The process of transforming science education through the use of instructional materials consistent with the Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States (hereafter referred to as “the NGSS”; NGSS Lead States, 2013) involves not only the development of the materials, but also the distribution, adoption, and use of those materials. An understanding of the market for instructional materials and how teachers identify and use materials can inform how stakeholders anticipate and plan for challenges and opportunities. Panel presentations and discussions addressed important considerations in each step of this process from development to use.
THE MARKET FOR K–12 INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
Participants learned about the marketplace for K–12 instructional materials from several vantage points. Kathy Mickey of Simba Information, an educational market research firm, presented data on the K–12 instructional materials landscape. Jay Diskey provided the viewpoint from the Association of American Publishers, and Jeff Livingston of EdSolutions and Bert Bower of the Teachers’ Curriculum Institute described their own experiences in the business of producing and selling instructional materials.
According to Mickey, a total of $640 billion was spent on K–12 education in the United States in 2013–2014, with a small fraction of that spent on instructional materials ($8.56 billion in 2016). Within that market, the amount of revenue generated in sales of instructional materials for science as of 2015 was
$236 million, in third place behind revenue generated by English Language Arts and mathematics, which dominate the instructional materials market. Examining data from the Association of American Publishers, Mickey explained that programs developed following the No Child Left Behind legislation in 2000 and its focus on testing had significant effects on the market.
The instructional materials market is changing, explained Mickey. The focus is no longer primarily on textbooks. Instead, there is an increasing emphasis on “basal” programs, which provide foundational materials that extend beyond books and texts, but are not fully comprehensive materials. There is also a demand for other categories of instructional materials: supplemental, digital, print, trade books, classroom magazines, and assessments. Many traditional publishers seek to provide comprehensive courseware; however, many teachers and principals indicate that they prefer being able to purchase separate components of these programs, according to Mickey. This is one reason that the instructional materials market tracks different categories of materials, she added. Research indicates that the need to adapt the curriculum to better fit particular district requirements or pressures can also influence whether teachers seek supplemental materials, explained participant Darleen Opfer of RAND Education in a follow-up comment.
Jay Diskey said his observations support these data. He has seen a 25 percent decrease in textbook sales over recent years. Further, he has also seen demand for supplemental materials, such as books for advanced placement (AP) courses or materials for more targeted interventions. In addition, he explained that the purchase of instructional materials by states or local school districts is a government procurement process, an environment that operates differently from a typical business market, especially when funding is limited.
The sales of instructional materials for science may be slow to grow, suggested Jeff Livingston, but he added that sales may be boosted by the connections that people make between science education and workforce and economic benefits.
One factor that traditionally had significant effects on the instructional materials market was the amount of control that states exerted over the adoption of materials by subject. For example, “adoption” states created calendars and cycles for considering new curricula to be placed on their lists of approved materials, generally through a 2-year review process. School districts in these adoption states were often constrained to purchasing materials on the approved list if they planned to spend state funds to do so. Although some states retain this model, the
approach has been waning over the last decade because of the increasing availability of digital programs and the financial impact of the recession in the late 2000s. The result of these forces has been less state money for instructional materials and fewer state-level requirements.
The recession particularly affected school purchasing because of the links between housing and funding for schools at the district level, stated Diskey. With this reduced funding, states and districts are attracted to less expensive options for instructional materials. For example, state leaders often perceive that free or less expensive instructional materials can now be found online, a perception that is often incorrect. Moreover, relying solely on digital resources would neglect the significant numbers of communities that do not have reliable Internet access or other technology, added Livingston. Bert Bower explained that many districts want multimedia options that include print, digital, and other types of resources. He and other developers are examining ways to use open education resources.
States that hold adoptions vary in the subjects and grade levels for which they conduct them. For example, California, Florida, and Texas all hold adoptions; however, California only holds this process for K–8 materials. In addition, none of these three states requires that state or district funds be spent on the materials on the adoption list. Some states are shifting from providing requirements to providing recommendations. Box 4-1 provides a list of state adoptions of science materials between 2015 and 2019.
