Creating a Supportive Context for Teacher Learning
Teachers work within contexts, and those contexts matter. The committee’s view of teacher learning is one of a dynamic process contingent on its context—including the policies, practices, and norms of the groups with which teachers interact—as well as teachers’ own individual characteristics. Science teachers work in classrooms, departments, schools, districts, and professional organizations. They work within a larger, ever-expanding and shifting educational system, characterized by ongoing state and federal reform efforts and changing student and teacher populations (Cuban, 2010; Cusick, 2014). These shifts and others are important to both acknowledge and take into account as one considers the resources necessary to nurture and sustain teachers in the reform of science education. For example, state standards are significant drivers of curriculum, instruction, assessments, and the allocation of various resources for teachers. In general, the last 20 years have seen an increase in expectations for children’s scientific literacy (National Research Council, 2010; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2010). The Next Generation Science Standards (hereafter referred to as NGSS) represent an important step in that evolution, articulating a vision for science education that is profoundly different from the status quo, and that will require science teachers to have a new set of skills.
School, district, and state contexts can feed or starve teachers’ efforts to grow. Many teachers want to develop new approaches to improve their teaching, but they encounter policy and organizational constraints that place obstacles in their way. Previous chapters of this report have estab-
lished a vision for science teaching and learning, characterized the science teaching workforce, identified teachers’ learning needs to achieve the vision, and analyzed what is known about meeting those needs. Understandably, the focus of those chapters is largely on teachers, and the driving goal—whether implicitly or explicitly stated—is to promote changes in teachers’ practice that will improve student outcomes. Here, we shift from a focus on teachers to a broader look at the conditions, structures, and resources that could support science teachers’ individual and collective learning in ways that might lead to improved outcomes for students.
Schools and districts are complex organizations. Identifying a single factor that will drive improvements is difficult. Research on comprehensive school reforms has shown that widespread gains in student achievement often are associated with reforms that address simultaneously several aspects of the education system—from curriculum, to assessment, to school organization and leadership, to the development of human capital (e.g., Bryk et al., 2010; Desimone, 2002; Sykes and Wilson, in press). Notably, a longitudinal study of more than 100 low-income, low-performing elementary schools in Chicago identified five supports that must be in place at the school level to improve student learning: professional capacity, coherent instructional guidance, leadership, parent-community ties, and a student-centered learning environment (Bryk et al., 2010). Schools that were strong in three or more of these supports were 10 times more likely than other schools to demonstrate significant learning gains in mathematics and reading. While this research did not assess the effects of these supports on science learning, there is no reason to believe that its findings would not hold for science as well.
In a similar vein, in an analysis of three comprehensive school reform models, Rowan and colleagues (2009) found comparable results: the most effective networks of schools provide systematic support for coherent curricula, aligned and substantively rich teacher professional development, and reliably effective classroom instruction that is guided by a well-articulated vision of good teaching. The work of Cohen and his colleagues reinforces this finding (Cohen et al., 2013).
These and other similar analyses provide an important backdrop for the present discussion of the school, district, and state contexts for supporting teachers’ learning (see Figure 8-1). One important lesson from research on instructional improvement is that improving students’ outcomes requires working on multiple fronts, and a sustained weakness in any one support undermines attempts to improve students’ learning. In thinking about supporting teachers’ individual learning and promoting collective capacity in schools, then, it is important to consider how a variety of factors work together to support teachers, instead of focusing on only one factor (e.g., time for collective planning). As Cohen and Hill
FIGURE 8-1 Contexts for teachers’ learning.
(2000, p. 110) observe in their study of mathematics education reforms in California,
When teachers attended the student curriculum workshops, their classroom practices changed to reflect reformers’ ideas, and when those same teachers also attended to California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) as a learning opportunity, their teaching methods changed even more. This result suggests the importance of using a variety of policy instruments in coordinated efforts to enable changes in practice, rather than placing all policy eggs in a single basket.
The committee found little research that investigated the effects of school, district, and state contexts on science teachers and their instruction or on students’ learning of science. That said, a wide-ranging and gradually accumulating research literature examines various aspects of teacher development in different contexts. The contexts and cultures that nurture or constrain teacher learning are myriad and overlapping (see Figure 8-1). Here we examine research related to three of the five supports identified
by Bryk and colleagues (2010): professional capacity (e.g., professional networks, coaching, partnerships), coherent instructional guidance (e.g., state and district curriculum and assessment/accountability policies), and leadership (e.g., principals and teacher leaders). We also discuss conventional resources (Cohen et al., 2001) such as time and funding, and consider the implications for science teacher development that can advance achievement of the new vision for science education in A Framework for K-12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as the Framework) and the NGSS. We note that contexts have permeable boundaries—a district can have staffing policies that shape and are shaped by a school’s staffing policies—and the summary provided here is intended to capture the interactive, dynamic, iterative ways in which contexts influence one another.
The challenge of developing the expertise teachers need to implement the NGSS is daunting. Even so, it presents an opportunity to rethink professional learning for science teachers—specifically, to shift the focus from individual to collective learning for teachers at the department, school, district, and school network levels. Thinking about professional learning within a system in this way means that not all of the needed expertise must reside in one teacher, one coach, or one school. It potentially also means that resources can be used more cost-effectively to support that student and teacher learning. In addition, teachers’ learning becomes more public—as do the learning opportunities available to them—and easier to monitor. Here we consider four domains in which educators have attempted to influence school and district contexts for building professional capacity: professional community and collaboration, staffing policies, teacher evaluation, and school/district partnerships.
Professional Community and Collaboration
Professional community is one component of professional capacity that is repeatedly cited as important, and this observation resonates with the literature on professional learning communities described in Chapter 7. The idea here is that teachers “relinquish some of the privacy of their individual classrooms to engage in critical dialogue with one another as they identify common problems and consider possible solutions to these concerns” (Bryk et al., 2010, p. 55). This kind of community involves creating opportunities for faculty to discuss classroom work with their colleagues, establishing processes for allowing constructive dialogue about classroom practice, and providing mechanisms for sustained collaboration that focuses on strengthening instruction.
One way to support collective learning is by developing policies that provide teachers with time to work together and that value collaboration, such as by offering incentives for engaging in collaboration. Providing such support for collaborative learning would lend needed structure to efforts now emerging along these lines in many schools and districts.
Also critical is for teachers to have access to others with greater expertise, such as science specialists, lead teachers, or outside consultants. Meeting this need requires identifying the expertise among colleagues in a building, across the district, in those associations and organizations that surround school communities, and in online environments and then providing mechanisms for teachers to access that expertise. Teachers also may require help in connecting with national groups such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), particularly through the NSTA Learning Center which connects teachers through discussion forums and e-mail lists, and links teachers to thousands of free resources—webinars readings, a portfolio system, and an index of professional development opportunities. There are also teacher-mentors who answer teachers’ questions and connect them with resources. Other networks include Scitable, a collaborative learning space for teachers and scientists with resources on genetics and cell biology connected with the journal Nature.
