2
The National Context

Key Points

  • The goal of establishing high national standards often has been mistakenly interpreted as requiring standardization, but standardization ignores the differing needs of students, schools, and districts.

  • Ideally, the curriculum drives the development of assessments, but today large-scale assessments often dictate the content of the curriculum and approaches to instruction.

  • Teachers need high-quality professional development to use effective curricula and assessments to full advantage.

  • Avoiding educational failure requires recognizing the factors in the early grades that influence later student success.

  • Linking education in technology, engineering, and mathematics to science education, thereby creating a truly integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, could have major implications for K-12 education.

In 1981 the newspaper Education Week published its first issue, two years before the National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report A Nation at Risk. In the April 22, 2009, issue, founding editor Ronald Wolk critically examined five basic assertions to show why the United States is still a “nation at risk.” At the convocation, Kathy DiRanna, who began running an elementary science program in 1983 for



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2 The National Context Key Points • he goal of establishing high national standards often has been mistakenly T interpreted as requiring standardization, but standardization ignores the differing needs of students, schools, and districts. • deally, the curriculum drives the development of assessments, but today I large-scale assessments often dictate the content of the curriculum and approaches to instruction. • eachers need high-quality professional development to use effective cur- T ricula and assessments to full advantage. • voiding educational failure requires recognizing the factors in the early A grades that influence later student success. • inking education in technology, engineering, and mathematics to science L education, thereby creating a truly integrated science, technology, engineer- ing, and mathematics (STEM) education, could have major implications for K-12 education. I n 1981 the newspaper Education Week published its first issue, two years before the National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report A Nation at Risk. In the April 22, 2009, issue, found- ing editor Ronald Wolk critically examined five basic assertions to show why the United States is still a “nation at risk.” At the convocation, Kathy DiRanna, who began running an elementary science program in 1983 for 

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 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS the Orange County Department of Education, used Wolk’s assertions to place science education in California in a national context (Wolk, 2009). 1 Wolk’s first assertion is The best way to improve student performance and close achievement gaps is to establish rigorous content standards and a core curriculum for all schools—preferably on a national basis. This is a fine idea, said DiRanna. “It would be unconscionable that we would have schools that would have anything less than high expec - tations for all students.” But it is an idea “whose promise has not been actualized.” More than two decades after the standards movement began schools are not near to making the changes needed to realize this goal. They have not received enough support to implement good ideas. And no one knows a methodology that is guaranteed to enable all students to master rigorous content standards. “The objective of high standards was translated into standardization— the idea that schools would look the same and offer uniform programs. But such a goal is impossible to achieve and counterproductive,” DiRanna said. Teachers inevitably have different knowledge and beliefs about how student learning takes place. They may also have mandates from their schools or districts to take different approaches to instruction. For exam- ple, some districts may require direct instruction2 rather than inquiry- based learning. In addition, the K-12 population of students in California is extremely diverse and becoming more so. For example, as noted in Chapter 1, one-quarter of California’s students are English language learners. How quickly students acquire language depends partly on experiences they have outside school, and teachers have little control over such experi- ences. Yet these students are supposed to meet the same national and local educational goals as all other students. Individual schools and programs need to be different to meet the needs of a diverse group of English lan - guage learners, DiRanna said. “Something that is uniform cannot work. We have to sit down and think about how to redesign the way we do school in order to think about addressing these kinds of issues.” The differences among students also extend to their out-of-school experiences. For example, Dennis Bartels of the Exploratorium observed that the informal science system in the United States is the most robust of any in the world and may account for the relatively high scores of U.S. 1To view this presentation, see http://www.nasonline.org/site/DocServer/DiRanna- Reviewing_the_past_Looking_Ahead.pdf?docID=54983. 2Boldface words in this chapter are defined in a glossary at the end of the chapter.