Mickey illustrated how changes in the adoption process are unfolding in several states. Alabama outspent all adopters in amount spent on science materials in 2016 at $31.3 million, spending nearly $10 million more than the second top spender, South Carolina, and 10 times more than the third top spender, North Carolina. In 2017, Alabama instituted a second year of adoption in 2017 to encourage more districts to purchase materials. Even though North Carolina still conducts adoptions, the state is shifting from spending funds on textbooks to technology. South Carolina has suspended future adoptions because of fiscal concerns in the state. Virginia has had an erratic adoption schedule and has currently set a schedule for new adoptions. Recently passed legislation in Florida attempts to shift the adoption review process to the local level on a voluntary basis, but thus far, local districts have been hesitant to take up the complex and costly task. Mickey has observed an increasing preference across states for buying selected parts of programs.
These state policies and funds also have significant implications for districts. Local funds provide 47 percent of funding for schools and 8 percent comes from the federal government, but state funds provide 45 percent. These funds are not necessarily dedicated to instructional materials. Moreover, Mickey has observed conflict between states and districts over interpretations of who has control over school policies. Few of the states that have adopted the NGSS are states with adoption processes for instructional materials, stated Mickey. This means “that if you’re looking for input at the state level, [adoption states] are the only states you’re going to get a lot of it,” she explained.
Diskey explained that the response to Common Core State Standards has been another disruption with both positive and negative effects. Although it led to new materials and ways of teaching, the political controversy surrounding Common Core has made the market for these materials less robust than publishers had hoped. In Diskey’s view, more efforts should be placed on building demand for instructional materials.
Other market trends may be important for developers of instructional materials to consider, according to Mickey. Figure 4-1 shows the percentages of use of different technology devices in science across all grade levels that school districts participating in Simba surveys reported in 2016. An analysis of companies who comprise the competitive landscape in science materials in K–12 indicates that traditional publishers dominate, stated Mickey. Often new or open-access resources create materials to address particular issues rather than complete programs, she added. New online marketplaces also include evaluation services, such
as EdReports or SpotOn, as well as social media networks in which teachers share lesson plans, such as TeachersPayTeachers. Among the factors that most influence teachers’ use of digital content are the recommendations of other educators, the ease with which it can be integrated with other instruction, how much it engages students or facilitates personalized learning, whether it includes assessment, and whether it is provided by the school or district.
Finally, Mickey offered several lessons learned from interviews with 31 education leaders at the state and local levels that shed light on how they are thinking about instructional materials in science. These interviews indicated that respondents were focusing more on teaching through problem solving, were replacing textbooks with supplemental materials, and were seeking laboratory materials that also include an instructional component. These respondents also wanted recommendations from states and online repositories. Costs of materials and technological barriers pose challenges. “In discussions with teachers and districts,” emphasized Mickey, “the one thing we have overwhelmingly found is ease of use is an
extraordinarily important factor.” Professional development can play an important role in how easy to use teachers find a curriculum, she added. Notably, evidence of effectiveness was not a top factor in decision making, stated Mickey.
Publisher Perspectives on the Instructional Materials Market
Jeff Livingston of EdSolutions provided his views of the instructional materials market based on his years of experience working with a large K–12 curriculum publisher. He emphasized that widespread adoption of instructional materials requires significant sales and distribution efforts. Although there has been a great deal of innovation in curriculum development, models for distribution have changed relatively little and can require extensive marketing efforts. Investing “in the quality but not in the distribution probably isn’t helping the people that you want to help as much as you want to,” he said, because materials placed on a Website will not be discovered by districts without taking the materials to them and working within existing adoption processes. Further, these sales efforts need to be directed at the customers, those in charge of making purchasing decisions. Often, teachers are not involved in curriculum purchasing decisions. Those who are involved tend to be teachers who serve in leadership roles or on adoption committees, he explained. Nevertheless, teachers do control what is used in the classroom to a greater extent. This means that even if teachers have curriculum materials chosen by the school or district, they may still determine how much they use the materials and whether they supplement portions or replace the materials with others that they identify on their own. One teacher participant pointed out that involving teachers in creating the curriculum may increase its use in the classroom.
