Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Becoming 'First in the World' in Math and Science: Moving High Expectations and Promising Practices to Scale

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Becoming 'First in the World' in Math and Science: Moving High Expectations and Promising Practices to Scale

Article excerpt

In a model of collaborative effort involving the U.S. Department of Education, federal legislators, the 'North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, and local businesses and community members, a consortium of 20 suburban Chicago districts set out to pursue Goal 5 of the Goals 2000 legislation. The authors conclude that the goal is within reach of anyone willing to engage in similar efforts.

Prompted by post-World War II prosperity, the population of Chicago swelled in the 1950s. The growth helped spark a steady migration of Chicagoans to the increasingly prosperous northern suburbs on the shore of Lake Michigan. Cow pastures quickly became residential subdivisions, and improving sources of daily transportation allowed professionals to move comfortably from the growing suburban villages to their jobs in the city.

Along with the residential development of the North Shore came commercial development in the form of high-technology corporations, several of which chose to locate their headquarters in the area. The sleek structures that house these organizations signify the Information Age and stand in stark contrast to the machine shops, warehouses, and manufacturing plants characteristic of the blue-collar work ethic that built Chicago. The North Shore today is an environment that finds businesspeople, educators, and citizens alike holding high expectations for schools in the area.

Perhaps it is not surprising that a group of North Shore districts would be among the first in the nation to take seriously the national goal of becoming first in the world in math and science. These districts are suburban and well-to-do, with an average per-pupil expenditure of $8,922 in 1996, compared to the Illinois average of $5,922. Nearly 80% of the students are white, and they score well above average on state tests in math. If these schools and districts can't meet the national goal of being first in the world in math and science, then who in the nation can?

Pursuing World-Class Standards

The First in the World Consortium sprang from a "study group" formed by area superintendents to facilitate the process of fulfilling administrative recertification requirements. One of the last meetings of the study group focused on the Goals 2000 legislation that called on American schools to adopt national education goals and world-class standards. The superintendents saw Goals 2000 as a challenge that few districts have attempted to address, especially with regard to achieving excellence in science and math. The superintendents collectively pledged to focus on Goal 5: by the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in math and science achievement.

That pledge was the first step in organizing the First in the World Consortium. From an original group of 10 districts, the consortium grew to 20 elementary and secondary districts, composed of some 37,780 students and 3,252 teachers.' Included in the consortium is the Northern Suburban Special Education District, which serves most of the member districts' special needs students, and the Frankfort School District, located in Chicago's south suburbs.: Another member is the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a publicly funded educational laboratory and three-year secondary residential program for Illinois students who are talented in mathematics and science.

The emerging leadership of the First in the World Consortium directed the group's initial efforts toward three goals:

* creating a forum for dialogue with business and government leaders in order to clarify standards for being first in the world;

* establishing a network of learning communities throughout the consortium and beyond to involve math and science staff, research and development personnel, parents, and community leaders in the dialogue and work needed to achieve the goal; and

* benchmarking the performance of schools in the consortium to the international measure used by the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). …

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