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 THE NATIONAL CONTEXT fourth graders on international comparisons of scientific proficiency. “The after-school community . . . is actually driving a lot of kids who never get any science in schools into thinking about scientific careers,” he said. 3 Wolk’s second assertion is Standardized test scores are an accurate measure of student learning and should be used to determine promotion and graduation. This assertion corresponds with the accepted view that the curricu- lum should drive instruction, instruction should drive assessments, and information from those assessments should lead to further revision and improvement of the curriculum. Another way to think about this triad of factors, according to DiRanna, is that content standards should drive formative assessments, formative assessments should lead to summative assessments, and these summative assessments should inform the revi- sion of content standards. However, the lines of causation in today’s education system are essen- tially reversed, said DiRanna. Standards drive the large-scale assessments, and those in turn drive formative assessments and instruction. “We see this time and again in districts that are taking the California Standards Test,” said DiRanna. The creators of the tests are “cutting and pasting the released items, calling them valid and reliable benchmarks, and giving them to school districts to use in the classroom. . . . It is entirely a back- wards design.” As a result, teachers instruct their students on how to fill in test answers, read sentence stems, and choose the best answer. They “teach [students] tricks to do the test as opposed to looking at learning,” DiRanna said. The effect of this backward approach on teachers’ attitudes has been dramatic, according to DiRanna. For example, in a survey done by the Teachers Network (2007), more than 40 percent of teachers thought that the No Child Left Behind legislation encouraged rote drill. Only 3 percent thought that it encouraged them to improve their teaching, while 44 per- cent thought that it made them eliminate curriculum material that was not on tests. And 69 percent agreed that it contributed to teacher burnout and to teachers leaving the field. Ideally, standards and research on the understanding of students guide the development of formative assessments, which in turn drive 3A major report released just prior to the convocation (National Research Council, 2009) provides evidence that many kinds of out-of-school experiences can encourage interest and learning in science.

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8 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS summative assessments.4 Teachers need to use the idea of learning tra- jectories to understand where students are in their thinking. Research on the understanding of students needs to be used to design assessments for the classroom that also can contribute to summative tests. Wolk’s third assertion is We need to put highly qualified teachers in every classroom to ensure educational excellence. No one can argue with that goal, said DiRanna, but the require- ment of the No Child Left Behind legislation to achieve this goal by 2006 “didn’t quite happen.” Placing highly qualified teachers in every classroom is as difficult as raising student understanding, for several reasons. Bright young people are not being attracted to education. (Even the sons and daughters of teachers tend to say, “I don’t want to work like you,” DiRanna observed.) Teaching is a complex act that is difficult to learn through existing teacher preparation programs. Once teachers begin teaching, they often encounter harsh conditions, such as decaying build - ings, inadequate laboratories, and professional isolation. New teachers can have a hard time being accepted by their more senior colleagues. And teachers still are not seen as professionals, either in California or across the nation.5 In the best possible world, DiRanna pointed out, teachers love their students and love the material they are teaching, so that students also acquire a love for that material. But those conditions do not always hold. Policies and practices therefore need to be in place to acknowledge and overcome hindrances to learning. The effective use of assessments poses particular challenges in terms of professional development. In a recent effort supported by the Center for Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning, teachers who had excellent teaching practices were monitored for their assessment practices (Herman et al., 2006). But their assessment practices were not nearly at the same level as their teaching. “Very few of them were really reflective on their practice in terms of what assessment is telling them and how they monitor and adjust their instruction.” Teachers needed professional devel- opment on each of the aspects of assessment to help them think about what they want their students to know, how to determine if they know it, and what to do depending on whether they do or do not know it. After 4Additional information about the relationship between in-class assessments and large- scale, high-stakes tests is available in National Research Council (1999, 2003). 5For additional information about treating teaching as a profession, see National Research Council (2000a).

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 THE NATIONAL CONTEXT training to build a framework of assessment knowledge, teachers were much more sophisticated about their assessment practices. “Teachers are capable of doing this kind of work, [but] they need to be helped along the way.” For practicing teachers, professional development is essential but currently has many problems. It has to be done over time to be effective. It has to focus on teacher practice, not just on learning what the content happens to be. Research has begun to show that changes do take place when professional development is extended over time. One study indi - cated that 49 hours of professional development helped increase student achievement by 21 percentile points, DiRanna pointed out (Yoon et al., 2007). And 80 hours of professional development can change teacher prac - tice; 160 or more hours can produce actual changes in the classroom. Wolk’s fourth assertion is The United States should require all students to take algebra in the eighth grade and higher order mathematics in high school in order to increase the number of scientists and engineers in this country and thus make the United States more competitive in the global economy. This goal is part of a movement toward mandated learning, DiRanna observed. For example, California is now mandating that every student should study algebra by the eighth grade. But most students who do well in algebra in the eighth grade already have a knowledge and ways of thinking about mathematics that are distinctive in the fourth and fifth grades. In contrast, most students who will have trouble with algebra in the eighth grade already have fallen behind in understanding in the fourth and fifth grades. “We have to think not about the eighth grade but go back and say, ‘What does K-8 look like so that children can be success - ful in the eighth grade?’”6 Wolk’s final assertion is The student dropout rate can be reduced by ending social promotion, funding dropout prevention programs, and raising the mandatory atten- dance age. However, research has shown that students do not drop out of high school on a whim, DiRanna observed. They have been thinking about it for a long time. Already in elementary school they may have tuned out what school has to offer them. As with mandated learning, attitudes and 6For an additional perspective, see National Research Council (1998).

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0 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS motivation need to be examined in the earlier grades to understand why students drop out of high school.7 We have to think not about the eighth grade but go back and say, “What does K-8 look like so that children can be successful in the eighth grade?” —Kathy DiRanna Reflection on these assertions makes for a rather gloomy view of education, but there is also a bright side, said DiRanna. First, the past 25 years have produced many new research findings from the cogni- tive sciences and education. For example, researchers have shown that metacognition—the ability to reflect on what one knows and does not know—begins very early in life.8 As another example (which was pointed out by Dennis Bartels of the Exploratorium), research in the field of math - ematics has shown that having particular skills in elementary school is a very good indicator of numeracy in later years.9 Those skills could be built into curricula, assessments, and teacher practice in elementary school to encourage success in later classes.10 The importance of conceptual understanding also is much better understood now than it was 25 years ago. The slogan DiRanna applies in her work is “What’s the big idea?” California, in contrast, chose to emphasize many small details in its standards, she stated. As a result, the challenge in California is to place the existing standards within a larger story. In an age of information, students need to learn how to construct meaning, not just repeat facts. They also need to be able to apply knowl - edge to novel situations. This requires a rich curriculum that encourages students to do this kind of work.11 Finally, research is becoming available that demonstrates the efficacy of inquiry-based instruction (National Research Council, 2000a; Yoon et 7Additional information about research on high school dropouts is available from National Research Council (2001a) and National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2003). 8For additional information, see National Research Council (2000b). 9For an additional perspective, see National Research Council (2001b). A similar report also has been published that focuses on learning science in grades K-8 (National Research Council, 2007a). 10A report for teachers of science in grades K-8 (National Research Council, 2007b) has been published that is based on National Research Council (2007a). 11For additional information, see papers and presentations from a National Research Council workshop, “Exploring the Intersection of Science Education and the Development of 21st Century Skills,” held February 5-6, 2009 (http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ bose/21st_Century_Skills_Workshop_Homepage.html).

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 THE NATIONAL CONTEXT al., 2007). This approach to learning can help close the achievement gap, encourage reasoning and evidence, and lead to higher postinstruction test scores. FROM SCIENCE EDUCATION TO STEM EDUCATION? Several speakers at the convocation described the many benefits that would be gained by linking science education more strongly to education in technology, engineering, and mathematics, creating a truly integrated STEM education, and many participants continued to discuss and reflect on the implications of this approach to teaching and learning throughout the convocation. Greg Pearson, a senior program officer with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), devoted the most time to the subject. 12 He previewed some of the conclusions of an NAE study that seeks to understand, capture, and analyze activities related to teaching engineer- ing to K-12 students.13 The goal of the study, Pearson said, “is to provide guidance to key stakeholders regarding the creation of K-12 engineering curricula and instruction practices that focus especially on the connections of the STEM subjects.” Engineering is a problem-solving process. One useful way to describe engineering, according to Pearson, is that it is “design under constraint.” The laws of nature studied by science are one such constraint. But there are many other constraints, including money, time, materials, human resources, regulations, values, ethics, and even politics. Since the early 1990s, an estimated 5 million K-12 students have engaged in classroom engineering education, the study has found. An estimated 10,000 teachers have had some sort of professional develop- ment related to teaching engineering, almost all of it connected to a spe- cific curriculum. Many such curricula have been developed, and the NAE study report analyzes 16 in detail. One finding is that many curricula struggle to include mathematics in meaningful ways. Science is more prevalent and is often presented as a way to uncover laws of nature or aspects of science that can be used in engineering design. Technology is often used to provide context for engi - neering design or to show how engineering can be applied. Very little teacher professional development is occurring in this area. Also, there are no comprehensive content standards or frameworks for engineering education, as there are for science, mathematics, and tech- 12For access to this presentation, see http://www.nasonline.org/site/DocServer/ Pearson_-_NAE_study_on_K-12_engineering_education.pdf?docID=54990. 13 For additional information about this study, see National Academy of Engineering a nd National Research Council (2009).

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 NURTURING AND SUSTAINING EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS nology. Science and engineering “are still largely treated separately both in teacher professional development and in the curriculum,” Pearson said. The NAE report encourages people to think about ways that the STEM subjects can become more truly interconnected through an engi- neering framework. Pearson laid out three possible scenarios of ways in which this could happen. In the first scenario, which he described as the status quo, K-12 engineering education remains largely below the radar of educators, policy makers, and the public, and national K-12 STEM reform continues to focus on mathematics and science. In an innovation model, the number and size of K-12 engineering programs grow dramati - cally, so that they become more visible and popular with educators and policy makers. In the third scenario, which Pearson called the paradigm shift, engineering facilitates a shift in STEM education toward “true” interconnection, and significant change and disruption of the status quo occur as the nation adopts a new vision of STEM education. This scenario would have major implications for how teachers are educated, the devel - opment of curricula and assessments, and many other aspects of STEM education. Ethan Lipton, a participant from California State University at Los Angeles, urged those at the convocation to embrace Pearson’s third sce- nario. Science education in California used to be 20 years ahead of science education elsewhere in the country. Now it is 20 years behind, Lipton said. California could regain its leadership by “re-envisioning” science educa - tion in the context of technology, engineering, and mathematics. Such a change could have a major effect on the choices students make, the skills of the workforce, and the development of the economy. “I encourage you, when you think of STEM, to think of T and E,” Lipton said. “Don’t think about fighting over the pie. Think about what we need for our students and how we can work together to do that.” I encourage you, when you think of STEM, to think of T and E. Don’t think about fighting over the pie. Think about what we need for our students and how we can work together to do that. —Ethan Lipton

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 THE NATIONAL CONTEXT Glossary of Education Terms Direct instruction—instruction in which a teacher explicitly teaches a set of skills or knowledge base through lectures or demonstrations Formative assessment—assessment that takes place during the learning or teaching process to gauge student progress and improve learning Inquiry-based learning—a student-centered means of education in which stu- dents seek answers to challenging questions with guidance from teachers and other resources Learning trajectory—the conceptual and cognitive path by which learning might proceed Summative assessment—assessment after the completion of learning activities to gauge the mastery of concepts or development of skills

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