District policies can influence teachers’ social networks in formal and informal ways. This point is illustrated by a study of a district mathematics reform effort over a 3-year period (Coburn et al., 2013). The district initiated reform of elementary mathematics over 2 years, then pulled back on the initiative in year 3. In year 1, the district created the role of mathematics coach. Each school was required to have at least one halftime mathematics coach who worked with teachers. A district-level team supported the coaches, providing them with regular professional development and observing them once a month. The district instituted weekly grade-level teacher meetings to facilitate joint planning and offered biweekly school-based professional development. Finally, the district provided professional development for selected teachers during the summer and during intersessions.
In year 2, the district offered additional professional development to teachers in cross-district settings. The school-based professional development shifted to cross-grade groupings of teachers. The focus of the professional development deepened to examine how students learn mathematics, the nature of mathematics, and how to solve mathematics problems. In year 3, as a result of a new superintendent and changes in policy, the district abandoned and dismantled the mathematics reform initiative.
Teachers’ social networks changed in response to these district policies. In years 1 and 2 of the initiative, teachers’ networks expanded in number and diversity, but they then contracted in year 3. In year 1, teach-
ers’ networks were small and tended to be grade level-specific, but they expanded in year 2 to include more individuals and more teachers interacting across grade levels. The initiative also allowed teachers to identify those with expertise related to mathematics instruction, and this enabled them to make strategic decisions about whom to ask for advice.
District policy influenced the resources teachers accessed through their social networks by providing information and materials and deepening expertise through professional development. The district also influenced the nature of teachers’ interactions by providing professional development for coaches on how to engage with teachers around mathematics, focused in such areas as task analysis, investigation of students’ problem-solving strategies, structured reflection on practice, and routines for reviewing student data. These kinds of interactions began between coaches and teachers, but then appeared in teacher-to-teacher interactions even in year 3, when the initiative was abandoned. These kinds of interactions fostered an in-depth discussion of mathematics and mathematics pedagogy.
In summary, a growing body of research suggests that teacher capacity is enhanced in environments that nurture collegiality. Teacher collaborations do not naturally arise in the busy world of schooling. Instead, policies that encourage the joint work of teachers, provide them with time to collaborate, and task them with significant work to accomplish in those groups can play an important role.
Staffing Policies and Science Expertise
Expertise in science teaching and learning is important for supporting teacher collaboration and enhancing professional capacity in science. This expertise entails both general knowledge of science pedagogy and a specific understanding of state standards and assessments. It also entails deep knowledge of students so that instruction is designed, from the beginning, in ways that respond to students’ backgrounds, interests, and differences. Yet, staffing schools with sufficient expertise is challenging across all grade levels.
For elementary schools, ensuring teachers have access to expertise in science may be more challenging than is the case for other subjects. In response to policy pressures associated with the No Child Left Behind Act, many school districts created new roles for teachers, including literacy and mathematics specialists. The responsibilities and titles of these specialists often differ across the contexts in which they work, and may include teaching, coaching, and leading school reading and mathematics programs. These specialists also may serve as a resource in reading, writing, and mathematics for educational support personnel, administrators,
teachers, and the community; provide professional development based on historical and current literature and research; work collaboratively with other professionals to build and implement instructional programs for individuals and groups of students; and serve as advocates for struggling students.
There are a limited number of science specialists at the state and district levels (Trygstad et al., 2013). However, new specialists can be identified through multiple programs, including Einstein Fellows, National Board Certified Teachers, Knowles Science Foundation Teaching Fellows, the National Science Teachers Association Leadership Institute, and the U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellowships, to name just a few. The state of Virginia has invested considerable resources in the development of mathematics and reading specialists, and has initiated similar efforts in science. Building on an earlier definition of the mathematics specialist (Reys and Fennell, 2003), the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition’s Science Specialist Task Force defines a science specialist as “a teacher whose interest and distinctive preparation in content and pedagogy are coordinated with particular teacher leadership assignments to support teaching and learning in the context of science instruction” (Reys and Fennell, 2003; Sterling et al., 2007, p. 8). However, such specialists, who could bring targeted and informed support at time of heightened demand, have been cut and not restored.
Fewer than 40 percent of districts have staff dedicated to support for science instruction, although larger districts are more likely to employ science specialists. The use of science specialists in schools, either in place of or in addition to regular classroom teachers, is uncommon (10-16 percent of schools) (Banilower et al., 2013). Weiss and colleagues (2001, p. 4) report similar results: “In the United States, approximately 15 percent of elementary students receive science instruction from a science specialist in addition to their regular teachers, and another 12 percent receive science instruction from a science specialist instead of their regular classroom teachers.” Pull-out instruction, whether for remediation or enrichment, also is quite rare (7-10 percent of schools). The picture is quite different in elementary mathematics instruction. Students are pulled out for remediation in almost 60 percent of schools, and for enrichment in roughly one-third of schools. The prevalence of these practices may be due in part to the fact that testing for accountability purposes is more common in mathematics than in science. In addition, Title 1 funds are more likely to be targeted for remediation in mathematics and reading than in science (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 109).
Although 61 percent of district officials report having policies or suggested guidelines regarding the number of minutes per week science should be taught in elementary classrooms, district support for elemen-
tary science is limited. More than 60 percent of districts have no district staff dedicated to elementary science, and another 13 percent report having less than 0.5 full-time equivalent district staff in this role. A closer look at district support by district size shows that large districts are more likely to have such staff than smaller districts, but it is striking that there are none in more than a third of large districts (Dorph et al., 2011, p. 37).
When resources allow, offering one-on-one coaching to help teachers improve their practice also can be a powerful tool. Yet at both the elementary and middle school levels, schools are significantly more likely to provide coaching in mathematics than in science; there is no significant difference at the high school level (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 47). As standardized testing in science begins to take hold in public education, however, it is likely that districts and school networks will begin to use coaching and mentoring for science teachers more often.
Schools with differing proportions of students eligible for free/reduced-price lunches are about equally likely to provide assistance to science teachers in need. In contrast, the largest schools are significantly more likely than the smallest ones to offer science-focused teacher study groups. The greatest variation is in the percentage of schools providing one-on-one coaching, which is more likely to be offered in schools in the highest quartile of proportion of students eligible for free/reduced-price lunches than in those in the lowest quartile (Banilower et al., 2013, p. 49).
At the high school level, challenges around school staffing have concerned teachers’ misassignment. Ingersoll (2002) notes that out-of-field teaching “typically involves the assignment of otherwise well qualified individuals to teach subjects that do not match their qualifications” (p. 2). Further, his analyses demonstrate that out-of-field teaching often takes place in schools that do not have teacher shortages in general. In science, teacher certification policies muddy the waters, as states vary in how they license teachers in the sciences. Ingersoll (2002) explains:
For example, a broad definition of the field of science might include anyone who teaches any science course and define as in-field those instructors with a major or minor in any of the sciences, including chemistry, physics, geology, space science, or biology. This definition assumes that simply having a major or minor in one science qualifies a teacher to teach any of the sciences...the obvious shortcoming of this broad definition is that it overlooks the problem of within-department, out-of-discipline, teaching; a teacher with a degree in biology may not be qualified to teach physics. (p. 25)
Analyses reported both in Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academy of Sciences et al., 2010) and by Ingersoll (2003) indicate that
about 28-30 percent of middle and high school teachers who taught one or more science classes did not have a minor in the relevant science or in science education, and 41 percent did not have a major or regular certification in one or more of the science courses they were teaching. For example, Ingersoll (2003) found that 60 percent of those teaching physical science classes (chemistry, physics, earth or space science) lacked a major or minor in any of the physical sciences.
