Do public schools have coherent instructional systems in science? The available evidence suggests that overall they do not, but that they are making some progress toward creating them. Banilower et al. (2006) reported that the schools and districts participating in NSF-funded local systemic change initiatives made some progress toward providing teachers with more support for reformed classroom practice in science and also made limited progress with aligning policies with science standards. Progress was limited because so many external factors—state and federal policies, private funding, etc.—influenced local policies. This section elaborates two core components of an instructional system: curriculum materials and benchmarking assessment systems.
As we have discussed, the current store of curriculum materials for K-8 science teachers is quite uneven. Analysis of science textbooks suggest that, by and large, those used in American classrooms are of a low quality. These texts typically lack coherent attention to concepts in favor of including many topics, and they rarely provide teachers with guidance about how students think about science (Kesidou and Roseman, 2002). Full-scale K-8 or K-12 systems of science curricula do not typically provide the coherence or teacher guidance that is necessary to support high-quality instruction. Short of comprehensive curriculum packages, many primary and middle schools use commercially available science modules or kits for select units or in particular grades. These kits can facilitate teaching science as practice, although they are limited in some important respects.
Designed to teach major concepts and the scientific process by engaging students in guided inquiry, curriculum kits or modules are aligned with the national standards. Ideally, local decision makers would have at their disposal a plethora of reliable data and guidance to make decisions about selecting and using modules. Useful information would include evidence of their effectiveness with similar student populations, careful analysis of apparent alignment with state standards, and clear indications of the skills and training their teachers would need in order to use these materials effectively. Such information is not widely available.
Although rich empirical data on the effectiveness of curriculum modules is not available, both the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061 and the National Research Council have produced useful guides to facilitate curriculum materials selection. Selecting Instructional Materials (National Research Council, 1999), for example, describes how school districts, schools, or groups of science teachers can systematically develop internal capacity to make informed decisions in selecting instructional materials. It also provides processes and tools that can guide their