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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Overview

submitter: Partnership for Systemic Change: A School/Business Collaboration to Enhance Science, Mathematics, and Technology Teaching and Learning
published: 12/17/1998
posted to site: 12/17/1998
Report on

The Partnership for Systemic Change:
A School/Business Collaborative to Enhance
Science, Mathematics, and Technology Teaching and Learning

July 1, 1997 - November 1, 1998

NSF Grant ESI - 9696220


Table of Contents

Part I. Annual overview

Part II. Progress report narrative

  1. Expanded professional development opportunities are
    meeting district needs and raising district capacity
    1. The Leader Teacher Institute ends and the work of Leader Teachers continues
    2. Peer Teacher Workshops are refined to better meet the needs of the partners
    3. Assessment study groups enriched Leader Teachers understanding of how to assess student learning and produce tasks that are disseminated across the Partnership.
    4. The Partnership is using technology to enhance communication and support a community of learners.
    5. The Partnership’s professional development efforts are having an impact on teaching practice

  2. Extent of teacher involvement
  3. The Partnership’s school-based strategy is taking root
    1. Leader teachers are taking leadership roles in their schools
    2. School principals are providing a supportive environment for standards-based teaching.
    3. District administrators are working with the Partnership in a variety of substantive ways

  4. Policy alignment in the districts.
    1. Advisory Committee
    2. Framework Committees
    3. Materials Selection Committees

  5. Lessons learned
    1. Working with Teachers
    2. Changing Contexts

  6. Significant changes in the plan for 1998-1999


I. Annual overview

In 1993, Merck & Co. Inc. adopted a new corporate strategy for supporting public education by creating the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE). The goal of MISE is to raise levels of student participation and performance in science so that all children can meet challenging national and state standards. MISE initiated its work by forming partnerships with four public school districts: Linden, Rahway, and Readington Township in New Jersey, and North Penn in Pennsylvania to improve science education in grades K-8. After the first two years, these separate partnerships merged into one collaborative known as the Partnership. The work of the Partnership is guided by a vision of high-quality science education in which hands-on inquiry is an integral part of classroom instruction for all students. The central assumption is that engaging students in investigations of natural phenomena develops greater interest in, and understanding of, science than traditional textbook-oriented instruction.

In 1995, the MISE staff and the four partner districts decided to undertake their own professional development initiative, recognizing that teachers needed sustained high-quality professional development if they were to lead student-centered and inquiry-based science instruction. Together, the Partnership designed the Leader Teacher Institute, an intensive professional development program that enrolled more than 140 teachers in the summer of 1995. The Leader Teacher Institute was a voluntary three-year professional development experience for teams of teachers from the 34 elementary and middle schools in the four partner districts.

The Partnership believes that reform in science must be guided by a vision of good practice and reinforced by policies and support systems that encourage reformed practice. Recognizing this, with the guidance of MISE, each of the four districts adopted new science materials in 1995-96, modifying existing curriculum guidelines and using the new modules as the core of their K-8 science curriculum The districts also adopted the Stanford 9 science assessment in grades five and seven to measure change in grade-level performance and student-cohort performance. Although the partner districts progressed at individual rates and made decisions unique to their contexts, they planned and conducted professional development, school support activities, and planning and policy work in a collaborative and mutually supportive environment that enriched the process and outcomes for all.

In the summer of 1996, with additional resources provided by a Local Systemic Change grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Partnership implemented one-week Peer Teacher Workshops designed to bring additional teachers into the reform effort by increasing their knowledge and skills in inquiry-centered instruction. The instructional teams that led the Peer Teacher Workshops, which included many Leader Teachers, modeled the pedagogy they wanted teachers to use. Participants conducted investigations, worked in cooperative learning groups, analyzed instructional activities against standards, and reflected on their current practice. In 1996-97, the partnership further expanded its work to provide professional development for school administrators and staff. MISE offered seminars for principals tailored to their role and responsibilities in reform.