In sum, staffing policies have clear implications for the qualifications of teachers assigned to teach the sciences. Little to no research exists on policies that can address the issues discussed here. A school system committed to the improvement of its science teacher workforce would want to attend to staffing policies as well as to recruitment, retention, and professional development.
Although not always aligned with instructional policies, teacher evaluation is becoming increasingly salient as a lever for teacher development. Notably, the federal Race to the Top initiative provided incentives for states to seek ways of tying teacher evaluations more closely to student learning (Institute of Education Sciences, 2014). The initiative promoted teacher evaluation policies that call for multiple measures and multiple rating categories, which could help provide more valid and reliable measures of teacher quality. Many states responded to the initiative, instituting new teacher evaluation systems that include teachers and school leaders making plans for teacher learning over the course of the year, repeated observations of teachers’ practice, and the gathering of evidence of student learning through standardized tests.
Two genres of teacher evaluation have emerged out of the renewed interest in this area: value-added measurement and standards-based observations (Milanowski, 2004; Papay, 2012). The former calculates a teacher’s effectiveness based on student standardized achievement scores. However, the American Statistical Association (2014) has concluded that value-added measurement is inappropriate for the purpose of teacher evaluation, and it was beyond the scope of this study to explore the challenges associated with using this approach to determine teacher quality. We note, however, the importance of the linkages between teacher evaluation policies and teacher hiring, retention, and assignment policies, as well as student accountability policies.
Standards-based teacher evaluation entails a school district developing instructional standards, a rubric and evaluation process for comparing teachers’ practice with those standards, and feedback to teachers about how their practice aligns with the norms established in the standards
(Danielson and McGreal, 2000). It also entails the collection of considerable information, including multiple observations and student work samples. It is this second form of teacher evaluation that holds the most promise for helping teachers improve, as value-added assessments do not provide information on practice (Hill and Grossman, 2013).
Teacher evaluation policies can be positive. For example, some schools are using systems that encourage teachers to embrace teacher evaluation as a way to shape their own learning opportunities. In other contexts, however, punitive consequences are emphasized, and teachers must undergo mandatory experiences that may or may not improve their practice. In some schools, curricular and assessment reforms are aligned with teacher evaluation, with the evaluations using metrics that align with curricular guidance concerning what science instruction should focus on and look like. When schools are organized in ways that support all teachers in continually working to improve their practice, teacher evaluations can be used to highlight teachers’ learning needs in a positive way, thus supporting a generative learning environment for teachers. Yet this, unfortunately, is not the mainstream experience of most U.S. teachers.
Partnerships between outside organizations and schools and districts can be mechanisms for enhancing professional capacity in science. Such partnerships can take many forms: universities can partner with schools, school districts can partner with each other, scientific and cultural/informal institutions can partner with schools and districts, scientific societies and professional organizations can partner with educators.
One kind of partnership entails opportunities for teachers to collaborate with practicing scientists in industry or in cultural institutions, whether through summer research experiences working with scientists or professional development programs designed to support the development of science teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. Research laboratories and cultural institutions across the United States offer such programs. For example, the Teacher Research Academy at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory offers middle school, high school, and community college faculty five levels of professional development, including learning about research design from practicing scientists, participating in research projects, and receiving extensive exposure to content knowledge and instructional activities designed to engage middle and high school students in active learning. Science teachers in Seattle can spend 9 weeks in the summer conducting research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Since 1990, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) has offered its Teacher
at Sea Program through which teachers have real-world research experience working at sea with NOAA scientists and crews.1 Collaboration and networks outside of a school may be especially important at the elementary level, where, as noted throughout this report, individuals with deep science expertise may be lacking. Many of these programs include program evaluations. However, while the evaluations offer rich detail about the programs, they tend to focus on participant satisfaction and do not include the use of rigorous methods for assessing teacher learning. Thus, little is known about how these experiences shape individual and collective teacher knowledge and practice, or student learning.
Urban Advantage (UA) is a partnership between the New York City Public Schools and informal science education institutions located across New York City. Currently in its eleventh year, UA works with one in three middle schools in the city. In the 2014-2015 school year, the program served 222 schools, 643 middle school science teachers, and 62,504 public school students across the five boroughs. This program was initially developed to address a school district requirement that every 8th-grade student complete a long-term science investigation before moving on to high school but has grown to include 6th- and 7th-grade science teachers as well. UA’s core mission is to build teachers’, students’, administrators’, and parents’ understanding of scientific inquiry and investigation by providing teachers with professional development, parents and teachers with access to cultural institutions, and principals with insight into the program’s content and character. An evaluation of the program indicates that attending a UA school increases student performance on the New York State 8th-grade science assessment (Weinstein et al., 2014).
UA is unusual in that the focus of the partnership was determined by the school district’s identifying a curricular need that the informal science community in New York City then built a program with resources and support to address. Often, formal/informal partnerships are initiated by the informal community, which develops resources and professional development opportunities for schools and districts that may not be designed specifically to meet specific curricular needs. While such resources can play important roles for schools and districts, UA represents a new kind of collaborative partnership between formal and informal institutions in which cultural institutions and schools create materials together.
Another partnership of note is the Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE). Launched in 1992, MISE worked with four partner school districts (three in New Jersey, one in Pennsylvania). It helped school
1See https://www.science.gov/internships/k-12.html [November 2015] for a listing of some of these opportunities.
districts select curricular materials and collaborated in the development and implementation of professional development, which included teacher leader development and peer teacher workshops. Over the course of the partnership, the partner districts drafted science curriculum frameworks that aligned with state and national standards and sought out assessments that were aligned with the new frameworks, and teachers were supported as they took on new roles as advocates, coaches, and lead teachers. The partners co-planned and offered conferences designed to address the felt needs of the schools and to build the capacity of principals, teachers, and central administrators to offer high-quality science instruction to all students. Annual evaluations suggested that the investment paid off in improved teacher knowledge and practice (Corcoran et al., 2003). Classroom observations and interviews with teachers also indicated that student performance changed in positive directions. In addition to these results, the partnership led to some insights relevant to the present study. These include the crucial role of a shared vision of instruction, a deep respect for teachers and knowledge of teaching, a conception of professional development as a continuous process, the ongoing support of principals, and high-quality curriculum materials and aligned assessment (Corcoran et al., 2003).
COHERENT INSTRUCTIONAL GUIDANCE
Teachers are eager to pick up new practices from their professional learning experiences. However, they often lack the guidance and opportunities they need to adapt those new practices to different conditions. As a result, they may patch new practices onto old ones or adopt the most superficial aspects of a practice (Cohen, 1990). Bryk and colleagues (2010) identify instructional guidance as one of the core supports needed for successful school reform, as do Rowan and colleagues (2009) and Cohen and colleagues (2013). At least three elements of instructional guidance are relevant:
- the curriculum organization, that is, the arrangement of subject matter content and pacing over time and grades;
- the intellectual depth expected of students when they engage in the subject matter, as reflected in their learning tasks; and
- the pedagogical strategies, tools, and materials made available to teachers to support students and the expectations for teachers’ role in the classroom.
