CONTEXTUAL FORCES THAT INFLUENCE THE EDUCATION SYSTEM
In addition to affecting aspects of the education system, standards may also interact with various sectors of society and the general public in numerous ways. This chapter explores the public and political arenas within which the U.S. education system operates. Fullan (2000) uses the term “outside forces” to characterize those external factors and their possible pressures on the education system. He notes that in this era of education reform “outside forces” tend to move “inside” accompanied, for example, by demands for better educational performance and greater accountability. This chapter explores ways that key outside forces can interact with components of the education system—and with nationally developed standards.
WHO AFFECTS THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FROM “OUTSIDE”?
Publicly supported education is a mainstay of U.S. democracy. The public’s high interest in and concern about education are well documented in public opinion polls and by the prominence of education issues in political campaigns (Rose and Gallup, 2000; Johnson and Aulicino, 1998; Robelen, 2000; Sack and Jacobson, 2000; Keller, 2000). Overall public support for “high academic standards” in public schools has remained strong since national educational goals were established in 1989 by President George H.W.Bush and the nation’s governors (Public Agenda, 2000; Johnson and Aulicino, 1998). One study within nine states and
twenty-five local school districts showed that public and political support for higher standards were bipartisan and sustained— although the support was relatively superficial (Massell et al., 1997).
Decision making within the education system is, in large part, a political process, involving a number of key players. Kirst, Anhalt, and Marine (1997) note the importance of legislators in decision-making regarding curriculum; Tyack and Cuban (1995) note that “powerful sponsors adept at persuading local school boards, state legislatures, state departments of education, and accrediting agencies” are central in institutionalizing reforms. And, since the 1980s, governors have acquired increasing authority and influence regarding governance of state-level education systems (Fuhrman and Elmore, 1994; Stricherz, 2001).
Elected leaders and other governmental officials make decisions within the context of the political realities in which they operate. Candidates campaign on education platforms they believe will gain voter approval, and newcomers may be elected by constituents dissatisfied with decisions of previous office holders. For example, in 2000, the electorate voted new members to the Kansas School Board who were committed to including biological evolution in the state curriculum framework and state assessments, in sharp contrast to the state’s preceding Board, which had restricted the teaching of this topic (Belluck, 2000). Sometimes public officials use their position to influence others and advance particular reforms, as Governor Hunt did in persuading the North Carolina legislature to establish incentives and rewards for teachers seeking NBPTS certification (North Carolina Public Schools, 2000). Elected officials also listen to constituents, as a Congressional subcommittee did in hearing testimony from mathematics professor David Klein, who objected to the process used by the U.S. Department of Education to identify “exemplary mathematics curricula” based on their extent of alignment with nationally developed standards (Klein, 2000).
Outside Forces Affecting Decision Making
Education-related decisions by officials at all levels of government may be influenced by varied concerns. The U.S. recession of the early 1980s and pressures created by global competitiveness heightened the public’s economic concerns, and in particular, those of business leaders. Some influential leaders who view education as the key to a stronger economic future have promoted new accountability initiatives and provided incentives to stimulate improvements in schools.
Similarly, corporations and their representatives have become involved in influencing education policy at local, state, and federal levels, in their pursuit of employees who possess the skills and knowledge needed by a productive workforce. Individually and through organizations such as the Business Roundtable, businesses offer advice to elected officials regarding educational policies.
Educational concerns may motivate professional organizations, parents, and others to work toward particular goals. For example, education and professional associations and their government relations representatives lobby federal and state lawmakers regarding policy decisions, including financial allocations. Teachers and administrators may use information from national associations to encourage local school officials to limit the sizes of classes assigned to laboratory rooms, select particular textbooks or curricular programs, or increase funding for instructional technology. Parents concerned that their children’s educational interests are not well served by high-stakes assessments may speak out in opposition to state-level testing or even keep their children at home on state-testing days.
In particular, concerns regarding equity, stemming from efforts of organized groups, federal legislation, and court orders, may affect decisions about resource allocations, testing accommodations, and curricular offerings. At local levels, parents and guardians may work to ensure their children’s access to high-level mathematics courses,
well-prepared technology teachers, and culturally appropriate science programs. Civil rights groups may lobby state legislators for changes in education funding to ensure that all children have access to high-quality teachers and learning opportunities.