Livingston also offered his perspective on the influence of state adoption cycles on the development of instructional materials. In particular, many large curriculum publishers, which currently comprise about 80 percent of the curriculum market according to Livingston, are likely to be developing curricula specifically to align with California’s 2019 science curriculum adoption cycle, since it is a large state that has already adopted the NGSS. This in turn will shape the materials subsequently offered in other parts of the country, he explained. Smaller curriculum developers are less likely to be successful in big markets like California given the attention these states will get from the larger publishers. Diskey agreed, noting that aligning to multiple sets of standards can be challenging for developers. There may be more flexibility in whether curricula need to be aligned with state standards in states that have more local control over curriculum choices (known as “open territory states”).
“Branded learning environments” is another trend that Livingston has observed in the instructional materials marketplace. Publishers sell the core curriculum associated with their brand with the goal that teachers will associate themselves with an “environment” into which they can bring other materials and resources. The companies provide easy Web access to these environments and the resources teachers save there. He emphasized that these environments represent buying into a larger “grain size” product than what may actually end up in use in the classroom. Although some schools or districts might prefer to purchase a component of a textbook or curriculum, providing this is not in the financial interest of large publishers, noted both Livingston and Diskey.
Bower offered an alternative perspective on the market from his vantage point as executive director and founder of a smaller teacher-owned company, Teachers Curriculum Institute (TCI). Bower described his journey from social studies teacher to researcher and curriculum developer to company founder. He and his teacher colleagues began with the development of a supplemental program in social studies, taking on the large publishers in California to become the top program for middle school social studies in California after the 2005–2006 adoption period. They focused next on digitizing their materials. Today, TCI has 10–15 percent of the market in social studies nationwide.
When the NGSS were released, Bower and his colleagues saw an important opportunity for their small company to respond to a single set of standards that were being adopted by many states, in contrast to social studies in which each state has different standards. As a result, TCI developed a comprehensive NGSS-based science curriculum, Bring Science Alive!, for elementary and middle schools.
Teachers purchase a subscription to access curriculum materials online and can also purchase science kits for their classrooms. This online “ecosystem” also provides teachers with a way to connect and share resources with other science teachers. For example, they can create, save, and share assessments, images, or videos as subscribers. Students also have online subscriptions, as well as a print book and a print science journal. The business model essentially consists of earning revenue through the subscriptions; the print materials generate little if any of the revenue. This model has proven profitable. TCI earned enough in its first year of offering Bring Science Alive! to pay for all of its development costs.
The curriculum has professional development embedded in each element. The online materials show teachers how to set up the classroom, for example. Students also receive support as they learn through problem-based approaches and communicate with their teachers through an online notebook.
Presenters discussed the importance of professional development to the curriculum decision-making process. Diskey indicated that the amount or quality of the professional development offered with the curriculum was often the deciding factor in a decision to purchase. One business model he observed focuses primarily on professional development, offering the materials for free but charging fees for training. One function of this professional development, suggested Livingston, is to help teachers improve their teaching skills more generally, such as how to teach a diverse group of students. “So, professional development is everything, but it’s not really about the curriculum. . . . It’s about helping the teacher understand how to be a better teacher,” he said. Although important, said Bower, professional development is becoming less and less profitable, as districts request shorter amounts of training. As a result, TCI has focused on embedding professional development in multiple ways into each of its units, an approach that Bower sees as the future of professional development.
A final discussion about the marketplace for instructional materials focused on possible policy changes that could facilitate equity for all students. Diskey emphasized that states need to do more to enforce laws that currently exist to ensure that all students have equal access to the materials, textbooks, or applicable digital materials they need. Livingston added that this access needs to extend to meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Large publishers are more often required to develop these adaptations than are small publishers, he added. Livingston also noted that policy could help shape the extent to which curricular materials represent diversity in characteristics such as age, gender, or ethnicity. Policies could extend access to English learners as well, said Livingston.
