RECOMMENDATION 15 Create opportunities for collaboration. District and school leaders should create and systematically support opportunities for teachers and administrators to collaborate within and across districts and schools, with support from relevant experts, with a focus on how to improve instruction to support students’ learning as described in the Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards.
RECOMMENDATION 16 Identify, participate in, and build networks. Science education leaders should identify, participate in, and help build national, regional, or local networks that will enable communities of practitioners, policy makers, science experts, and education researchers to collaboratively solve problems and learn from others’ implementation efforts. Teachers and administrators should be encouraged to participate in such networks as appropriate.
RECOMMENDATION 17 Cultivate partnerships. Science education leaders should identify partners in their region and community that have the expertise, motivation, or resources to be supportive of their efforts to implement the Next Generation Science Standards and develop relationships with them. In collaboration with potential partners, leaders should determine the kind of support each partner is most suited to provide and develop strategies for working with them.
Collaboration, partnerships, and networks can be powerful mechanisms for supporting the changes called for by A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012; hereafter referred to as “the Framework”) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) through sharing expertise and strategies. Networks can include people working within school systems, such as collaboration of leaders across states, or among teachers across schools and districts, or even within schools across grades. Networks also can connect the school or district with external partners.
The NGSS have already been adopted by several states and districts, while others have adopted new standards that share some part of the vision and will require similar changes to instruction, teachers learning, and curriculum. Some states or districts are providing professional learning experiences based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) while awaiting regularly scheduled standards revisions to consider adopting new standards.
To enhance the capacity of district and state leaders charged with implementing the NGSS (or standards that closely resemble the NGSS) to rapidly share data about effective strategies, materials developed, and results achieved, cross-state efforts will be critical. Such work has already begun with the efforts of Building Capacity for State Science Education, a network organized by the Council of State Science Supervisors, and Achieve’s NGSS Network for states that have adopted the NGSS. Such networks have the potential to (1) build and sustain a community of practice among the people who are implementing the NGSS; (2) codify, organize, and share knowledge about effective approaches and practices; (3) serve as a forum for new science education leaders to connect and learn from those with more experience; and (4) provide a locus for scientists and education researchers to connect with science education leaders, both to aid the flow of research-based approaches to the field and to provide researchers a window on problems of practice and of large-scale implementation of demanding new standards that need further study.
Networks among similar schools and districts within a state or across states can be especially helpful for supporting implementation. For example, schools that serve similar student populations or districts that face common challenges of distance or limited resources would be helped by opportunities to share strategies. Similarly, schools and districts that follow similar instructional models or adopt
the same curriculum materials can collaborate productively on developing and sharing materials and strategies. Technology can play an important role in facilitating communication and sharing of materials among network members.
At a more local level, district and school leaders can identify other schools, districts, or science-rich organizations in the region that are working on implementation of the NGSS and form collaborations to share ideas and resources. For example, collaboration can allow for pooling of resources across districts to provide special programs focused on supporting novice teachers as they work to implement the NGSS (Weiss and Pasley, 2006). Once partnerships and networks are established, resources need to be devoted to maintaining them, including people to facilitate the collaborations and to help maintain communication among partners. It might also need to include funding to cover the costs of the technology used to facilitate sharing of information and materials (costs of computers, virtual meetings, maintaining a website and file space, etc.). These resources may come from external partners as well as from school districts. Collaborations, networks, and partnerships should be monitored to determine how well they are functioning and make changes when necessary.
Networks of teachers working together to understand and implement changes in their instruction can be powerful mechanisms for supporting implementation of new science standards (Coburn et al., 2012; Penuel and Riel, 2007). Such networks provide a mechanism for teachers to share ideas about teaching, learning, and assessment; stories about students’ successes and difficulties; strategies for managing learning groups; and tips for using technology (Penuel and Riel, 2007).
There are some key features of networks that have been shown to be more effective than others in supporting sustained change in instruction. Effective networks include strong ties (frequent interaction and social closeness), access to expertise, and deeper interactions (focused on underlying pedagogical principles, the nature of the discipline, or how students learn) (Coburn et al., 2012). District policy can shape how teachers engage in networks and whether their participation supports changes in their instruction (Coburn et al., 2013). Policies can support more frequent and deeper interactions and help teachers identify local experts, but they can also disrupt ties, interrupt the flow of resources, and eliminate supports that encourage interaction (Coburn et al., 2013): see Box 7-1.