Beyond these aspects of instructional guidance are other relevant and linked policies, including student accountability and teacher evaluation.
The science standards adopted by the state provide some guidance on curriculum organization. However, those standards become operational as teachers and instructional leaders learn about them and use them to guide discussion about the adequacy of their current approach to science instruction, as well as to organize efforts to improve instruction (Bryk et al., 2010). The new vision for science education calls for an approach to instruction that engages students in scientific and engineering practices and requires a more sophisticated engagement with science content relative to previous standards. Making this shift will require most teachers to change their approaches to instruction substantially, and they will need to see examples of these new approaches in action, receive guidance on the new expectations, have opportunities to reflect on their own pedagogy, and collaborate with curriculum developers and others in realizing the new vision in concrete ways for classrooms (see Box 8-1 for an example of a program designed to support teachers in this way).
The committee considered available research concerning two aspects of instructional guidance: curriculum materials and their potential to support teacher learning and assessment and accountability policies and practices.
Curriculum materials—the resources that teachers use with their students—also can provide opportunities for teacher learning, and there has been increasing interest in designing these materials in ways that support the learning of both students and their teachers. Schools and districts play an important role in providing curriculum materials in science.
Teachers’ use of and learning from text-based curriculum materials depend not only on the characteristics of the materials but also on the type of teaching activity in which a teacher is engaged, the teacher’s persistence or lack thereof in reading the materials over time, what the teacher chooses to read or ignore, the teacher’s own knowledge and beliefs (e.g., about content, learners, learning, teaching, and curriculum materials), how those beliefs are aligned with the goals of the curriculum, and the teacher’s disposition toward reflective practice (Collopy, 2003; Remillard, 2005; Schneider and Krajcik, 2002). These factors interact in a complex and dynamic way (Lloyd, 1999) as teachers interpret the materials and shape the enacted curriculum (Clandinin and Connelly, 1991; see also Brown, 2009).
Researchers have suggested a variety of features that can make curriculum materials more supportive of teachers’ learning (see Box 8-2 for an example). Some argue that it is important to provide teachers with rationales for the instructional approaches included in a curriculum, as
Next Generation Science Exemplar Professional Learning System (NGSX)
The Next Generation Science Exemplar Professional Learning System (NGSX) is a program aimed at supporting teachers as they work to implement the NGSS. NGSX offers a blended model for science educators, including K-12 teachers, informal science institutions, and teacher education faculty.
As a blended model, NGSX has a high-functioning online platform that provides a curriculum or “pathway” of resources, video images, and tasks for study group participants. The other half of this blended model is a face-to-face component whereby science educators work as adult learners as part of an 18- to 22-member study group using all the functionality and resources provided by the NGSX web platform. In this process, NGSX study group participants work with the help of a skilled facilitator in moving through the curricular units that constitute a particular progression for students, watching and analyzing video-based classroom cases that show students and teachers working together to develop, apply, and refine their understanding of core practices. Likewise, challenges are posed in this pathway for study group participants, who are asked to work with a science phenomenon and engage in modeling as they build a “case” or an argument for their understanding of that phenomenon.
NGSX is designed around five research-based principles for professional development:
- organized around teaching sense making of classroom cases;
- focuses on high-leverage teaching practices;
- organizes teacher study groups that work to apply reforms to their own practice;
- combines a focus on science, student thinking, and pedagogy; and
- develops capacity for teacher leaders.
this allows them to transfer what they learn when teaching one unit to subsequent units (Ball and Cohen, 1996; Beyer and Davis, 2012a, 2012b; Davis and Krajcik, 2005). In particular, narratives describing how other teachers have taught lessons and why they made certain adaptations appear to help motivate teachers to read educative curriculum materials and envision lessons (Beyer and Davis, 2012b). Teachers draw in similar ways on other educative features of curriculum materials that also provide representations of the work of teaching (e.g., rubrics with examples of student work and sample teacher comments) (Arias et al., in press), and of students’ work (Bismack et al., 2015). For instance, when teachers used educative rubrics that highlighted important characteristics of a scientific practice, such as making and recording observations of a natural phenomenon, the written and drawn observations of the teachers’ elementary
students tended to reflect those characteristics. This finding suggests that educative curriculum materials intended to support teachers in learning to engage students meaningfully in scientific practice integrated with science content can help them begin to do so.
Some evidence shows that teachers learn from curriculum materials. Schneider and Krajcik (2002) found that teachers read, understood, and adopted ideas from the subject matter supports in the curriculum materials they were using, in addition to learning subject matter from the descriptions of students’ alternative ideas. Wyner (2013) found that teachers who enacted a high school curriculum program emphasizing data analysis and media on science research developed more positive orientations toward using those approaches in their teaching. Beyer and Davis (2012a, 2012b) found that when preservice elementary teachers used science curriculum materials in conjunction with teacher education instructional experiences intended to support them, they were able to develop both pedagogical content knowledge and pedagogical design capacity. For example, they came to develop more robust and sophisticated repertoires of criteria they could use in considering changes they should make to curriculum materials for their classrooms.
Some evidence also suggests that teachers’ instructional practices in science can be shaped by their use of curriculum materials. For example, Cervetti and colleagues (2015) compared two groups of teachers. One group had access to a version of science curriculum materials with educative features intended to support them in using instructional strategies effective with English language learners. The other group used the same curriculum materials without the educative features. These authors found that teachers who had access to the educative curriculum materials used more strategies to support English language learners and used a wider range of strategies. Similarly, Enfield and colleagues (2008) found that curriculum materials could support changes in teachers’ engagement of elementary students in epistemic practices. Furthermore, teachers’ uptake of ideas embedded in curriculum materials concerning ambitious science teaching can be associated with stronger student learning outcomes relative to those achieved by teachers whose enactments align less well with ideas in reform-oriented curriculum materials (McNeill, 2009). Other work, however, suggests how challenging it can be for such change to happen (e.g., Alozie et al., 2010; Zangori et al., 2013), reinforcing the need for multiple levers working toward change.
The majority of elementary teachers have access to curriculum materials that are unlikely to be educative for them (Banilower et al., 2013). Furthermore, typical science textbooks for high school tend not to be highly supportive of teachers’ learning (Beyer et al., 2009), although there are a few exceptions. Even curriculum materials that are not particularly
Developing Educative Curriculum
Davis and Krajcik (2005) provide guidance for developing educative curriculum materials that are informed by research on teacher learning in science. According to their guidelines, which built on the existing literature (e.g., Ball and Cohen, 1996; Heaton, 2000; Remillard, 2000; Schneider and Krajcik, 2002), educative curriculum materials could
- help teachers learn how to anticipate and interpret what learners may think about or do in response to instructional activities;
- support teachers’ learning of subject matter;
- help teachers consider ways to relate units during the year;
- make the developers’ pedagogical judgment visible; and
- promote a teacher’s pedagogical design capacity (Brown, 2009)—that is, his or her ability to use personal resources and the supports embedded in curriculum materials (i.e., the curricular resources) to adapt curriculum to achieve productive instructional ends.