MODELS FOR DEVELOPING INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
Brian Reiser of Northwestern University moderated a panel of curriculum developers to consider four different models for developing instructional materials for science education: (1) developing a textbook to reach teachers at scale, (2) developing an online science curriculum, (3) developing instructional materials through research, and (4) co-development of a curriculum through a research-practitioner partnership. Together the panelists presented a range of ways that curriculum developers can engage with teachers and other stakeholders, as they seek to increase use of their materials. The four presenters described their materials and their development models, who they work with and engage, how they
define success, and the challenges they face in accomplishing their goals. They also considered the rationales behind their approaches to development and the type of material they have produced, and their expectations for change in science instruction in the classroom.
Developing a Textbook to Reach Teachers at Scale
Joseph Levine of Pearson Education described the instructional program in biology that he and his colleague, Ken Miller, developed. Scientists by training, Levine and Miller began nearly 30 years ago to develop educational materials for high school biology because they found existing materials largely out of date, inaccurate, and focused on remembering facts. They focused on developing materials that would excite and engage both teachers and students without compromising accuracy, quality, coverage, or their own principles. Challenging an entrenched way of teaching biology on a large scale while satisfying the publisher meant appealing to mainstream, and not only the highest-achieving, teachers and students, he explained.
Although the National Academies and others previously provided a vision for biology education (e.g., National Research Council, 1990), uptake of the recommendations has fallen short of expectations, explained Levine. In his view, earlier efforts often tried to accomplish too much too quickly. This view has informed his approach to help “gently evolve the system” and guide it in stages toward more conceptual understanding, critical thinking, and hands-on inquiry. Their partnership with the publisher has been particularly helpful in this respect “because they go out and they have their marketing people do research with all the teachers who are potentially using the program. They come to us with some ideas. We push back. We don’t compromise on certain things, we agree with them on others.” According to Levine, an active marketing effort is needed for materials to have the broadest possible reach and effect. As developers, they help ensure that the publisher is making accurate claims about the curriculum when marketing staff share it with teachers, and they incorporate the feedback gathered from teachers in their revisions. Producing these materials for broad use requires a wide range of talents, including illustrators, artists, designers, and communicators, he said.
Levine described their model of change as a “recipe,” in which users can assemble different ingredients to produce variations of the same dish. However, publishers assist teachers with the ease of using this recipe through mass production and distribution, and in the way that publishers package the “ingredients.”
This process of changing the way that science is taught is not an easy one, and the complexity of the educational ecosystem and many outside influences can make change more difficult, said Levine. Changes within the publishing industry, including digital disruption, and politicization of scientific topics are also factors that can affect the process of developing, distributing, and implementing instructional materials.
Levine and Miller’s approach began with goals, rather than standards, Levine explained. Their goals were to share their excitement for biology and to help teachers and students deeply understand concepts and the ways in which biology affects their lives. They also wanted to have as large an impact as possible on biology education nationwide and viewed storytelling as an essential aspect of engaging students and teachers. The resulting textbook, Biology, that Levine and Miller produced and published with Pearson was radically different than other texts of the time, explained Levine.
Over time, Levine and Miller continually updated their materials. Instructional materials must evolve, Levine emphasized. “Nature does not take leaps. Teachers don’t like to either,” he said. The biology text used to begin with short vignettes and guides for the teachers to use to guide inquiry. Now, each chapter begins with a mystery. For example, the chapter on cell growth and division began with a story of a salamander whose leg had been lost. The chapter provides clues through discussing topics relevant to the regrowth of the limb, such as mitosis, cell cycle control, differentiation, stem cells, and development. The chapter concludes by asking the students to solve the mystery. The next edition will feature case studies to begin each chapter, providing information and concluding with a wrap-up of the case study and critical thinking work. The publisher supported this change and the addition of problem-based assessment at least in part because of the NGSS, explained Levine.