Highlights of the Partnership accomplishments in 1997-98 were five-fold. First, the Partnership worked to deepen the content knowledge and pedagogical proficiency of an increasing number of teachers in the Partner districts through ongoing, high-quality, standards-based professional development. Second, the Partnership continued to hone the communication and leadership skills of the cadre of leader teachers to extend their work as coaches, advocates, and instructors, and Leader Teachers began to extend these roles in their schools, communities, and districts.

Third, the partner districts developed curriculum frameworks aligned with state and national standards and their own instructional materials. Fourth, the Partnership began the process of building better measures of student achievement. This work took many forms, including efforts by Leader Teachers to develop and share with their colleagues more authentic assessments based on their district’s curriculum and conversations with representatives from across the Partnership about assessment. Also, the Partnership agreed to use a common standardized assessment tool–the Stanford 9–to help in planning and improving instruction. Finally, the Partnership continued to work together on a variety of planning and policy issues, including formalizing the roles and responsibilities of the Leader Teachers and developing a more effective planning process to think more systemically and coherently about the larger picture of reform.

Many lessons were learned this past year. The first concerns the importance of teachers’ views about science and themselves. Effective learning opportunities that are hands-on in design and safe for teacher inquiry must be part of professional development. It is in this training environment that teachers develop confidence to use the teaching methods they have learned with their students. Even then, change is slow and teachers often feel that they have a limited capacity for instructional leadership in their school. To combat this, the ordinary notion of leadership must be viewed more broadly; teachers should learn how to effect instructional change in their schools using a range of strategies most comfortable to them.

The second area in which lessons were learned pertains to how the contexts of change impact its success. Partnerships with intermediary organizations act as a stabilizing force for schools, sustaining the work of reform through a focused and persistent vision. It is this vision that must unite the incentives. School principals are a vital part of this process because they influence the success of reform initiatives. Therefore, teachers and principals must belong to a strong professional network that reinforces the importance of the vision and provides recognition for sustaining reform efforts.

II. Progress report narrative

In October, 1995, the National Science Foundation awarded the Partnership with a five-year grant from the Local Systemic Change (LSC) program. The funding has enabled the Partnership to extend professional development opportunities to more than 750 teachers in 34 schools in the four participating districts in Readington, Rahway, and Linden, New Jersey and North Penn, Pennsylvania. The Partnership offers summer institutes and workshops, technical assistance, school-year programs, partnerships between teachers and scientists, and peer mentoring. The following section responds to the National Science Foundation’s request that the project’s principal investigator report on the activities conducted under the LSC grant between July, 1997 and November, 1998.

A. Expanded professional development opportunities are meeting district needs and raising district capacity.

The Partnership has developed a diverse set of professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators. These opportunities include participation in formal professional development workshops; coaching and mentoring from trained peers; serving on curriculum framework, materials selection, and assessment committees; electronic interaction with like-minded teachers; and advising the Partnership on its strategies and goals. Below we describe several of the major components of the Partnership’s professional development in greater detail. Other elements of the Partnerships professional development opportunities, like work on district framework and materials selection committees, combine professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators with important policy work that is needed to support classroom reforms. These are described later in this report in the section on policy alignment.

1. The Leader Teacher Institute ends and the work of Leader Teachers continues.

In 1997-98, the Partnership concluded the three-year Leader Teacher Institute, but the work of the Leader Teachers as agents of reform continues. This year we continued to strengthen Leader Teachers’ teaching and leadership skills. Professional development activities were designed to build upon previous experiences to reinforce their science and mathematics teaching capacity and strengthen their sense of themselves as leaders.

