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8 Achieving National Goals: Dilemma and Resolution WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM THREE DECADES OF ATTEMPTED EDUCATIONAL REFORM? By one estimate, more than 100 committees have met, promulgated solu- tions, and disbanded since the publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk-and the failings of science education have not diminished to any measurable degree (Hurd, 1989b). The specific suggestions tend to have a familiar ring, yet noth- ing very much changes. Twenty years before, there had been some substantial efforts to alter the teaching of science. Prompted by the USSR's launching of Sputnik in 1957, the nation mounted massive and expensive efforts to improve science curricula. Although some of the results were impressive, they were always ephemeral. If reform is to be successful now, we must understand why earlier attempts have been so ineffective. The major project for the reform of biology education emerged in the late 1950s as the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), which was initially part of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. At the outset, it sought to be concerned with biology education in grades K-12; a parallel project, the Commission on Undergraduate Education in the Biological Sciences, was to deal with biology in the colleges and universities. That holistic approach was abandoned, however, when the funding agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF), restricted the BSCS's initial efforts to the tenth-grade high-school biology course. In a surprisingly short time, the BSCS produced and began to test three versions of a high-school biology curriculum. After 2 years of testing and revision, the three versions were produced by commercial publishers, and they soon captured a major portion of the textbook market. Although each 94
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ACHIEVING NATIONAL GOALS 95 version was different, the approach was the same: reduce memorization, make inquiry the mode of teaching and learning, concentrate on themes and concepts, emphasize hands-on laboratory and field work, and relate biology to human problems. The BSCS versions soon dominated biology education and were imitated by many other textbooks. It was generally agreed that a major improvement in biology education had emerged. But the movement was not sustained. In this country, the BSCS programs slowly decreased in number, and today they are used in only a small percentage of the schools. Why did this effort to reform biological education dissipate? A principal reason is that too few teachers are both skilled in inquiry-based teaching and broadly knowledgeable in their discipline. A major failure of the BSCS was its inability to continue to prepare teachers to use the BSCS programs effectively. The original BSCS textbooks were far more demanding of both teachers and students than were the prevailing textbooks, and essentially all teachers who joined the BSCS program needed additional education. The BSCS was able to give brief refresher courses only to teachers who were involved in testing the experimental editions. NSF did not support the BSCS in offering inservice summer institutes and refresher courses on a large scale at least in part because of political sensitivities aroused by rival publishers- although for educational reasons such offerings were required. Some individual biologists did offer BSCS-like refresher courses, but they were not directed by the BSCS. The failure of adequate inservice support might have been overcome in time if the institutions training new teachers had taken the responsibility for teaching how the BSCS materials could be used effectively. But almost no institutions responsible for the education of teachers paid attention to the BSCS or to any other national efforts to reform science curricula (Mayer, 1986~. There are additional reasons for the decline of influence of the BSCS. Despite the intention of the original BSCS team, the program really addressed college-bound students and failed to deliver "science for all." Moreover, the effort at reform failed to take into account many of the obstacles we have discussed earlier in this report: the complexities of textbook adoption, the ambiguous role of NSF and other federal agencies in an educational system based on local control, and the roles of testing, college admissions, and school administrators (Jackson, 19831. A second major effort was the NSF-sponsored summer institutes, which involved large numbers of concerned university scientists working with gifted high-school teachers and administrators and costing hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds. As noted earlier, many participants felt that they were both effective and important, but others disagreed, and for a variety of reasons the institutes were abandoned in the late 1970s. A subsequent review (GAO, 1984) has claimed that they did not have a measurable effect on student performance a result disputed by many others who state that this concern was based on superficial analysis. Although there might be argument about their effect on student outcomes, the institutes had a positive and lasting effect on the morale and sense of professionalism of the teachers who participated.