Working from these guidelines, Davis and Krajcik (2005) articulate a set of heuristics for designing educative science curriculum materials, with examples. Educative curriculum materials should support teachers in
- engaging students with topic-specific scientific phenomena;
- using scientific instructional representations;
- anticipating, understanding, and working with students’ ideas about science;
- engaging students in questions;
educative for teachers, though, play important roles in shaping students’ opportunities to learn.
Curriculum materials, particularly those designed to be educative for teachers, can provide a direct point of leverage for moving toward alignment of students’ opportunities to learn with the Framework and NGSS (see Chapter 5 for additional discussion). To serve this function, the curriculum materials also need to be aligned with the Framework and NGSS so as to provide grade level-appropriate opportunities to learn that accord with specific standards. They need to be coherent and driven by learning goals, provide opportunities for students’ investigations and support discourse and elicitation of students’ ideas.
Experienced teachers are also central collaborators in the design of new curricula (e.g., Connelly and Ben-Peretz, 1997; Gunckel and Moore, 2005; Remillard, 2005). Ben-Chaim and colleagues (1994) argued that successful implementation of new curricula requires “full active participation
- engaging students in collecting and analyzing data;
- engaging students in designing investigations;
- engaging students in making explanations based on evidence;
- promoting scientific communication; and
- developing subject matter knowledge.
For example, Davis and Krajcik (2005) make the following recommendation for supporting teachers in engaging students in making explanations based on evidence:
Curriculum materials should provide clear recommendations for how teachers can support students in making sense of data and generating explanations based on evidence that the students have collected and justified by scientific principles that they have learned. The supports should include rationales for why engaging students in explanation is important in scientific inquiry and why these particular approaches for doing so are scientifically and pedagogically appropriate. (p. 11)
Davis and colleagues (2014) updated and built on these design heuristics by proposing a theoretically and empirically informed design process for educative curriculum materials. They recommend a process that entails analyzing existing curriculum materials, describing teachers’ enactment through pilot observations to characterize students’ opportunities to learn, and assessing students’ learning outcomes, and then combining this empirical work with the field’s theoretical understandings of teaching and learning and with the recommendations in the design heuristics. Through this process, teachers can be better supported in meeting reform expectations such as the three-dimensional learning associated with the NGSS vision for science education.
of the teachers involved in the decision-making process associated with the curriculum reform” (p. 365). Parke and Coble (1997) studied the effects of collaborations between teachers and curriculum specialists charged with creating new middle-grade science curriculum in North Carolina. Teachers in six schools who participated in the collaboration reported that they wanted students to develop hypotheses, design experiments, and collect, analyze, and report data. Their goals included having students make connections between concepts, achieve content mastery, and engage productively in laboratory and cooperative work. Teachers in six additional schools who were part of a control group reported using more traditional science teaching methods, including the memorization of facts and terminology and a focus on “the scientific method.” While there were significant differences in how teachers conceptualized effective science instruction, there were no statistical differences in the performance of
students in the experimental and control schools on the state science tests, which were aligned with state standards that had been developed in 1960.
As the major resource teachers use in their practice, curricula play an important role in teachers’ lives. The effects of schools and districts plan programs for building teacher capacity will be enhanced by considering the varied roles that creating and learning from curricula could play.
Assessment and Accountability
Accountability policies are another important part of the instructional guidance system. In every state and district, science standards, science curriculum frameworks, and science requirements (including testing requirements) exist alongside those for other subjects. Since 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act has mandated that students in grades 3-8 be tested annually and that states demonstrate adequate yearly progress in raising test scores. The law gives priority to mathematics and English language arts, subjects that make up the bulk of states’ accountability formulas. As a result, especially in elementary schools, testing pressures in mathematics and English language arts have largely squeezed science out of the curriculum (Banilower et al., 2013). Nationally, elementary students have had fewer opportunities to experience sound science instruction relative to students at other levels, and their teachers report feeling inadequately prepared for and supported in teaching science (Banilower et al., 2013; Dorph et al., 2007, 2011; Smith et al., 2002; see further discussion in Chapter 2). Even at the high school level, where science enjoys a relatively secure position, federal and state accountability metrics generally weigh performance in mathematics and English language arts more heavily than performance in science. In California, for example, the state’s Academic Performance Index accords nearly 86 percent of the weight to mathematics and English language arts and only about 7 percent to science (Hatry et al., 2012).
Assessment can play important formative roles, as well as summative, accountability roles. The learning and assessment tasks in which students engage are a key part of the instructional guidance system (Bryk et al., 2010). Classroom assessments include formative tasks that can inform future instruction and summative tasks that are designed to assign students grades or scores. Assessment tasks designed for the NGSS will need to combine all three dimensions (scientific practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts) into performances that require students to use their knowledge as they engage in practices (National Research Council, 2014). A recent report from the National Research Council (2014) recommends that tasks designed to assess the performance expectations in the NGSS:
- include multiple components that reflect the connected use of different scientific practices in the context of interconnected disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts;
- address the progressive nature of learning by providing information about where students fall on a continuum between expected beginning and ending points in a given unit or grade; and
- include an interpretive system for evaluating a range of student products that are specific enough to be useful for helping teachers understand the range of student responses and provide tools for helping teachers decide on next steps in instruction.
These recommendations accord with current research on formative assessment more generally (e.g., Stiggins, 2005; Stiggins and Conklin, 1992; Wiliam, 2011). Teachers design and develop their own assessments to help them better understand what students are learning so they can adjust instruction. Teachers also use assessments to enable learning, encouraging students to synthesize and extend their learning. During the course of instruction, for example, students need opportunities to use multiple practices in developing a particular core idea and to apply each practice in the context of multiple core ideas. Effective use of the practices often requires that they be used in concert with one another. Many of the tasks designed for supporting students’ learning will also provide assessment information, but teachers will need support to learn how to gather information from these tasks.
Formative and summative assessments produce information about student performance that requires interpretation and professional judgment (e.g., Popham, 2003, 2007). Teachers understand the difference between measuring something and interpreting the evidence, and the role of professional judgment in all formative and summative assessments. Notably, teachers increasingly need to analyze data produced by district- and state-wide testing programs, a task that calls for “data literacy” (Mandinach and Gummer, 2013; Mandinach and Honey, 2008). Teachers not only need to make sense of data on student performance but also need to evaluate the technical quality and relevance of the information collected (e.g., American Federation of Teachers et al., 1990; National Research Council, 2001). For summative assessments, teachers need to apply basic statistical concepts including variability, correlation, percentiles, norming, and combining scores for grading, to engage in the systematic analysis of evidence in technically sound and professionally responsible ways (Sykes and Wilson, 2015). District and school policies and practices associated with assessment and accountability can enable or restrain the ongoing development of teachers’ data literacy.