The summer of 1997 concluded the third year of the Partnership’s intensive, three-week, inquiry-centered strands in life, earth, or physical science. Participants in the Life science strand explored the relationship between structure and function in single cells and more complex structures by investigating local plants, animals, water, and soil samples to construct a self-sustaining ecosystem. Participants in the physical science strand designed tools and procedures to measure mass, volume, and density; developed schemes for testing and measuring the properties of pure substances; and planned separation techniques to analyze mixtures and solutions. Participants in the earth/space science strand studied the earth–its solid surface, water resources, and relationship to its neighbors in space. By the end of their third summer, each Leader Teacher had experienced each of the life, earth, and physical science strands. One hundred and forty-four Leader Teachers participated in this intensive, multi-year experience.

Integrated with these content experiences, Leader Teachers were presented with explicit communication activities on listening, asserting, and articulating their advocacy to increase their capacity to serve as advocates of inquiry-based teaching, coaches of their peers, and instructors in their school and community.

Leader Teacher activities continued through workshops throughout the 1997-98 school year. One focus was the development of classroom-based assessments. Leader Teachers closely examined units of their classroom curriculum, identified learning outcomes for their students, and drafted assessment tasks to measure the identified learning outcomes. The draft tasks were then used with students, and Leader Teachers shared samples of student work and discussed student understanding. The tasks were refined and eventually compiled at each grade level for dissemination across the Partnership.

A second Leader Teacher activity focused on building the skills necessary to act as coaches, advocates, and instructors. Leader Teachers decided with their principals to focus on one of the three roles, and they attended sessions to extend their skills in that role. The sessions focused on the specific competencies needed to enhance their effectiveness in the role they chose to emphasize. Activities included role playing with colleagues and strategizing about how to carry out the role. Compiled tasks from the assessment workshops were also used to explore how teachers could use assessment to engage their peers in examination of their classroom practice. The three-year preparation of Leader Teachers ended with a celebratory banquet and a presentation by an eminent educator.

While the three-year Leader Teacher Institute ended, the work of Leader Teachers is ongoing. The Partnership continues to support the professional community of Leader Teachers through an active Listserv that allows Leader Teachers to communicate and share ideas with each other and MISE staff, participation of Leader Teachers in professional development for their peers, continued refinement of assessments into tasks aligned with curriculum modules that all teachers can use to enrich their information on student development, and ongoing conversations with both school and district leadership about how to make better use of the considerable capacity represented by the Leader Teachers. Additionally, in each of the 34 partnership schools, Leader Teachers are active in building parents’ awareness of science education reform by providing special programs and interactive science homework assignments.

2. Peer Teacher Workshops are refined to better meet the needs of the partners.

In 1997-98, the Partnership continued to refine the Peer Teacher Workshops to serve the needs of teachers in the partner districts. In the summer of 1997, the Partnership offered Peer Teacher Workshops in four thematic areas: Observing and Measuring in the Real World (grades preK-2), About Matter (grades 3-5), Environmental Science (grades 5-8), and Investigations in Mathematics. Based upon the new curriculum framework developed by the partner districts, feedback from the partner districts and the evaluators, and research on effective professional development, the Partnership modified its Peer Teacher Workshops for 1998. In 1998, Peer Teacher Workshops were based upon curriculum modules being used in the elementary grades and middle school grades in the districts. Although the modules were the focus of the professional development, the workshops also emphasized inquiry pedagogy and assessment strategies, and they made explicit connections to district frameworks and state and national standards.

Peer Teacher Workshops were held in Linden, Readington, and North Penn throughout the summer of 1998. Workshops consisted of four full days, with follow-up days planned for the fall of 1998 and winter of 1999. The Peer Teacher Workshops deepened participants’ knowledge and skills in the use of NSF-validated and district-adopted materials and enhanced their abilities to employ inquiry-centered instruction.

Each Peer Teacher Workshop session focused on one of the science modules used in the districts, such as FOSS’s Balance and Motion or Solids & Liquids, or STC’s Magnets and Motors. Mathematics workshops focused on units of high-quality curriculum such as Everyday Mathematics, Investigations in Mathematics, and Mathematics in Context. The instructional teams leading the Peer Teacher Workshops were composed of Leader Teachers and content experts who modeled the pedagogy they encouraged teachers to use. Participants conducted investigations, worked in cooperative learning groups, analyzed instructional activities against standards, and reflected on their current practice. Participants received resource materials and assessment ideas suitable for engaging their students in inquiry-centered instruction.