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96 FULFILLING THE PROMISE THE NEED FOR NATIONAL LEADERSHIP AND FEDERAL FUNDING The picture we have painted throughout this report is daunting and de- pressing in its complex relationships. Textbooks will not improve unless market forces change. Market forces will not change unless professional educators and the public accept new formulas for measuring the success of our school system. New measures of success must be accompanied by different goals of teaching and learning, which require not only different kinds of teaching materials, but different styles of teaching. More imaginative and effective approaches to the classroom require that teachers themselves learn differently in colleges and universities, and that can happen only if the scientific community sees itself both as part of the problem and as part of the solution. Changing the perspec- tives of teachers now in service requires massive efforts of everyone: teachers, scientists, test-makers, schools of education, publishers, school boards, teachers unions, and parents. Some of the major relationships are depicted in Figure 1. At every point and on every issue discussed in this report, obstacles present themselves. Someone will be inconvenienced, challenged, asked to sacrifice, and forced to rethink what is being done and how. Furthermore, the incentives for improvement, if any, are minimal, if only one or a few parties are willing to change. The kinds of changes called for in this report will occur only if major federal funding is committed to make them happen. It is unreasonable to expect local school districts, with their many competing priorities and lack of scientific expertise, to finance all the actions required to effect the changes needed to turn the country around on the important issues discussed in this report. The problems we have been discussing are national ones that seriously affect the future of the United States. Only a concerted and highly visible national program can hope to mobilize the many different constituencies that must participate. Major changes in direction will occur only if the states and local districts are engaged through the availability of federal funds that are specifically targeted to causing revolutionary improvements in K-12 science education. What level of funding will be required? The committee developed a number of different estimates of the magnitude of resources required (see Appendix G). Although it did not analyze in depth the costs of its recommendations, it is clear that any effective change will be expensive. The call for a much greater financial commitment than currently exists is coupled to the recognition that leadership in science education must be exerted by the scientific community to ensure that the new resources are effectively spent. Moreover, successful change will require sustained, coordinated actions by many groups, as well as continuous monitoring and evaluation to guide the process. It is important to note that the previous efforts to reform science education were also expensive. For example, the NSF-sponsored summer institutes cost hundreds of millions of dollars over two decades (GAO, 1984; Hooper, 19901. At least this level of inservice activities is needed in the near term. Additional funds will also be necessary to address simultaneously the other parts of the
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ACHIEVING NATIONAL GOALS / District and State Boards ~ ~ \ 1 \ \ 97 Colleges of Education \ v Faculties of Arts & Sciences T _ 'l_ _ ~ State and National Exams mu- - -I ~ ex~oooK ~ \\ / Publishers '\ ~ ~ i/ Students ~ Teachers ~ /\ \ ~ / ~ _ Parents Politicians ~ - - ~` School ~~ ~ Administrators FIGURE 1 Directions of strong and moderate influences at several nodes in the web of public education. At the center of the network are the students, for whom the web exists, and the teachers, on whom success depends. Note, however, that the influences on both are largely beyond their control. When the influences on teachers are not supportive, this set of relationships tends to reduce the role of teachers from knight to pawn. The arrangement also makes significant educational change very difficult, as several other nodes in the network, each far removed from direct involvement in the classroom, must be perturbed simultaneously. The response of each of these nodes is in turn determined by this distinct set of influences impinging on it. The position of the faculties of liberal-arts colleges and universities is of particular interest. Well placed to see the results of educational failure in the schools, thus among the first to criticize when failure ensues, and enjoying the greatest autonomy for corrective action, these faculties have been among the last to recognize in any organized way the role they must play if change is to be effective. Their influence on high-school teachers is strong (because at the outset they teach the science to teachers), but this impact is neither as useful as it ought to be nor sustained through subsequent contact, such as inservice activities. The influence of scientists on high-school texts and tests is so feeble and indirect as to be virtually nonexistent, and support for colleagues in schools of education is usually disdained. From the styles of each, the influence of texts on tests and vice versa appears to be strong and direct, but both may be responding to the same set of outside forces. In effect, however, texts and tests have been mutually reinforcing. In a hopeful development, national testing agencies have recently indicated plans to break from tradition and develop new forms of examinations that will be better designed to assess the ability of students to reason (National Governors' Association, 1990). The diagram does not include all the important players; for example, teachers unions and foundations interested in education are not shown. Furthermore, the strengths of interaction may differ locally; for example, some schools have involved parents to a greater extent than suggested here. And, finally, some important interactions are not depicted; for example, curricula are often influenced by college admission requirements, and the behavior of teachers can be strongly influenced, for better or worse, by the perceptions of colleagues.