Over the last 20-30 years of education research, the role of leadership, particularly the role of the principal in effecting school-level change, has emerged as particularly important to education reform efforts (e.g., Hallinger and Heck, 1998; Ladd, 2009; Leithwood et al., 2004; Louis et al., 2010; Roehrig et al., 2007; Spillane and Diamond, 2007; Wahlstrom, 2008). They key role of the principal in supporting teachers’ learning in science is clear in the literature reviewed in the previous two chapters. Teacher leaders have important roles to play as well.
In a study of reform in Chicago public schools by Bryk and colleagues (2010), leadership is identified as one of the core supports necessary for changes in students’ achievement. In their analysis, the authors focus on principals as the key leaders in schools and describe three dimensions of a principal’s leadership. The most basic of these is the managerial dimension, which includes a well-run school office, a regular schedule, good communication with parents and staff, attention to ensuring that supplies are always available, and administrative support for new programs. Weaknesses in this dimension undermine teachers’ classroom work by eroding the amount of effective instructional time and can also create a negative perception of the school. With regard to science, principals’ managerial responsibilities include the scheduling of science classes and the availability of lab space and materials and supplies needed to teach the classes.
The instructional dimension of school leadership is crucial to reform. This dimension includes deliberate actions by the principal to enhance instructional time and the effectiveness of instructional programs. Principals can advance student learning through initiatives aimed at building the school’s professional capacity and the quality of its instructional guidance capacity. Effective instructional leadership makes broad demands on a principal’s knowledge and skills with regard to both student and teacher learning. Principals must be knowledgeable about the tenets of learning theory and curriculum, and able to analyze instruction and provide effective, formative feedback to teachers. Successful leadership also entails the deliberate orchestration of people, programs, and available resources. A strategic orientation must guide these efforts so that resources (time and money) are allocated effectively to support the continuous improvement of classroom practice. With regard to science, principals’ instructional responsibilities include assessing the capacity of teachers to be effective instructors in science, particularly given the demands of the NGSS, and
identifying, allocating, and supporting resources for teachers’ professional learning.
Finally, the inclusive-facilitative dimension refers to how principals nurture individuals and build the school’s collective capacity. A key factor is the principal’s ability to inspire teachers, parents, school community leaders, and students around a common vision. This role often includes ensuring that teachers have a sense of being able to influence decisions affecting their work. It may also include supporting other individuals in the school in assuming leadership roles. This latter function can be especially important in science because relatively few principals have science backgrounds, and they may need to rely on others to provide instructional leadership for science teachers. Principals’ inclusive-facilitative role with respect to science also includes having and promoting a vision for science instruction and ensuring access to the expertise needed to increase the capacity of science teachers.
Teacher leaders are central to all genuine school improvement. There is a growing sense of the urgency of developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teacher leaders, as reflected in the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching program and the National Science Foundation’s STEM Teacher Leader Initiative. A project currently under way is analyzing existing programs that support and develop STEM master teachers.2 The National Research Council held a convocation in 2013 to draw attention to the issue (National Research Council, 2014).
At the elementary and middle school levels, the role of teacher leaders in science may be especially important because many teachers at these levels have had insufficient preparation in the science subjects they teach (Ingersoll and Perda, 2010, see also Chapter 4). Teacher leaders may support science teachers by providing professional development, classroom support, mentoring, just-in-time help, and other means of strengthening instruction and curriculum.
Although teacher leaders play many different roles, their contribution is distinct from the work of school administrators (Neumerski, 2012; Wynne, 2001). Some teacher leaders help colleagues improve instruction (Neumerski, 2012), while others focus on more visible roles in school and system improvement (Curtis, 2013). Teacher leaders can be leaders of professional development, mentors, union representatives, academic
2See http://www.sri.com/work/projects/stem-master-teacher-leader-program-analysis-and-support [November 2015].
department chairs, coaches, or curriculum specialists, or work more informally with colleagues. They may work in multiple schools or only one, and they may specialize in one subject or grade level or work across many (Neumerski, 2012; York-Barr and Duke, 2004). They may conduct action research, or collaborate with educational researchers or teacher preparation programs.
The research base on teacher leadership is not robust (Goodwin, 2013; Neumerski, 2012; York-Barr and Duke, 2004). The majority of published work is descriptive. The possibilities for large-scale studies have been limited by the difficulty of identifying variables that could capture as diverse and complex a phenomenon as teacher leadership, and the committee could find no quantitative studies focused on science teacher leadership. Moreover, very little qualitative research has focused specifically on science teacher leaders. Indeed, reviews of research on mathematics and science teacher leadership, reveal that the majority of the published research in this area focuses on mathematics teacher leadership or on programs with mathematics and science teacher leaders, with reporting of results not distinguishing between the two (see, e.g., http://www.mspkmd.net/blasts/tl.php [November 2015]).
The few science-specific studies (e.g., Gigante and Firestone, 2008; Larkin et al., 2009) are small scale. A number of qualitative studies also have suggested that teacher leaders are most respected and trusted by their colleagues when they are recognized for their subject matter and pedagogical knowledge, and when their leadership roles are focused on teaching and learning rather than on administrative issues (e.g., Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2005).
The literature has done more to identify the characteristics of teacher leaders than to describe how such teachers lead or to explore the results of efforts to foster teacher leadership. However, a few themes, discussed below, are evident in the research.
Roles of Teacher Leaders
Because the formal roles played by teacher leaders vary, the ways they support other teachers also vary. When teachers function as mentors, they may influence both their colleagues and school and district policies (York-Barr and Duke, 2004). When they play a role in school or district governance, they influence decisions that affect the work of other teachers. Scholars have documented numerous specific functions performed by teacher leaders, which fall into several broad categories (Harrison and
Killion, 2007; Institute for Educational Leadership, 2008; York-Barr and Duke, 2004):3
- administrative tasks (e.g., coordinating schedules, providing resources);
- academic leadership (e.g., serving as curriculum specialist, mentor, instructional coach, or department leader; providing classroom support; serving as workshop leader, functioning as data specialist);
- school leadership (e.g., participating in school-wide improvement efforts or budget or other decision making; participating in hiring, teacher evaluation, or the development of professional development opportunities; participating in research; building networks inside and outside of the school); and
- contributing to the development or selection of curricula, standards, or other activities that take place beyond the school.
Teacher leaders also play less formal roles, which are even less well studied than the formal roles discussed above. York-Barr and Duke (2004) report that case studies have supported the idea that teachers may be highly influential without having assigned roles that impose hierarchical relationships, and even that all teachers may think of their professional responsibilities as including collaboration with other teachers in examining their instructional practices and their effectiveness. A study of “extraordinary” teachers, for example, suggests that many exert influence through their actions and attitudes; a number of studies identify collaboration and the establishment of professional networks as principal modes of influence (Fairman and Mackenzie, 2014; York-Barr and Duke, 2004). However, the authors caution that other studies suggest there are discrepancies between what teacher leaders report doing and what their colleagues perceive they have done.