A study of 21 schools in California engaged in school-wide reforms suggests several additional characteristics of effective teacher networks (Penuel and
TEACHERS’ NETWORKS AND INSTRUCTIONAL REFORM
Coburn and colleagues studied the role of teachers’ networks in supporting instructional reform in a school district adopting a new mathematics curriculum (Coburn et al., 2012, 2013). The district was a midsize urban district that adopted an innovative curriculum in the 2003-2004 school year—the first year of the study. The district also began an initiative to support teachers in learning the new curriculum, including creating school-based instructional coaches and multiple opportunities for teachers to meet with others to talk about mathematics.
The researchers focused on four schools that differed in terms of the strength of the existing professional community in the school and the level of teachers’ expertise. All four schools had 70 percent or more of their students enrolled in free and reduced-price lunch programs at the start of the study, and 70 percent or more of their students were Latino, mostly of Mexican origin. About half of the students of all four schools were classified as English-language learners. The researchers focused on three teachers in each school (only two teachers in one school) and collected detailed information about the teachers’ social networks.
In the first year of the study, the district adopted a new mathematics curriculum and designed a series of activities to help teachers implement it. First, the district created the role of a school-based mathematics coach, and each school was to appoint a minimum of two half-time coaches/teachers to work with teachers. Second, the district instituted weekly grade-level meetings to facilitate joint planning and biweekly school-based professional development. A district-level team supported coaches, providing them with regular professional development and observing their work once a month. Third, the district provided professional development to select teachers in the summer and intersession.
Riel, 2007). First, getting help from outside of one’s immediate circle is valuable for obtaining new information and expertise. Second, making it clear who has expertise to help with a specific challenge is helpful. To do so, it is important to provide venues where people talk about their teaching, as well as publicly recognizing success and achievement in ways that encourage teachers to seek out their colleagues for help and resources. Third, meetings and committee structures that allow teachers to participate in multiple meetings that cut across different functions in the school allow teachers to get different perspectives on the instructional changes they are striving to make. This approach seems to be more effective than approaches where all of the information flows from leaders and administrators to teachers or those where leaders assume each teacher is developing new approaches to instruction without explicitly thinking about the importance of expertise.
In the second year, the district offered additional professional development to teachers in cross-grade settings. The school-level professional development program, instituted the previous year, was changed to cross-grade-level configurations. Professional development also became more focused on how students learn, the nature of mathematics, and how to solve mathematics problems. The district also continued to provide professional development to the onsite coaches, increasing their mathematics expertise.
In the third year, a new superintendent changed the district’s priorities and withdrew support for much of the network program. The new superintendent cut time for mathematics instruction, gave schools authority for budget and staffing decisions, and ended the district stipend for mathematics coaches. In response, principals in three of the four schools cut back to a single half-time coach.
During the first 2 years of the program, most of the teachers’ networks increased in size and diversity (with more ties to teachers in different grades or different schools). The structures put in place by the district also allowed teachers to learn where expertise was located in their schools and be more strategic in making decisions about who to ask for advice. District policy also influenced the resources that teachers accessed through their networks by providing information and materials that teachers acquired from their colleagues and by providing professional development that increased the level and breadth of available expertise. The coaches also modeled and encouraged ways of talking about mathematics that encouraged deeper interactions among teachers. They talked more about student learning and the details of instruction rather than exchanging quick stories or sharing materials or activities.
In year 3, when the formal supports were withdrawn by the district, the quality of the networks that the teachers developed in the first 2 years of the initiative influenced their ability to sustain the new instructional approaches (Coburn et al., 2012). Networks with combinations of strong ties, deeper interactions, and high expertise helped teachers continue to adjust their instruction even when formal supports were removed.
Finally, freeing up the time of experts to help others is important. Such experts might already be in formal roles that allow them to share their expertise, but they also may be informal leaders who have little time outside of their teaching responsibilities to serve as resources to their peers. Recognizing these informal leaders and giving them time to work with peers can be helpful in building effective teacher networks.