Finally, Levine emphasized the critical role of professional development in achieving widespread adoption of instructional materials. “Teachers don’t know how to do this kind of teaching,” he said. Although a small minority of teachers will be able to implement instruction consistent with the NGSS, the vast majority will need professional development to do so. Providing annual professional development is also a means for learning what systemic constraints teachers face in changing the way that they teach science, how these constraints are evolving, and how they can be eliminated to facilitate science education consistent with the NGSS.
Developing an Online Curriculum
Eric Berson of Mystery Science described his organization’s approach to developing an online elementary science curriculum. Now in its third year, Mystery Science has grown from reaching fewer than 10,000 students in 2014–2015 to reaching more than 1 million students during the 2016–2017 school year. At the heart of Mystery Science is the belief that young children are naturally curious and that this curiosity should be nurtured in the classroom far more than it currently is. Berson explained that fostering this curiosity is especially important in elementary school because experiences there are important in shaping students’ ideas about what science is and their interest in pursuing it. However, teachers face challenges in teaching science at this level, in part, because they are expected to be experts in all subject areas. Therefore, Berson and his colleagues have approached their work as “engineers” developing a solution to a problem, systematically breaking down the barriers to teaching science consistent with the NGSS (e.g., cost or lack of professional development). They have emphasized making it as easy as possible for elementary teachers to get started and to feel successful teaching science. “Our theory is if we can create materials that teachers can pick up on their own and share with each other, where they can go from not teaching science to teaching science, or to teaching science and teaching it in a more engaging way, in a more successful way, we have started momentum that can be built upon,” he explained. “This could be the first hour of a longer unit. This could be a modular piece that fits into other things that they are doing.”
Mystery Science starts with asking compelling questions developed in-house or drawn from a large database of questions that students have generated. For example, on the homepage of a unit about the rock cycle, teachers can view the mysteries on this topic that students could explore and activities associated with those mysteries. Within each mystery, teachers can quickly access a list of the common, easy-to-find materials needed for hands-on explorations; videos; and discussion questions for their lessons. Resources include video instructions for hands-on activities, as well as images and other videos to support conceptual understanding. Berson noted that teachers can also download these resources, so that they can access them when they are not connected to the Internet. These activities are designed so that students are slowly building their own conceptual understanding, making observations, and making sense of the phenomena. Berson emphasized that units must be profound, personal, and fun for students, while also being consistent with the NGSS and easy for teachers to implement.
To develop each unit, teams comprised of science storytellers, activity developers, visual storytellers, and a project manager work together to identify the profound scientific perspective they want to convey for each NGSS topic, as well as the phenomenon that can provide a jumping off point for investigation. The team focuses on identifying phenomena that will be concrete, real-world, relatable, and engaging for children. The team develops and tests scripts, visuals, and activities before they record and publish each unit. The Mystery Science team seeks and incorporates teacher feedback on each unit and conducts in-person classroom observations in their efforts to revise and improve the curriculum. Producing online materials also makes it easy to modify materials to adapt to teacher feedback and changing needs. Mystery Science is receiving positive feedback from teachers, said Berson.
Development of Instructional Materials through Research
Charles Anderson described the Carbon Transformations In Matter and Energy (TIME) Project, a research-based curriculum focused on carbon cycling at multiple scales, including global carbon cycling and its effects on climate change. Making the changes in curriculum and instruction, materials, and professional support needed to enact the NGSS vision for three-dimensional learning would be unprecedented in magnitude, stated Anderson, but consensus around the vision of science education could prove a powerful foundation for longer and slower changes over time. Like the advocates of scientific medicine in the early 1900s who achieved dramatic shifts in medicine, Anderson and his team are working to achieve this profound change through design-based implementation research. In his view, developing systems to support the shifts needed should be more dramatic and revolutionary than evolutionary and incremental. Their research involves 150 teachers and more than 20,000 students over 2 years.
The Carbon TIME curriculum is comprised of six 3-week units addressing ideas in life, earth, and physical science. The curriculum emphasizes 3D learning consistent with the NGSS, and units are part of a broader system that includes curriculum and assessments, professional development, and teacher support networks.