While the literature does not provide a detailed understanding of how teacher leaders interact with their colleagues or which leadership activities are most effective (and under what conditions), it does clearly suggest that the objectives for teacher leadership are “not about ‘teacher power,’” but about using collaborative and collegial relationships to harness experienced teachers’ skills and attributes (Institute for Educational Leadership, 2008). A consortium of educators, teacher leaders, state education agencies, education organizations, and scholars developed a set of
3See http://www.mspkmd.net/blasts/tl.php [April 2014] for a series of brief synopses of research on some of the practices of teacher leadership collected by the Math and Science Partnership, a project of the National Science Foundation.
recommendations to guide teacher leaders (Teacher Leader Exploratory Consortium, 2010). Based on research and practice, these recommendations reflect both the consortium’s findings with respect to what teacher leaders do and its goals for the future. The consortium identified seven key contributions teacher leaders can make (p. 9):
- fostering a collaborative culture,
- assessing and using research,
- promoting professional learning,
- facilitating improvements in instruction and student learning,
- promoting the use of assessments and data for school and district improvement,
- improving outreach and collaboration with families and community, and
- advocating for student learning and the profession.
The Importance of Context
The roles played by teacher leaders are influenced by the contexts in which they work. District and school policies and the ways they are implemented may foster or undermine the development of the professional learning communities that have been identified as most likely to benefit from teacher leaders, but the research literature focuses on the school and the actions and attitudes of principals (Coburn and Lin, 2008).
Qualitative studies of the factors that promote teacher leadership suggest that school culture is important, and that schools in which openness and collaboration are the norm are more hospitable to the development of teacher leaders and the success of leadership programs relative to other schools (Birky et al., 2006; Institute for Educational Leadership, 2008; Muijs and Harris, 2007; Wynne, 2001; York-Barr and Duke, 2004). This literature suggests that leaders may thrive and be most effective in schools in which collective learning and continuous improvement are paramount. Observations from practice also emphasize the importance of encouragement from administrators and an atmosphere in which risk taking is encouraged (Danielson, 2007). However, researchers also note that U.S. teachers have tended to adopt an independent and egalitarian approach to their work, and that both of these tendencies can be obstacles to teacher leadership (Natale et al., 2013; Wynne, 2001).
More recent work has focused on the concept of “distributed leadership,” a way of taking into account the roles of the multiple individuals who contribute to leadership within a school (Spillane and Diamond, 2007; Supovitz and Riggan, 2012). A survey of the literature on principal, teacher, and instructional coach leadership, for example, points out that
although these three types of leaders have been addressed separately by researchers, they work together in practice and influence one another (Goodwin, 2008; Neumerski, 2012). A related idea is that all teachers can benefit from the opportunity to specialize according to their interests and expertise, and to share their expertise in particular areas with others (Natale et al., 2013).
Relationships with colleagues and principals also are cited as important in case studies of teacher leadership programs (York-Barr and Duke, 2004). Factors identified as likely to contribute to the effectiveness of teacher leader arrangements include support and encouragement from principals, and colleagues who respect teacher leaders for their expertise in the subject they teach and in pedagogy. Case studies suggest that, in addition to promoting a favorable school culture, principals can encourage teacher leadership by, for example, creating opportunities for leadership, trusting teachers to make decisions, and relinquishing authority (Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, 2005; Neumerski, 2012). However, survey results suggest that principals may not always have the knowledge and experience to encourage teacher leaders in these ways, despite having the intention to do so. Theoretical analysis of school governance and leadership relationships reinforces this point, as several authors note that traditional hierarchical organizational structures hamper effective teacher leadership (Neumerski, 2012; York-Barr and Duke, 2004).
Cultivating Teacher Leaders
The literature provides some insights into policies and approaches that can promote the development of school leaders on a broader scale. The limited evidence on the role of school and district policies that specifically promote teacher leadership appears to suggest that school-level policies have a greater impact than district ones (e.g., Coburn and Lin, 2008). At the same time, qualitative studies indicate that formal preservice and professional development for teachers and principals is important (Parise and Spillane, 2010; York-Barr and Duke, 2004). Specifically, studies suggest that the development of leadership may be supported by programs that encourage all educators to view principals as leaders whose job is to develop a community of leaders and that encourage teachers to view continuous learning and leadership as integral aspects of their careers. Qualitative research points to positive results from school-based seminar sequences, master’s programs for experienced teachers, and preservice programs with teacher leadership as a theme, for example. Most important, the literature suggests, is for the training to occur in the context of a learning community of either other aspiring teachers or school colleagues.
A survey of teachers recognized as leaders (Dozier, 2007) found that they engage in multiple leadership activities, such as providing professional development, serving as department or grade-level chairs, mentoring new teachers, and participating in curriculum development. These teachers report that they are eager to take on leadership activities but that they have not been trained adequately for most of these roles.
Well-documented stresses and frustrations experienced by teachers, including low pay and status compared with other careers, have led states to experiment with various ways to provide tiered licenses and compensation and other structures designed to reward teachers who want to assume responsibilities beyond their classrooms (Natale et al., 2013). Research on these programs has not clearly identified the most effective means of addressing these persistent problems, and many such programs have been discontinued, but states continue to pursue a variety of approaches.
Context shapes teaching and learning. The cultures of schools and districts, the roles assigned to teachers, and the opportunities teachers have to continue growing vary across districts, states, and school networks. In the last 20 years, opportunities for teachers to take on new responsibilities—including helping to induct new teachers into the workforce, participating in school reform, and assisting directly in supporting school-wide instructional improvement—have grown. These opportunities are themselves dependent on policies and practices related to school staffing, teacher development, how teachers are organized to work on instruction, and how decisions are made about curriculum and instruction. Research on how and under what conditions principals and leaders affect the quality of science learning in their schools has yet to be conducted. Also lacking in the research literature are studies of how teachers learn to become leaders. Formal degree programs in teacher leadership are growing in popularity; an informal review of schools of education identified more than 60 such programs (Editorial Projects in Education, 2012). The author of that review notes that the nature of these programs appears to vary, and that the degree may not be widely recognized by districts. There is, moreover, little research on these relatively new programs, and even less on how teachers learn to lead over the course of their careers outside of official programs.
Regardless of the policy priorities of a state or district, the successful implementation of those priorities depends on the availability of resources—human (e.g., knowledgeable personnel), social (e.g., teacher networks), and physical (e.g., time, money, materials) (Cohen et al., 1999, 2003). In recent years, state departments of education, district or county offices of education, and intermediary units have been decimated, significantly reducing the curricular and instructional expertise available to teachers in all subjects. As one example, funding for the state-wide California Science Project declined from more than $9 million in 2002 to $1.2 million in 2011 (Hatry et al., 2012). Although funding from the Department of Education’s Race to the Top initiative has ameliorated this problem in some states and districts that have been awarded these competitive funds, only a few of those efforts have focused on science, and this funding initiative is not permanent.
Most science teachers have access to certain basic materials and equipment, but more sophisticated science learning technologies are more likely to be present in high schools than in elementary schools (Banilower et al., 2013). At the same time, these resources are not always distributed equitably. Classes composed of mostly high-achieving students are more likely than those composed of mixed or low-achieving students to have access to microscopes and graphing calculators. The amount of money schools report spending per pupil for science instruction is quite small, especially in the elementary grades, where median per-pupil spending is half that in middle schools and less than one-third that in high schools. Elementary science teachers are less likely than their middle and high school counterparts to view their resources as adequate.