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98 FULFILLING THE PROMISE complex system testing, preservice education, textbooks, other instructional materials, laboratories, and research. The magnitude of the task should be seen in perspective. The nation spends an estimated $350 billion on education each year (U.S. Department of Education, 1989), significantly less than the reported $500 billion for industrial capital investment (New York Times, April 11, 1990~. The estimated $94 million per year (in average 1989 dollars) for inservice programs for biology teachers (Appendix G) is only 0.027% of the nation's education budget. Given the magnitude of the education enterprise, this figure represents a very modest commitment to meaningful change. Similarly, the government spent about $124 million in 1987 on educational research (GAO, 1988~. Considering the central importance of education to our future economic prospects as a nation and the consensus that our educational system is in trouble, this is a very meager investment. No industry would expect to compete, let alone retool, with such a token investment in the future; we need the equivalent of extensive retooling if we are to succeed in changing how our children learn. A ROLE FOR THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY THROUGH THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AND THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL How can our massive decentralized educational system be perturbed in ways that will lead to more effective teaching and learning of science? All the needs for change enumerated in this report have been identified in previous studies; the trumpet of reform has been sounded many times in the recent past. The lesson of history is that nothing short of a concerted effort on all fronts, sustained by visible and effective leadership, will be successful. What can be done to encourage, if not ensure, a broad attack? The presence of an overarching body capable of focusing the attention and galvanizing the interest of all concerned on science education seems essential. To play a leadership role, such a body should fit several criteria: · It should be composed of scientists, science educators, and teachers and should be capable of mobilizing expertise of the highest quality in both science and education. · It must have sufficient prestige for its studies, analyses, and recom- mendations to command wide respect on a national scale. · It should not be associated exclusively with any particular group of . vested interests, such as schools of education, teachers unions, or scientific societies with focused concerns, yet it should be able to invite their participation. · It should remain independent of the federal government, immune to political pressures, and therefore able to assess, diagnose, and recommend freely. We are skeptical that such a body could be created de nova, for it would lack the necessary intellectual authority and prestige. Its voice might be heard, but, like the voices of so many others, to little effect. Few existing institutions meet the criteria. Perhaps the one that comes closest is the National Academy
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ACHIEVING NATIONAL GOALS 99 of Sciences (NAS). Under the aegis of NAS, the National Research Council (NRC) already has a board devoted to the state of education in mathematics. The growing recognition and concern within the scientific community, the education community, and the general public about science education make it critical that the scientific community act now to improve science education in the United States. It would be both precedented and appropriate for the National Academy of Sciences to create in the National Research Council a Commission or Board on Science Education to monitor and to provide advice on the status of teaching and learning in science. How could such a body help? First, through continuity of attention. As we have described, after the USSR's launching of Sputnik, the United States undertook to reform the teaching of science in the schools, but little remains of that effort. In our country, political enthusiasms have short lives. No organization today has a continuing involvement in the analysis and evaluation of science education nationally, serves as a catalyst for dialogue among the various constituencies concerned with science education, and can provide appropriate advice to Congress, the administration, the states, universities, and the general public on science education. The changes that must be made in our educational system will take years to effect, and they will not occur unless they are monitored and encouraged throughout the process. NRC can play a role in those activities. Second, research scientists must become more engaged on a continuing basis in actively fostering ways of improving the preparation of teachers in the sciences, in helping to identify needs for research in science education, and in providing criteria and guidelines for the evaluation of texts and other instructional materials. By virtue of its stature in the scientific community, NAS, through NRC, can effectively call on scientists to become actively involved in collaboration with teachers and science educators. Third, the scientific community, through ARC, can provide advice about the distribution of funds to the various areas that need to be addressed to improve science education. Through a continuing collaboration among scien- tists, teachers, and science educators, such a board would constitute a unique forum for identifying the areas needing the most immediate intervention and for recommending and evaluating activities responsive to those needs. Creating a board that will be able to operate effectively will not be a simple task. Unlike the mathematics community, the scientific community is fragmented into many disciplines that rarely discuss with each other questions of either instruction or curriculum. Furthermore, as we have pointed out in several places in the report, the ties between the primary and secondary education communities and the science faculties in colleges and universities are weak and in need of repair. Reaching agreement on what issues should be addressed in the classroom, how these issues should be approached, and how we are to measure progress will require sustained effort and cooperation. Overcoming these manifold difficulties, however, is central to the challenge confronting science education in the United States. While stressing the urgent need for action, we do not underestimate the obstacles. But we see a board within NRC offering an especially promising opportunity for building bridges