The research is integral to the design and implementation of the curriculum. The curriculum is built on a theory about science learning and also includes a system of assessments with predictive power and standards for measuring the effectiveness of instruction. The research is informed by and informs the further development of theory. The first part of the theory consists of an interpretation
of NGSS 3D learning. “We recognize that scientific knowledge includes different kinds of claims that are validated and used in different ways: observations, patterns, models. Scientific practices connect different kinds of knowledge claims as we create, validate, and use scientific knowledge, and crosscutting concepts function as discourse rules that constrain both knowledge and practice,” Anderson explained.
The learning progressions for middle and high school students and associated assessments, the second part of the underlying theory for Carbon TIME, have been developed through an iterative process of design, assessment, and interpretation of the data to inform revisions. The progressions form the basis for curriculum development, assessment, and professional development. Finally, the third part of the model consists of the theory that drives how teachers offer decreasing amounts of support to students as they learn science practices. Students practice being questioners, investigators, and explainers of phenomena in each unit. These practices cannot only help affirm the value of students’ own ideas but also help them recognize the limitations of that knowledge and how scientific tools can be used to fill those gaps.
Carbon TIME provides teachers with a toolkit to help them implement in the classroom, but “using it successfully requires classroom discourse that’s rigorous and responsive,” Anderson said. Teachers participate in 2 years of professional development through in-person and online training, and through intersecting and supported professional networks (e.g., teacher team meetings and research team meetings). Measuring the efficacy of Carbon TIME involves assessments of learning, classroom observations, teacher interviews, and surveys of teachers’ professional networks. Together, the goals, instructional support, and measures of success comprise an iterative design cycle.
Anderson’s data show that high school students who participate in Carbon TIME are outperforming college science majors. Still, only a minority of these students are achieving at the level of NGSS performance expectations. Based on case study data they are collecting, Anderson and his colleagues are also seeing a chasm between what teachers know about scaffolding three-dimensional science learning and what they know and are expected to do to fulfill their basic responsibilities as classroom teachers.
Although consensus around the NGSS goals exists, support systems for teachers to enact them are currently fragmented, stated Anderson. Designing materials and systems are helpful in making this vision a reality, but they also require
resources, “powerful theories, deep and accurate assessments, and rigorous standards for judging success,” he concluded.
Philip Bell of the University of Washington described the context and conceptual underpinnings of curriculum design through a research-practice partnership. Initiated prior to the release of the NGSS and after the publication of A Framework for K–12 Science Education (hereafter referred to as “the Framework”; National Research Council, 2012), the partnership focused on the development of a year-long high school biology course, as well as an English Language Arts course. It involved 20 researchers working with 50 teachers, 3,000 students, and 700 disciplinary experts. Bell and his team are currently focused on developing instructional materials for a range of in- and out-of-school science programs in areas, such as robotics, engineering, and computational inquiry.
Bell said he and his colleagues approach their work applying several key principles. First, they see building on learners’ prior interests and identities as vital. Thus, science and engineering investigations should be driven by learner interest, and students should have authority to design and control how knowledge unfolds during the learning process. Second, cultural formative assessments that assess how student interests and identities are addressed, as well as cognitive assessments of learning, are embedded within the materials. Third, participation structures and language supports are designed to foster inclusion and equity. The premise that learning and knowledge are culturally produced is also central to the way that Bell and his team work with students, teachers, and parents. Figure 4-2 shows the principles for the design of instructional materials that follow from this central premise.
Although partnerships can take a variety of forms, Bell focused his remarks on design research partnerships. These are long-term collaborations among practitioners, community experts, and researchers organized to investigate and to make improvements on agreed-upon educational goals. Such partnerships leverage and value the expertise and perspectives that all stakeholders bring. Together, partners iteratively co-design, test, and refine curricula and assessments that are embedded within ongoing educational improvement efforts that often intersect with the interests of a variety of stakeholders.