Our evaluator, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) found the workshops to be of high quality. They observed many of our sessions throughout the year and reported that session leaders "worked as a team, sharing responsibility and providing different aspects of the program," and that participants were provided with "high quality, standards-driven materials." Surveys conducted by CPRE of Peer Teacher Workshop participants found that 90 percent of the participants found the instructional teams to be very effective or extremely effective in their knowledge of content, ability to model inquiry, and ability to respond to feedback. Additionally, 87 percent of the Peer Teacher Workshop participants found the experience to be relevant to their own classroom teaching, and seven-out-of-ten participants felt that the workshops were very or extremely effective in providing opportunities to learn about state and national standards. "Overall," reported CPRE, "the program modeled the 'best' practice in instruction, assessment and alignment with content-standards."

3. Assessment study groups enriched Leader Teachers’ understanding of how to assess student learning and produced performance tasks that were disseminated across the Partnership.

In 1997-98, MISE continued its assessment work with staff of the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and teachers and administrators from the partnership districts. The central goal of the work was to help educators in the districts identify and implement assessment methods and strategies appropriate to inquiry science. There were two major strands of work.

In the first, ETS classroom assessment specialists and MISE staff worked with Leader Teachers to develop classroom-based assessments closely linked to the curricula of the districts. A major outcome of the project was a collection of field-tested assessments developed by teachers and compiled in notebooks that were disseminated across the Partnership in the Spring of 1998. During the year-long experience, all Leader Teachers were asked to develop and evaluate assessments for selected science modules being used in the Partnership districts. Overall, 37 assessments were developed in life science, 41 for physical science, and 25 in Earth science in grades K-6. This component of the project proved to be a tremendous professional development opportunity for Leader Teachers.

The second strand of the assessment study groups was a review of the Stanford 9 open-ended science test that is administered in the 5th and 7th grades as part of the larger effort to evaluate the progress of the Partnership. ETS and MISE staff first met with the district administrators and teachers to discuss their assessment concerns in general and questions about the Stanford 9 in particular. One question of particular interest was what the test was measuring and whether it would help prepare students for the high stakes state tests being implemented in New Jersey. As one teacher expressed it: "…with most tests we get the numbers back, but we don’t know what they mean." Teachers and administrators then examined the Stanford 9 results in greater depth and gained insights into how their students had handled the challenge of open-ended items. Considerations of a particular item’s characteristics–in light of student responses–also gave teachers some ideas about what constituted an adequate or poorly written prompt. This, in turn, stimulated re-examination of classroom assessment methods. In many of the workshops, teachers examined open-ended items from other sources as well and developed prompts of their own. They then tried out their questions with their students and shared and analyzed their responses in subsequent meetings. Teachers generally reported that the Stanford 9 format was very different than the assessments they were currently using in their classrooms and the results raised questions about students’ abilities to explain or justify their answers. They felt that students needed more classroom experience with open-ended questions, not only in science, but across the curriculum.

4. The Partnership is using technology to enhance communication and support a community of learners.

In the first year of the Leader Teacher Institute, MISE leased laptop computers and electronic mail accounts for each of the Leader Teachers and sponsored an electronic listserv to facilitate communication. The listserv has been an important method of building and supporting a sense of professional community among the Leader Teachers. The listserv and e-mail also access serve additional purposes. First, they allow Leader Teachers to communicate and share ideas about teaching, curricula, and assessment, and they enable them to explore the wealth of information available on the Internet. Second, they are effective ways to disseminate information across the Partnership community. Third, they give teachers hands-on experiences with technology. Finally, MISE’s technological support symbolizes its commitment to the Leader Teachers and the professionalization of educators.