Education-related decisions of officeholders and other policy makers are also influenced by media that convey information and shape public perceptions. Widespread U.S. media coverage of Third International Mathematics and Science Study findings alerted the public and politicians to the fact that U.S. student test score results often compared unfavorably to those of nations regarded as economic competitors. Those messages played a role in spurring new actions intended to improve U.S. mathematics and science education, such as the work of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (2000). At the local level, news stories and editorials centering on the lack of textbooks and laboratory facilities in urban schools may heighten public awareness of inequities in the U.S. education system. Local media coverage of students’ achievement scores also informs and influences community views.
Outside Forces Affecting Components Within the Education System
In addition to exerting influence through the political system, some businesses, education and professional organizations, and others have acted to influence the education system directly. Major chemical, pharmaceutical, technology, and aerospace firms have invested in science education reform for many years—for example, some corporate officials work with educators to help school districts develop and implement local strategic plans to provide inquiry-centered science programs for all students (National Science Resources Center, 1999). Organizations supported by corporations have also intervened directly. For example, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. has worked to attract minorities to engineering and supported them in their schooling. National associations of science, mathematics, and technology
educators, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, the International Technology Education Association, and their chapters and affiliates, contribute to the ongoing professional development of their members by producing a wide range of periodicals and other publications; holding conventions and workshops at national, regional, and local levels; and organizing other programs. Some informal educational institutions, such as science centers and museums, and some professional societies, such as the American Chemical Society, also create and publish curriculum materials and provide elementary and secondary teachers with professional development opportunities.
HOW CAN NATIONALLY DEVELOPED STANDARDS INFLUENCE THOSE “OUTSIDE” THE SYSTEM? HOW MIGHT THEY, IN TURN, INFLUENCE THE EDUCATION SYSTEM?
Standards are more likely to have an influence on the education system if they are supported by the “outside” forces, rather than being ignored or even opposed. If the standards are influencing individuals and groups external to the education system as intended, decisions enacted by elected officials and policy makers would show support for standards-based reforms. Professional associations in the forefront of the development of national standards for mathematics, science, and technology would lead national and local efforts to implement the standards, as well as work with elected officials and leaders to build a consensus in support of institutionalizing standards-based reforms.
The traditional school priorities of reading, writing, and arithmetic would be joined by science, technology, and a broader view of mathematics as new “basics” for all students. State and local school boards, reflecting and responding to constituents’ views, would ensure that schools have adequate funding to provide students with learning experiences that will enable them to meet the nationally developed standards.
Professional associations would join together and collaborate with decision makers in establishing assessment and accountability programs that draw on multiple measures and address the full range of standards-based content and skills. The public would be informed of standards-based progress and supportive of continuing efforts. Attempts to weaken or dismantle standards-based education—whether to de-emphasize the place of mathematics, science, or technology in the curriculum; to limit assessment solely to skill development; or to reduce funding for professional development focused on standards-based instruction—would be met with vocal public criticism and opposed by policy makers.
On the other hand, standards may generate resistance and opposition by individuals and groups outside the system. In that case, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technology design professionals who disagree with the standards’ vision of mathematics, science, and technology education, would argue, for example, that standards exclude important content or lack rigor. Such groups would work to influence views of policy makers or the public at large, affecting decisions and actions within the education system.
Opponents would encourage funding or programmatic decisions regarding curriculum, professional development, and accountability practices that inhibit implementation of the nationally developed standards, working to convince legislators, governors, and school boards that the fiscal, resource, or political costs associated with changes urged by the standards are inappropriate.
CONTEXTUAL FORCES AND NATIONALLY DEVELOPED STANDARDS
The Framework questions (see Figure 3–3) offer guidance in studying possible influences of standards on public and political forces outside the education system and the effect of those forces on the education system’s channels of influence by raising questions such as these:
How have politicians, policy makers, the electorate, parents, business and industry, education organizations, and others responded to the introduction of nationally developed standards?
How are the standards being received and interpreted by those outside forces?
In response, what actions have politicians and the public taken regarding policies and funding in support of, or in opposition to, standards-based curricula, teacher development, and assessment and accountability systems?
What changes, if any, have occurred in the opinions, activities, and decisions of governmental leaders and various public groups regarding mathematics, science, and technology education?
What has been the resulting impact on the adoption of standards-based policies, programs, and practices in schools and districts?
Who has been affected and how?
Studies that address such questions will enable educators and policy makers to begin accumulating evidence and formulating answers to the Framework’s two overarching questions: How has the system responded to the introduction of nationally developed standards? and What are the consequences for student learning?
The next—and final—chapter reviews the Framework in light of the channels and forces interacting within the education system, suggests a range of research-based uses for the Framework, and offers final comments from the Committee to those who use the Framework to consider the educational impact of nationally developed standards.