A number of resources outside schools are already helping to support science learning (National Research Council, 2009; Traphagen and Traill, 2014). Such resources include museums, science centers, zoos, aquariums, and planetariums.
A survey conducted by the Institute of Museum Services (2002) of approximately 11,000 museums and science centers of all sizes in the United States found that cumulatively, these institutions spent over $1 billion annually on programs for kindergarten through high school (K-12) in 2000-2001 and provided millions of instructional hours for teachers.
A great deal of science learning occurs in out-of-school settings and can complement the learning that occurs in school (National Research Council, 2009). It can be very helpful for state and school district planners to identify such potential partners early in the implementation process and to invite their participation in planning to take maximum advantage of their expertise and facilities and to develop a shared understanding of the vision for science education. The Framework and the NGSS provide a common language that can help educators from the formal and informal learning worlds to coordinate their efforts and develop effective partnerships.
Another major resource for supporting student engagement in science and engineering is the vast number of afterschool and summer programs that offer learning opportunities for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) (National Research Council, 2009). Afterschool and summer programs and the growing number of science- and engineering-related competitions provide many opportunities to engage children and youth in STEM. Organizations, such as the National Afterschool Association, the Afterschool Alliance, and the Summer Learning Association provide curricula and professional development for leaders of local afterschool and summer programs that are focused on science and engineering. Similar services are provided by major youth organizations, such as 4-H and Girl Scouts. Engagement with these organizations at the district, regional, and state levels can provide opportunities for partnerships that can increase the time that students spend engaging in the practices of science and engineering. Such engagement can also increase the quality and availability of out-of-school experiences that align to the vision of the Framework and the NGSS.
Higher education institutions and businesses also can serve as productive partners. Several states already have STEM coalitions, which bring together many organizations and businesses interested in STEM education, which can be tapped. Particularly for science and engineering, more than for reading or mathematics, it may be necessary to look to external partners to bring deep expertise to districts.
STEM professionals from higher education, science museums and centers, and science- and engineering-related industries may already have roles in working with teachers to enhance their understanding of science content. In the context of
the Framework and the NGSS they can be invaluable resources for helping teachers understand and engage in the science and engineering practices. Both 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities are important potential partners. They often provide professional development opportunities for teachers, and they prepare future teachers. Collaboration is important to ensure that the learning experiences provided for both preservice and inservice teachers are consistent with the vision of the Framework and the NGSS (see Chapter 8 for additional discussion of teacher preparation).
Partners vary in the kinds of expertise and resources that they can bring to collaboration. Districts need to be strategic about defining what external expertise would be useful to them and finding partnerships that can provide it. The range of valuable technical expertise and resources is wide: it includes science content knowledge, experience in doing science or engineering work, special facilities or materials, experience providing professional development for teachers, and expertise in research and evaluation. Some partners may provide time and space for students’ out-of-school experiences but may need other experts to help make that time effective for the type of science learning envisaged by the Framework and the NGSS. Yet other partners can provide monetary or public relations and advocacy support or support continuity of effort. Partners who wish to financially support schools and districts can invest in building and maintaining networks that develop and provide tools and resources for teachers and leaders of science. Science-rich organizations can help provide professional development opportunities for teachers and support teachers in developing and sharing research-based NGSS-aligned curriculum units and curriculum resources.
In the Local Systemic Change initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (see Box 4-1, in Chapter 4), major partners who were brought in as stakeholders included universities, research institutes, and businesses. The most effective external partners provided resources and help in establishing stable structures for sustaining improvements in science and mathematics education, such as centers for disseminating materials and professional development (Weiss and Pasley, 2006).
States and districts are most likely to need to work with external partners in documenting and evaluating the implementation process. The Framework stresses the importance of understanding the impact of the NGSS, starting with the first steps in implementation (National Research Council, 2012, Ch. 13). This understanding requires documentation of the conditions for effective implementation as well as documentation of outcomes. The kind of systematic evaluation needed will
likely require collaboration with individuals and organizations (including universities) that have the expertise to carry out such evaluations.