5. The Partnership’s professional development efforts are having an impact on teaching practice.

Our evaluator, CPRE, has examined the impact of the Partnership’s professional development from a variety of perspectives. These include 93 observations of classroom lessons (58 in science and 35 in mathematics) and surveys of the entire population of 753 science and mathematics teachers in the four partner school districts (of which 90 percent responded), and interviews with over 50 classroom teachers. Overall, they found a strong and statistically significant relationship between Partnership professional development and use of standards-based teaching practices in both science and mathematics. The relationship between professional development and teaching practice was particularly strong for teachers who had participated in more than 40 hours of professional development. School support factors, particularly principal support, were also found to be important predictors of standards-based teaching practice.

B. Extent of teacher involvement.

As of August 1998, the Partnership had provided direct professional development through the Leader Teacher Institute and Peer Teacher Workshops to 462 of 764 teachers in the four districts making up the Partnership. The participants represent 60 percent of the teachers currently employed by the partner districts who teach mathematics and/or science.

The intensity of these professional development experiences differ. One hundred and forty-four teachers have received intensive professional development in the Leader Teacher Institute, which consisted of approximately 120 hours each school year for three years. In 1997-98, 210 additional teachers participated in Peer Teacher Workshops, which consisted of four days in the summer and two sessions in the course of the school year. In 1996 and 1997, 338 teachers also participated in Peer Teacher Workshops. It is a testament to the quality and perceived utility of the Peer Teacher Workshops that 115 of the non-Leader Teachers have taken Peer Teacher Workshops in at least two of the three years they were offered.

The Partnership also has a variety of other opportunities for teacher learning. These include the Advisory Committee, frameworks, material selection work, assessment study groups, presentations at conferences, and district planning.

C. The Partnership’s school-based strategy is taking root.

The MISE strategy for reforming classroom practice–and sustaining those changes beyond the inevitable and eventual turnover in faculty–is based upon the idea that high levels of quality teaching practice need to become the norm in schools, and this norm needs to be supported in multiple reinforcing ways. We believe this can be achieved through the development of a professional community in which high standards of quality teaching are interwoven into the fabric of the school, are supported by school and district administrators, and are reinforced by aligned policies. The Partnership is working toward this vision through the efforts of Leader Teachers and the support and involvement of school principals and district administrators.

1. Leader Teachers are taking leadership roles in their schools.

As their title implies, Leader Teachers also are asked to do more than change their own practice. They are also charged with being leaders in their schools, communities, and districts. The Partnership envisions that they will become instructors in professional development, coaches for their colleagues, and advocates for reform in their school buildings and districts. Working in collaboration with their school administrators, the Leader Teachers are expected to carry reform-based practices to their colleagues–and the larger school community–and to participate in revamping school and district policies to support those practices.

In 1997-98, Leader Teachers began to fulfill these roles in a variety of ways, including:

     * Recruiting teachers in their schools to attend the Peer Teacher Workshops.
     * Designing and facilitating Peer Teacher Workshop sessions.
     * Mentoring new teachers.
     * Initiating grade-level collaboration to examine and revise assessment practices.
     * Engaging parents and their children in interactive homework.
     * Coaching teachers and student teachers in their schools.
     * Organizing science and mathematics career days for students.
     * Supervising school science fairs.
     * Directing and coordinating school in-service days devoted to science and/or mathematics.
     * Revising school science curricula.
     * Developing innovative school-wide curriculum units.
     * Taking part in the organization of district in-service days.
     * Participating on district curriculum and curriculum framework committees.
     * Educating parents on the importance of standards-based science and mathematics.
     * Presenting at State conferences.

Our evaluator found that the roles played by Leader Teachers can be categorized into five areas: (1) On-request resources; (2) Individual outreach to individual teachers; (3) Individual outreach school-wide; (4) Group outreach; and (5) District-wide influence. They concluded that "there is substantial evidence that Leader Teachers are taking these roles seriously and are attempting to provide leadership in their schools and districts."

