The process of change needs to be captured systematically and clearly, using a shared language, so that understanding about the process of change accumulates. “We don’t want to make changes that last,” said Century. “We really want lasting change. We want continuous, ongoing change.” Change needs to be accepted rather than resisted. A program may retain some of its essential elements as it moves from one place to another, but it will translate as it does so. That’s how investments in science education will endure in the long term. We don’t want to make changes that last. We really want lasting change. —Jeanne Century Finally, Century’s study has revealed that multiple sources of evi- dence, not just student outcomes, need to be examined to inform deci - sions about which elements of a program should last. The climate, the

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 FOSTERING SUSTAINABLE PROGRAMS time frame, and different perspectives all need to be considered, because “everything counts.” CORE CONCEPTS Two core concepts emerged from the study. First, “we need to think about what we’re doing now at the same time that we think about where we’re going.” That’s hard, because getting a program in place can be an all-consuming task, but it is necessary. “If we just focus on the program now, all of the context and conditions around us are going to keep chang - ing. . . . It’s not going to wait for us to get our program in place.” This is a problem in science education, according to Century, because the goals for science education have not changed much since the launch of Sputnik more than a half-century ago. “We need to rethink what the goals for sci - ence education are now. And at the same time, we need to be thinking about what the goals are for 50 years from now so that we can be think - ing about what we’re doing now that’s going to help us get to where we need to be.” The second core concept is the importance of learning from innova - tions. Existing science education programs have many things in common and some things that are different. By identifying the critical compo- nents of the programs in clear language, the similarities and differences among programs can be studied. Every investment in a program needs to have a return in knowledge gained about the program. This requires that researchers develop a shared language with which they can accumulate knowledge in the field. This is not typically done in science education today, according to Century. One conclusion she has drawn from her analysis is that funders need to be patient and embrace mistakes. Fields, such as cancer research, have been funded for decades resulting in a steady accumulation of data and knowledge. It will take time to accumulate knowledge once a system to analyze education is established. In addition, funders, researchers, and practitioners need to be willing to look across programs to accumulate knowledge. And parts of the system need to be willing to accept fail - ure, since some programs that are innovative will fail. But people learn from failure. “It’s not about the perfect program. It’s about the process,” Century said. “We need to create an environment of learning, not an environment of success, . . . because that’s really going to teach us what’s going to work and what’s not going to work.” Business, in particular, needs to bring a long-term perspective to its efforts in education. Century said that she was surprised recently to learn that business assigns individuals the task of thinking about where the business is going to be in 10 years. “Business can help bring us this

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0 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS perspective and, of course, participate with us, not just as a supporter, but as a real partner.” Finally, the leaders of reform initiatives need to consider flexible adaptation. Everyone involved in science education needs to be will- ing to give up aspects of a program that are not working. “We need to be continuously flexible and adaptable. That’s how we’re going to get sustainability.” Century and her colleagues are still in the middle of their project. Given the importance of engaging in a collaborative change process, they have decided to make all of their work public. They have put all their analysis into an open collaborative research environment called Researchers Without Borders2 so that anyone can follow the research and join in on the effort. Besides trying to put into practice the lessons they are learning, posting their preliminary analysis allows them to be system- atic and explicit about their work and form partnerships with program practitioners. 2For additional information, see http://www.researcherswithoutborders.org.