Building successful partnerships requires careful consideration of differences in the priorities that different partners might bring to the table (Firestone and Fisler, 2002; Goodlad and Sirotnik, 1988; Heckman, 1988; Kornfield and Leyden, 2001; Vozzo and Bober, 2001), differences in the status and authority of participants (Bickel and Hattrup, 1995; Coburn et al., 2008; Freedman and Salmon, 2001; Goodlad and Sirotnik, 1988; Osajima, 1989), and clarity of roles (Freedman and Salmon, 2001; Goldring and Sims, 2005; Handler and Ravid, 2001; Hasslen et al., 2001).
It is important to openly discuss and establish clear authority relations and develop a shared understanding of appropriate roles and relationships in order to avoid power struggles and misunderstandings (Coburn et al., 2008). The process of establishing clear roles and authority may require more attention when partnerships are formed at the central district rather than at the school because districts often have multilevel management structures, loose connections between these levels, and high staff turnover (Coburn et al., 2008). Partnerships can begin as informal relationships, but for partnerships to last it is important to formalize them with some organizational agreements and structures and some ongoing activities or periodic meetings.
Potential partners interested in collaborating with schools and districts need to become familiar with the vision and language of the Framework and the NGSS. A shared vision, and the shared language around the vision provided by the Framework, will strengthen collaborative efforts. Such efforts can then improve the quality of both in-school and out-of-school learning experiences for both students and teachers and make the connections between them more visible. One example of a multipartner collaboration built around implementation of the NGSS is the California K-8 NGSS Early Implementation Initiative, which involves eight school districts, two charter management organizations, and the K-12 Alliance of WestEd1 (a nonprofit research and development agency working in education),
and it was designed with input from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.2
Partnerships generally require a long-term commitment that must itself be supported by an ongoing financial commitment, possibly from external funders, who may also be partners. External partners may also provide organizational expertise that lends stability to a network and maintains its focus on science learning. External partners can also provide a voice for advocacy, both in the community and for other possible external funders, of the reasons behind the changes in science education and the support and resources needed to maintain those changes.
Successful partnerships and networks need to be guided by a shared understanding of the vision of the Framework and the NGSS. Differing interpretations of the goals of reforms can undermine their success (Spillane, 2004). If partners are not working together toward a common vision, then collaborations can be counterproductive. It is important to clarify goals early in the collaboration and continue to revisit the vision.
Partners have different roles with respect to education and bring different strengths and expertise to any collaboration. They also may have different goals for their organizations. In order to support implementation of the NGSS, the educational goals of the district or school need to be recognized and accepted by all partners, and the district or school needs to understand the goals of the external partners and ensure that they are sufficiently aligned for the partnership to function effectively to meet the needs of all partners.
Whether or not funding is involved, any joint undertaking requires that all partners have a clear understanding of each other’s roles and responsibility. Without
2Achieve is a nonprofit education reform organization that works with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability: see http://www.achieve.org/about-us [November 2014].
a written agreement, such as a memorandum of understanding, there is risk that the partners will fail to meet each other’s expectations. It is important to recognize that there may be power and prestige differences between some potential partner organizations, such as prestigious universities or corporations, and schools and districts. As partnerships develop, it is important to work toward mutually beneficial arrangements with reciprocal benefits for all the actors involved (Goodlad, 1988; Linn et al., 1999; Radinsky et al., 2001).
Together, all partners need to make periodic assessments of how well the partnership is working for all of them. If it becomes clear that the partnership is not working well for one or more partners, all need to discuss what adjustments need to made (including to end the partnership, if necessary).
True partnerships require that all partners respect the expertise and the perspectives and concerns of the others. Partnerships where science experts or business leaders fail to recognize the expertise of teachers and other instructional leaders, or where educators fail to respect the perspectives of business leaders around developing skills for employability, are unlikely to last long. The organizational work to understand and develop a shared respect for the perspectives and expertise of the different partners may appear to be unimportant when more immediate tasks and pressing needs are in the foreground. However, unless it is given attention, differences in perspectives or the lack of mutual respect will limit the effectiveness of any partnership and may even cause it to fall apart.