EDC researchers are key players in a sweeping initiative to bring about dramatic improvements in students’ science achievement in the Boston Public Schools. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently committed $12.5 million to the five-year effort, which will involve UMass Boston, Northeastern University, and 33,000 students and 442 middle and high school teachers in the Boston schools. The project will focus on improving teacher quality and instruction through partnerships between the Boston Public Schools and these two universities. EDC will conduct educational research to understand the relationship between the components of the program and the changes in teachers, university faculty, and their institutions.
The project will operate as the Boston Science Partnership and aims to ensure that Boston schools offer challenging science courses, hands-on learning, quality teachers, support programs and mentoring—all in the hope that science teaching and learning will improve and that more students will opt for advanced education and careers in science and engineering. The project is one of many NSF-funded Math and Science Partnership Programs around the country and one of five involving EDC.
“The project will benefit Boston’s teachers and students, and also benefit the universities and the instruction they offer,” notes Abigail Jurist Levy, EDC’s project director. A key aspect of the program will be the joint efforts of science professors and Boston science teachers to develop graduate-level courses in science that prepare teachers to teach science. Engineering faculty and science teachers also will work together to create a graduate course in engineering that complies with state and national science and technology frameworks and standards. Levy works in EDC’s Center for Science Education, which supports science education improvement in school districts across the United States.
EDC’s research will focus on understanding the effect of strategies employed in the project on developing “highly qualified” science teachers in Boston Public Schools; the ways that science instruction in university science courses improves as a result of professors’ participation in the project; and the capacities and barriers that institutions of higher education face in sustaining the innovations they have put in place. (Evaluation research into the actual implementation of the project and the degree to which it has achieved its intended impacts on students and teachers in the Boston School system will be conducted separately by the Program Evaluation and Research Group at Leslie University.)
EDC’s research methods will include field work, surveys, interviews, focus groups, document review, and observations. “We will also work on developing methods to quantify how instruction changes over time. Throughout, we will work very closely with the evaluators so that we can closely coordinate our work. We want to share as much data as is practical and appropriate, and avoid collecting data from the same people at the same time.”
In addition, Levy says, they will study the climate of the universities and their abilities to engage in a lasting partnership. “We will have to understand the entirety of the institutions. For example, does involvement in a project like this have an impact on tenure?”
Boston Public Schools are an excellent venue for this project, says Levy. At the eighth grade level only nine percent of Boston Public School students scored at the “proficient” level or higher on the most recent statewide science exam, and over 80 percent of BPS science teachers do not meet “highly qualified” No Child Left Behind Criteria. At the same time, Boston teachers are gaining experience with hands-on science instruction, largely due to a 2001 NSF Urban System Program (USP) grant, which has been a catalyst for change in the science program.
Levy and her CSE colleagues completed a large study of “sustainability”—charting nine school districts’ implementation of “systemic change” in their science education programs, and identifying key phases and challenges. In that work, EDC has found that meaningful change often takes many years. “Because this project builds on the work already underway through the USP grant, we are optimistic that we will see impacts within the five coming years—which would be less likely in a place that was just starting out its reform efforts.”
Other partners in this project include Harvard Medical School and the College Board.
Originally published on October 31, 2004