showed statistically significant gains in science and literacy (writing) achievement, enhanced abilities to conduct science inquiry, and narrowing of achievement gaps (Cuevas et al., 2005; Lee et al., 2005).
Amaral, Garrison, and Klentschy (2002) examined professional development in promoting science and literacy with predominantly Spanish-speaking elementary school students as part of a district-wide local systemic reform initiative. Over 4 years, the inquiry-based science program gradually became available to all teachers at all elementary schools in the school district. They were provided with professional development, in-classroom professional support from resource teachers, and complete materials and supplies for all the science units. Results indicated that the science and literacy (writing) achievement of language-minority students increased in direct relation to the number of years they participated in the program.
Kahle and colleagues conducted a series of studies to examine the impact of standards-based teaching practices (i.e., extended inquiry, problem solving, open-ended questioning, and cooperative learning) on the science achievement and attitudes of urban black middle school students (Boone and Kahle, 1998; Kahle, Meece, and Scantlebury, 2000). As an NSF-supported statewide systemic initiative, the Ohio professional development programs consisted of 6-week summer institutes and six seminars during the academic year. The results indicate that professional development designed to enhance teachers’ content knowledge and use of standards-based teaching practices not only improved science achievement but also reduced inequities in achievement patterns for urban black students.
These studies suggest that, despite disagreement among researchers on the specific qualities of science instruction that advance student learning with diverse student populations, given opportunities to learn a range of new strategies for teaching these students, teachers can improve their practice and improve student learning. However, the relative benefits of one approach over another are not clear and will need to be examined.
School leaders may opt to invest in a cadre of specialized science educators—science specialists, teacher leaders, coaches, mentors, demonstration teachers, lead teachers—rather than, or in conjunction with, organized forms of teacher opportunities to learn described above. We use the term “science specialist” to capture varied arrangements of organizing and distributing teacher expertise (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998; Lieberman, 1992). District staff or principals may make decisions about how they spend their time and what responsibilities they assume, or science specialists themselves may use their own professional judgment in determining to do so. Subject matter specialist teachers may serve as leaders of groups of teachers—working with