To illustrate various ways that his team works in partnership with teachers, Bell explained that his team and their district partners may often meet several times per week to develop 80 hours of professional development for 100 teachers
focused on the materials his team has been adapting or creating. In addition, he and his team have worked across schools in the Seattle area to help them adapt commercially available materials to create coherent storylines consistent with the NGSS, incorporate more local and personal phenomena, and build in formative assessments and other adaptations. They also “engage networks of teachers to leverage their expertise of knowing what issues come up around particular topics,” said Bell. They use this knowledge of the diverse ideas that students are
likely to generate and how teachers can respond to these to create an educative resource within the instructional materials.
The research design partnership has four crosscutting dimensions: equity, pragmatism, mutualism, and historicity. The process begins with a focus on equity, explained Bell. To address this issue, they disrupt problematic practices, such as unfair assessment practices, and provide disproportionate resources for youth. Pragmatism means that rather than developing a curriculum in isolation and trying to implement it, they are instead “building from [teachers’] materials, adapting, sometimes developing new pieces to add to the set,” he stated. This can mean focusing on short-term improvements that can be made, while thinking of the longer-term shifts for which they are building.
Mutualism guides the partnership because communities, schools, and teachers should have the primary influence on schooling in Bell’s view. Researchers should operate in service of those constituencies, he added. Partners operate through compromise, mutual dependence, and shared benefit. Mutualism also means that decision-making responsibility lies more often with practitioners and community members, and researchers are not engaged in trying to implement their own agenda. Finally, the partnership among researchers, practitioners, and community experts is informed by the history and context that characterize school districts and other affected organizations. Informed by a sense of history, partners can seek ways to reconsider and transform normative practices.
Such partnerships can have several benefits, according to Bell. They foster capacity-building and learning, leveraging the unique expertise that each partner brings. Partnerships foster the trust and the sense of mutual investment and shared purpose that are needed to undertake ambitious systemic change, and they foster sustained work on problems in practice and shifts in values. Such partnerships also help demonstrate the relevance of research and offer a nimble mechanism for adapting when there are changes in people, environments, or priorities. Bell and his colleagues also have research evidence to support their focus on student agency in the learning process. Compared with students who only had an inquiry-based curriculum, when students’ own agency was emphasized, they had a greater understanding of the role of science in society and their own ability to learn how to do science. Partnerships also face challenges, concluded Bell. For example, his team struggles with finding the right mechanisms to provide resources to teachers in the forms, places, and timeframe in which they need them, while remaining consistent with the NGSS and the Framework.
ADOPTION AND TEACHER USE OF INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS
Instructional materials for NGSS science education can only benefit students if they are ultimately used in the classroom. Participants learned from an ongoing study of factors that affect whether and how teachers use instructional materials in their classrooms.
Darleen Opfer of RAND Education presented the results of an ongoing 3-year study of teachers’ use of curriculum materials to implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA; Opfer et al., 2016). The majority of U.S. states are implementing CCSS, except for Alaska, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.1 The study, now in its second year, examined teacher knowledge of the standards, how they are implementing the standards in the classroom, and the supports they need for implementation. A key insight from this work is that teachers struggle to implement high standards when they do not have a comprehensive curriculum aligned with those standards, Opfer noted. Although most teachers do not have access to this type of curriculum, those who do really benefit from it, she added.
The primary source of information for this study was the American Teacher Panel Survey2 conducted in October 2015 and included more than 1,100 teachers who are participating in an ongoing longitudinal panel. Based on the results of this survey, Opfer and her colleagues examined one curriculum, Engage New York (EngageNY), an open-access, comprehensive curriculum with units and lessons for every topic and every grade level developed by the state of New York, in greater depth. They gathered data through Google Analytics to collect information about page views and other data. They also conducted telephone interviews with 31 teachers who reported through the survey that they use EngageNY at high levels.
Selecting from a list of available curricular materials, 90 percent of teachers of ELA and mathematics reported that the materials they use most are those they or their districts developed themselves. Further examination of this finding reveals that teachers essentially curate their own curricula, collecting materials from traditional curricula and other sources. The vast majority of teachers do not use published curriculum materials even 1 day per week, explained Opfer, with only 15 percent using such materials 1 day or more per week. When teachers are using
1 Minnesota implements CCSS for English Language Arts but not mathematics.
2 See https://www.rand.org/education/projects/atp-aslp.html [December 2017] for more information about the American Teacher Panel Survey.
a curriculum, they are using the curricula most aligned3 with CCSS, EngageNY, and Go Math.