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100 FULFILLING THE PROMISE between the science and education communities bridges that will facilitate the kind of broad consensus that is essential if we are to achieve quality education . . in science. Throughout this report, we have pointed to instances of questionable educational practices that contribute to poor learning. Let us reconsider some of them here, exploring how a board of the National Research Council-or some equivalent body-could contribute to effective change in how science is learned. . There are no common standards or established criteria based on edu- cational research to guide the creation of new inservice programs. But, as we saw in an earlier section, extensive inservice experience is essential in the near future for most teachers now in the classroom. There are clear needs for the development and testing of pilot programs, for analysis and evaluation of the effectiveness of current programs, and for the wide dissemination of information about successful models. Those are all activities that NRC, with the support of foundations and industry, can help to promote. · Another role of a new body would be the creation of criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of preservice programs for teacher education. The current preservice instruction of teachers does not convey knowledge of science in a manner that is helpful to future teachers of children. The mode of instruction is devoid of "content pedagogy"; it does not assist teachers in relating scientific concepts to the knowledge that a child brings to the subject. On the other side of the instructional coin, preservice experiences in pedagogy are largely divorced from the content of the science. NRC can explore the barriers that now prevent scientists and science educators from working together in training student teachers. · There are no generally agreed-on standards for textbooks, state and national tests, and curricular content. Some texts, tests, and curricula might be good, but there is little third-party effort to examine their appropriateness and success in meeting basic goals in science education. We are not suggesting that a body like that proposed prescribe the content of textbooks. Quite the contrary. In a truly excellent educational system, teachers would have great freedom to use the books and techniques that suited them. At a minimum, however, such a body might develop criteria and standards for the quality of textbooks and even provide a periodical "consumer's guide" to the books on the market. These books would be examined thoroughly and critically for accuracy, readability, coherence, and effectiveness in conveying science as a process and as a way of knowing. It could also give guidance to persons responsible for selecting textbooks for states and school districts. Such information should consist not of individually written and potentially idiosyncratic book reviews, but of broadly based input from both teachers and scientists, presented against a backdrop of educational goals that are themselves subject to review and discussion. We see such an effort as valuable to teachers and publishers alike. If it helps to steer the market and thereby the production of higher-quality books, it will improve the education of students. The possible agenda of an NRC board or commission with responsibility for monitoring the health of science education nationally is so large as to be
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ACHIEVING NATIONAL GOALS 101 overwhelming; but that speaks to the importance of the task. Other potential functions and projects include the following: Evaluation of the role of national and state examinations. · Analysis of models for integrated science curricula that start in the early grades and build in a coherent way through high school and into college. · Promotion of interdisciplinary cooperation in the preparation of teach ers. · Creation and enhancement of mechanisms for the collection and dis- semination of information on all aspects of science education, perhaps including computer-based networks or even a series of regional centers that teachers could visit to acquire hands-on experience with new materials and laboratories. · Evaluation of advanced-placement curricula and examinations. · Identification of research needs in science education. · Identification of new ways to promote professionalism in the community of teachers. · Identification of new ways to interest students from various ethnic backgrounds in science and teaching as career options and assessment of more elective ways to teach them. Stimulation of wider appreciation for the role of science in society. The present lack of leadership and unity of purpose in science education is illustrated by the fact that the important explorations of educational reform now in operation are not yet well coordinated. Perhaps the most ambitious is Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1989), which seeks to reform the teaching of all the sciences and technology throughout grades K-12. It has formulated general recommendations and is now designing courses. The AAAS Project on Liberal Education and the Sciences is targeting the college and university courses intended for nonmajors. A group at Stanford University is developing a 2-year biology sequence for middle schools based on its undergraduate human-biology program. The Science as a Way of Knowing project, sponsored by the American Society of Zoologists and 10 other societies and organizations, is producing materials for teachers of college introductory biology courses. The Scope, Sequence, and Coordination project, recently developed by the National Science Teachers Association, is an attempt to offer more science in grades 7-12 (Aldridge, 1989~. And many other organizations, such as the BSCS and the Education Development Center, continue to develop new curricular materials for various levels. In summary, the reform of science education will require national leadership from the scientific community and a major investment at the federal level. National leadership is needed to develop a national consensus that will press ~ , ~ ~ .~ _ _ 1 ~ for the production of well-educateo teachers, to Insist on One exams u~c supplies, to identify outstanding model curricula and inservice programs and make them available to all schools, to mobilize the universities so that support for precollege science teachers becomes one of their major goals, to encourage the professionalization of teachers, and to encourage cooperation of parents and other adults in the education process. National leadership must offer a vision of science education that enables our system to produce students prepared to face the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Representative terms from entire chapter: