In addition to core questions of teaching, learning, and international comparisons, there are also crucial questions about the American educational system that the TIMSS data allow us to examine. In the following paragraphs, we illustrate two such questions.
• How coherent is the U.S. system?
The American system is sometimes criticized for its decentralization and fragmentation. The SMSO portrait seems to confirm that image, with goals being set at different levels of the system and neither teachers nor textbooks required to adhere to the goals. Is the American system as incoherent as the portrait seems to suggest? How much variation actually exists within the U.S. curriculum—in goals, textbooks, and teaching? Do U.S. teachers feel less compelled to adhere to goals than teachers in other countries? Are teachers in other countries reporting or exercising more autonomy than expected? Are U.S. teachers more uniformly directed—by textbooks or tests—than is commonly assumed? Do nationally marketed tests and textbooks, as well as dominant cultural beliefs and images of teaching, have a homogenizing effect on practice? The TIMSS data may offer opportunities to scrutinize what local control means and how it is enacted in the U.S.
• Have the recent mathematics and science education reforms influenced curriculum and instructional practices in the U.S.?
With the publication of several documents in the last decade,23 the U.S. has been focused on reforming mathematics and science education. Many will look to TIMSS for evidence about the extent to which the reform ideas have affected practice, in the hope of learning about the effects of reform on student achievement. To do this, it will be important to look closely at the different dates of different parts of TIMSS and to learn what data was gathered when relative to the significant dates in the reform activities. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics were released in 1989; the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Benchmarks for Science Literacy in 1993; and the National Research Council National Science Education Standards in 1996. The dates of the teacher questionnaire data from TIMSS precede the release of the National Science Education Standards , for example.
Because instructional materials require several years for development and production, the TIMSS curriculum study includes materials produced well before the publication of mathematics and science content standards. Data reported on curriculum coverage, topic inclusion, and pacing do not reflect standards-influenced textbooks and curriculum materials that have come on to the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author. National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: Author.; American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.; American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1989). Science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.; and National Science Teachers Association. (1992). Scope, sequence, and coordination of secondary school science. Vol 1. Washington, DC: Author.