2. School principals are providing a supportive environment for standards-based teaching.

School principals from the partnership districts have been remarkably supportive of the work of the Partnership and deeply involved in that work. The Partnership set the stage for this in 1996-97 by sponsoring two principal seminars to share the vision of reformed practice with these school leaders, discuss the current and potential roles of Leader Teachers in their schools, and increase their understanding of inquiry teaching and how they can support it. This year, MISE continues to work with and support school principals, and they are increasingly involved in Partnership activities.

School principals are invited and regularly attend Leader Teacher functions, increasing their appreciation for the work of Leader Teachers and deepening their understanding of how to support them. Principals are finding creative ways to actively support the work of Leader Teachers in many of the schools of the Partnership. For example, principals are turning over the design and facilitation of school-based in-service days for science and mathematics to their Leader Teacher teams. In other cases, principals regularly meet with Leader Teachers to discuss their work and devise ways to support it.

Principals are also taking more active roles in the work of the Partnership by serving as active members of the MISE Advisory Committee and helping to shape the strategic work of the Partnership. Principals are also intimately involved in their district’s strategic planning process by helping to craft curriculum, professional development, and assessment policies, and by developing parent and community support for reform.

3. District administrators are working with the Partnership in a variety of substantive ways.

The Partnership has created an extensive network of relationships with district administrators at various levels of the four systems, which mutually support and reinforce the work of the Partnership. The key contacts for the Partnership are the district liaisons, who are also the co-PI’s of the LSC grant. The liaisons are the strongest advocates for the Partnership in their districts and serve many roles, including keeping the Partnership prominently on their districts’ agendas. They are the main points of contact and are responsible for pulling together and facilitating district meetings. In addition to the liaisons, a variety of other district administrators play crucial roles in supporting the work of the Partnership. These include the science and mathematics supervisors and coordinators, curriculum and instruction directors, and other program directors, such as those responsible for professional development, special education, and Title I.

As the Partnership evolves, the liaisons and other district administrators from the four districts are increasingly working together on various issues related to the support of standards-based science and mathematics teaching. For example, the liaisons are coordinating professional development activities across the districts and are designing and sharing the results of piloting curriculum materials.

Additionally, and quite importantly, MISE has developed close working relationships with the superintendents in each district. In all cases, the superintendents are highly supportive of, and significantly involved in, the work of the Partnership. For example, most of the superintendents regularly participate in the meetings of the Advisory Committee, which is one way they signal their active support of the project and its priority. In several cases, superintendents have taken it upon themselves to report the progress of the Partnership to their school boards. Additionally, the project’s Principal Investigator meets 3-4 times each year, individually, with each superintendent to discuss important issues facing the Partnership, including ways of formalizing the leadership roles of Leader Teachers, keeping school boards informed of the Partnership’s work, and strategizing how to maintain the momentum of the professional development work.

D. Policy alignment in the districts.

All members of the Partnership recognize the critical importance of developing and implementing district policies that provide a coherent environment for, and mutually reinforce, the Partnership’s vision of high-quality, standards-based science and mathematics teaching practice. At the district level, the Partnership is to strengthen the policy environment to facilitate excellent, standards-based instruction. Three specific components of the Partnership’s work–the MISE Advisory Committee, the district framework committees, and the district materials selection committees–contributed to the development of more aligned policies in 1997-98. It is also important to remember that the policy work includes teachers in all activities, aiming to provide professional development experiences as well as improved policies.

1. Advisory Committee.

The MISE Advisory Committee is an important component of the Partnership. The Advisory Committee brings together leadership teams from the four districts twice a year to discuss strategic issues. The district leadership team typically consists of the district superintendent, science/mathematics supervisor, school principals, and several Leader Teachers. This year, one of teams included a school board member. The Advisory Committee meetings provide opportunities for the members to share ideas across the districts, increase members’ comfort about change, develop leadership skills, and discuss policy alignment.