In ELA, 99 percent of elementary teachers report using leveled readers (books that are matched to children’s reading abilities), and secondary teachers also use them at high rates. Other commonly used ELA resources have significant portions devoted to leveled readers. However, CCSS places greater emphasis on the use of complex text. The second year of this study followed up on this finding to seek more information about this high use of leveled readers. Teachers who have a high understanding of the CCSS tend to use leveled readers less, except when those teachers serve high numbers of at-risk students. In these cases, teachers report that they lack understanding of how to differentiate instruction using complex texts.
Availability is the top reason that teachers select certain instructional materials. Between 66 and 84 percent of teachers often choose materials because they are required or recommended by their districts or states, especially for elementary mathematics. “We think this is really important information for thinking about how we continue to support implementation, because when teachers hear from their districts or their states about what to use, they use it. It’s an important signal that I think has been underutilized,” said Opfer.
Teachers also use online materials for instruction with nearly all teachers using Google to locate materials, but also high percentages using Pinterest (86%: elementary; 63%: secondary), TeachersPayTeachers.com (87%: elementary; 53%: secondary), and state departments of education Websites (63%: elementary; 73%: secondary). More than one-half of elementary teachers also used Readworks. org, and more than one-half of secondary teachers used Khanacademy.org. These findings provide further evidence that many teachers are curating their own curricular material, stated Opfer. This is especially true of teachers of low-income students, she explained, which may signal that they lack the materials necessary to meet the needs of their students.
As noted above, one curriculum consistent with the NGSS, EngageNY is used by a high percentage of teachers. Opfer and her colleagues examined this case in detail for insights that help to explain its success. Although most teachers who use EngageNY are in states that have adopted CCSS, even teachers in non-CCSS states use it as a resource. Its mathematics resources are used more often than its ELA resources, but this may reflect the greater abundance of materials for
3 Degree of alignment is based on EdReports analyses.
ELA that exist, Opfer explained. Teachers in CCSS states report that EngageNY’s alignment with the standards and their district’s recommendation are two reasons that they use it. Among mathematics teachers using EngageNY, 44 percent were required to do so by their districts, while 41 percent of teachers followed the recommendation of their district. Among ELA teachers using EngageNY, 47 percent were following district requirements and 50 percent followed the district’s recommendation. In interviews, teachers reported that it helped them know exactly what they needed to do and expressed confidence that it would help their students achieve the standards.
“A really important finding about the use of EngageNY and something we’re also seeing in our other work is that when teachers use aligned curricula, they’re also more likely to report engaging in standards-aligned practice,” stated Opfer. Mathematics teachers using EngageNY more often report that students explain and justify their work, and ELA teachers report more use of complex nonfiction in their classrooms. Although teachers report that they like the rigor of this curriculum, they also report that it lacks supports for special needs and differentiated instruction. Teachers also report that they sometimes have difficulty covering the amount of content it includes.
Opfer presented several take-away points from this study. First, the study found that teachers are embracing the CCSS, contrary to frequent media portrayals, but still lack the needed supports to implement the standards successfully. Second, strong and clear signals from states and districts are important to the adoption and implementation of instructional materials, she said. “One of the conclusions we’ve come to is that the reason Louisiana teachers understand and are implementing the standards more so than in other states is because the state has very clearly signaled to them what they should be doing and what they should be using,” Opfer stated. However, recommending curricula aligned with standards needs to be paired with aligned assessments and professional development to keep teachers from getting mixed messages about what and how they should be teaching. Third, although open-access materials can be helpful, most are not comprehensive, leading many teachers to curate their own curricula. Embedded supports for the use of such materials would be one approach for helping teachers learn to effectively use and adapt open-access materials.
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