This lack of funding and other resources limits effective science teaching (or any science teaching at all) and confounds attempts to improve practice over time in myriad ways. For example, teachers need time to revise their curricula, adopt new materials, plan lessons using those new materials, and collaborate on learning from their experience as they try the new materials out. Yet time is precious, and many schools are not organized to support and enable this kind of ongoing professional work. Despite a range of examples from international comparisons that provide models for how teaching and schools might be organized differently so as to support the ongoing learning of teachers, U.S. schools tend to adhere to a set of basic instructional values, routines, and roles for educators that have typified schooling for the past century (Cuban, 1984, 1994, 1998; Spillane et al., 2002; Tyack and Tobin, 1994). Of particular importance to successful reform is creating the expectation that teachers will work collectively on the improvement of instruction, as well as adding personnel
trained in supporting teachers’ learning and in materials development. Research on the reform of instruction in mathematics and language arts has demonstrated that coaches, mentors, and school leaders are needed to work alongside teachers while they experiment and adapt to the new standards and assessments (e.g., Desimone, 2002; Gamoran et al., 2003).
The new vision of science teaching also requires new material resources, including equipment and materials for engaging in science practices and new organizational arrangements for teaching, including collaborative arrangements with museums and businesses. These materials need not be expensive, as teachers can use ordinary materials in many ways to do extraordinary things in their classrooms.
The lack of adequate resources has especially affected elementary science education. According to a state-wide survey of elementary science in California (Dorph et al., 2011), the average elementary teacher in that state is unlikely to enjoy any meaningful support from science specialists employed at the district level. At the time of that study, fewer than 40 percent of school districts employed any staff dedicated to elementary science. Other resource-related factors that affect the amount and quality of science teaching at the elementary level include the elimination of lead science teachers; frequent reassignment of teachers to new grade levels; and inadequate access to instructional materials, including a lack of science textbooks or other supporting materials (Dorph et al., 2011, p. 12).
A similar lack of resources, combined with structural issues, poses challenges at the middle school level. Students with no prior experience in science, growing class sizes, and 55-minute class periods limit the feasibility of engaging students in science investigations.
Offering the wide array of mechanisms needed to support teacher learning—study groups, professional cultures of learning, coaches and mentors, partnerships with museums or industry—requires time and funding. Making these resources available will in turn require revising school schedules and staffing patterns to free up time for collaboration and ensure that teachers with expertise in science and science pedagogy can serve as resources for science teachers. In conjunction with providing time and rethinking scheduling, some targeted funding will be necessary. Districts often have difficulty tracking all of the funds spent on professional development for teachers in general and find it even more challenging to break out the funding targeted at a specific discipline. Across the country, the lack of resources has eroded the infrastructure for helping science teachers meet the curricular and instructional challenges of teaching science well. As a possible indication of this erosion, fewer than half of the science teachers responding to the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (NSSME) (44 percent) had attended any form of national, regional, or state conference or meeting, and few had attended more than 35 hours of any form of professional development over the 3
years prior to the survey (Banilower et al., 2013). Thus, teachers currently do not have extensive opportunities to participate in professional development that is science specific.
Education Resource Strategies (2013) worked with three districts to analyze spending on professional growth and support for teachers across all subject areas, identifying six areas of financial cost:
- direct professional growth (training, conferences, coaching, expert support, and substitute coverage);
- the percentage of salary teachers spend on professional growth, as stipulated in the teacher union contract or calendar or otherwise mandated for use for staff development;
- salary for education credits, which includes the increase in teacher salary that comes with participation in programs for professional growth;
- curriculum development and support, which includes staff, stipends, and contracts aimed at developing and writing curriculum, as well as ongoing payments for instructional management or guidance systems;
- teacher evaluation, which includes staff and contractors who administer an evaluation system, as well as quantification of the cost of staff time or positions for those who observe teachers and document and rate teacher performance; and
- student assessment, which includes spending on both end-of-year testing and ongoing or formative assessments administered by the school system.
Based on this analysis, Education Resource Strategies identified six steps to a more powerful school system strategy for professional growth:
- Quantify current spending on the universe of teacher professional growth and support.
- Capitalize on mandates and growing investments in standards (e.g., the NGSS and the Framework), student assessment systems, and teacher evaluation to create integrated systems for teacher growth.
- Leverage expert support to guide teacher teams that share instructional content.
- Support growth throughout a teacher’s career by restructuring compensation and career paths.
- Add and optimize time to address organizational priorities as well as individual needs.
- Overhaul legacy policies, and make strategic tradeoffs.
While discussing all possible strategies that researchers have used to improve the cultures and contexts of instruction is beyond the scope of this study, the committee’s hope is that the discussion in this chapter makes clear how context indeed matters. If science teachers are to embrace the challenging new vision of science learning described in this report, they will need to be part of larger communities of learning that respect their needs and provide necessary supports; they will need to understand the vision, both as it is laid out in such documents as the Framework and the NGSS and as it is embodied in new curricula and assessments. They will need to be supported by their principals and by colleagues who have learned to lead.
Other factors may matter as well. For example, policies concerning teacher evaluation likely will need to be aligned with the new vision of science learning (Hill and Grossman, 2013)—terrain yet to be researched. Other frequently proposed policy initiatives include differentiated pay for science teachers (as they are in a high-demand area) and incentives in performance pay systems that reward teachers for their classroom practice and often for their participation in official learning opportunities offered by their school systems. Given the impassioned interest in raising teacher quality in this country, there is no lack of intriguing initiatives. But research conducted to date has not produced definitive results on many of these singular ideas, suggesting that the observations of Bryk and colleagues (2010), Rowan and colleagues (2009) and others—that successful reform needs to address simultaneously several aspects of the education system—are worth heeding.
Conclusion 9: Science teachers’ development is best understood as long term and contextualized. The schools and classrooms in which teachers work shape what and how they learn. These contexts include, but are not limited to school, district, and state policies and practices concerning professional capacity (e.g., professional networks, coaching, partnerships), coherent instructional guidance (e.g., state and district curriculum and assessment/accountability policies), and leadership (e.g., principals and teacher leaders).
Conclusion 10: School and district administrators are central to building the capacity of the science teacher workforce.
Conditions in schools can create contexts that allow teachers to take better advantage of professional learning opportunities both within the workday and outside of the school. Administrators can direct resources toward science and teachers’ learning in science (location of teachers,
scheduling of classes, materials budget). They also can send messages about the importance of science in schools. As instructional leaders, they need to understand the vision for science education in the Framework and NGSS and align policies and practices in the school to support this vision.
Conclusion 11: Teacher leaders may be an important resource for building a system that can support ambitious science instruction. There is increasing attention to creating opportunities for teachers to take on leadership roles to both improve science instruction and strengthen the science teacher workforce. These include roles as instructional coaches, mentors, and teacher leaders.
Expertise in both science and pedagogy in science is an important component of building capacity in schools and districts. The development of science teacher leaders can be an important mechanism for supporting science learning for all teachers. Such leaders can guide school- or district-based professional learning communities, identify useful resources, and provide feedback to teachers as they modify their instructional practice.
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