In 1997-98, the Advisory Committee focused on enhancing the district’s planning processes for science. Although the Institute had required each district to develop a proposal in previous years, these plans had proved to be somewhat limited and pro-forma. In the current year, the Institute worked extensively with teams from each district to develop strategic plans that focused on five areas: curriculum and instruction, student achievement and participation, policies and practices, parent and community support, and professional development. In each of these areas, districts were encouraged to define objectives (i.e. complete science frameworks, establish school-based resource centers, design assessment tasks, restructure district professional development days, involve parents in hands-on science activities); develop strategies and identify the resources and individuals necessary to meet their objectives; and define schedules for completion. All of the participants felt this process was productive and helped them think more systemically and coherently about the larger picture of reform. That the districts are adopting this method for planning in other subjects is a testament to its value.

2. Framework Committees.

Over the past two years, MISE has provided considerable and ongoing technical assistance to the partner districts to develop curriculum frameworks that link their curricula with state and national science and mathematics standards. Last November, MISE sponsored the Educational Development Corporation to work with each district for half a day to clarify their vision of their curriculum framework and its alignment with standards. Later in the year, the Leader Teachers examined their district’s documents and offered advice about how to refine it and increase its utility to teachers.

Due to their varying contexts and capacities, the districts have adopted different levels of specificity in their documents (some are year-by-year, while others focus on grade spans) and hold different visions of the role of their frameworks (some view it as a finite piece of work, while others view it more holistically as an element of a larger curricular and assessment plan). The districts are also at different states of completion of this work in science and are not as far along in mathematics. Two of the districts have reached broad consensus on the content of their frameworks, one has been approved by the local school board, and another is ready to go to the board for approval. The two other districts are still in the draft stage.

3. Materials Selection Committees.

In previous years, the four districts made substantial progress in selecting inquiry-centered science modules for kindergarten through the sixth grades. This work continued in 1997-98 in two particular areas: first, in middle school science, which is still heavily textbook-based; and second, in mathematics across the K-8 spectrum. An effective process has evolved to carry out this work. First, MISE staff and external consultants work with district coordinators and Leader Teachers to identify materials that are inquiry-based. Second, teams of teachers and administrators visit districts that have already adopted the materials of interest and they meet with the materials’ developers to discuss content and grade level appropriateness. The materials are then piloted and monitored by the materials selection committee members before adoption decisions are made. This process, refined during the selection of K-6 science materials, is being used as the decision-making process for other subject areas within the Partnership districts.

E. Lessons learned.

In last year’s report to NSF, the Partnership identified six key lessons arising from its work: the value of collaboration, the need for a multi-faceted approach to professional development, the importance of flexibility to meet contingencies, the limits of technology, the impact of the state policy context on incentives for change, and the recognition that reforming practice takes time. During the past year, these lessons have been re-affirmed, and some new insights gained. The new insights fall into two categories: lessons about working with teachers and lessons about how to create supportive contexts for instructional improvement. Most of these lessons are not new, they have been identified by others, but it is important to document them as they contribute to a growing knowledge base about instructional reform, professional development, and organizational change.

1. Working with teachers.

Perhaps the most fundamental lesson is that many teachers hold a limited and narrow view of science education and of science. For example, many teachers see science as a fixed body of knowledge, a set of laws and principles, and a vocabulary to be mastered rather than a process of observation, deduction, and inquiry leading to ideas to be tested. They have little experience thinking about testable questions and find it difficult to do so. They are not accustomed to guiding student investigation and experimentation. The limitations of their experience and their views about science have important implications for the design of professional development. Hands-on experiences for teachers need to be designed to give them the experience of doing science and to correct their misconceptions. Only when they have experienced inquiry, can they begin to understand the scientific process, and until they do that, they cannot design good learning experiences for their students or guide their students’ inquiry.

There also have been some additional lessons learned about how to create effective learning opportunities for teachers. The Partnership staff has drawn upon knowledge about adult learning and effective professional development in designing professional development, but the experience has reinforced the power of using teachers as instructors and the importance of creating a safe space where teachers can experiment and make mistakes, or ask seemingly naive questions.

There also have been lessons learned about teachers’ capacities to lead instructional reforms in their schools. Just as they hold narrow views about science, teachers tend to have limited perceptions of leadership. They see leadership as doing turn-key training or serving as science mentors. They do not see the design of new programs for parents, serving on curriculum committees, or letting others observe them teach as leadership. The Leader Teachers have faced a variety of constraints in working with their peers, including time, confidence, and norms of autonomy and privacy that make it difficult to have honest discussions about instruction and learning. And not all of the Leader Teachers want to be trainers or public advocates of reform, but they are beginning to realize that there are other ways to lead. Setting an example by using inquiry effectively, providing a demonstration proof that students can do the work and will benefit, sharing materials and experience, serving as a private mentor are less visible, but still effective, forms of leadership. The primary lesson learned is that there is not one best way to introduce instructional changes into a school, but that the Leader Teachers must use approaches that fit their personalities and the cultures of their schools.

The slow and uneven process of changing practice provides yet another important lesson. Teachers make superficial changes at first, trying some new methods and perhaps adopting new materials, but basically sticking to previously held notions about the objectives and about what students can do. There are powerful forces in schools that support the status quo in instruction, and long-term support and reinforcement is needed for teachers to overcome these forces and risk making deeper changes in their practice.

2. Changing Contexts.

School systems are complex entities and, in addition to the obvious internal pressures to retain the status quo, there are numerous external forces affecting their priorities and resource allocations. In fact, the frequency and randomness of the latter contribute to the internal pressures for stability. New federal and state initiatives, changes in local leadership, opportunities for grants, and pressure from parents, civic groups, taxpayers, and others all work against sustaining any particular reform initiative or remaining focused on any particular vision of better teaching and learning. The lesson learned here is the importance to school districts of a partnership with an intermediary organization like the Merck Institute for Science Education for remaining focused and persisting with the implementation of a particular vision of good practice. Intermediary organizations contribute to sustaining the work of reform by building a professional constituency for the vision among teachers, socializing new leaders into the work, and legitimizing the vision for the public.

A related set of lessons have been learned about the limits of local capacity to support reform. Principals play key roles in determining who participates in professional development and in shaping the work of the Leader Teachers and, therefore, influencing the effectiveness of the Partnership. Yet they are overwhelmed by their day-to-day responsibilities, ill-prepared to support and reinforce the improvement of instruction, and inclined to be risk-averse. However tempting it is to ignore them, it is unwise to do so because sustaining efforts to improve instruction requires their active support. Most would simply tolerate the initiative as one of many projects unless the Partnership reached out to them and helped them understand the potential value of the work to their students and to their school and recruited them into a larger professional community that supported instructional reform.

The next two lessons derive from the above discussion about system inertia. The first is the importance of maintaining a strong extra-school network for teachers and principals that reinforces the reform vision and provides professional rewards and recognition for sustaining the work. The second is the importance of building classroom- and system-level assessment systems that are sensitive to the changes being made. Only if educators feel that they are part of an important professional movement and perceive their students’ work changing will they commit the time and energy needed to move beyond superficial changes to deeper changes in practice.

The final lesson is not new, but it is fundamental. The reform will be implemented and sustained only if all of the incentives are aligned with the vision. This means that local and state standards, the content of state tests, and the criteria used to evaluate teachers must all be consistent with the reform vision and vice versa.

F. Significant changes in the plan for 1998-1999

The Partnership plans no significant changes in its core strategy during the coming year. However, there will continue to be adjustments and refinements in response to feedback from members of the Partnership, participating teachers, and the evaluators.