Pressure on schools to address waning student interest and poor achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has continued unabated since the publication of A Nation at Risk (1983), Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 1989, 1993), and the National Science Education Standards (NSES, National Research Council [NRC], 1996). The TIMSS report (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, 2000) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2006) results substantiated concerns that US students are falling behind students in other industrialized countries. These mounting concerns ultimately led in part to the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002), which now requires the annual assessment of students' performance in language arts, mathematics, and science.
The current call for reform in science education led to significant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for "systemic change" projects at the state, urban, and local levels. These initiatives were focused primarily on (1) high-quality professional development (PD) of teachers' content and pedagogical content knowledge and (2) the availability and utilization of high-quality instructional resources, assuming that these would lead to (3) improved inquiry-based teaching practices translating into (4) improved student performance. Many projects focused on urban and suburban systems. However, the Science Co-op Project focused on under-represented, underserved, rural, isolated school districts and elementary and middle school science programs. This project assumed that success would be based as much on good engineering in designing solutions that addressed the available resources and local constraints as much as on good science. The project title reflects a basic metaphor for the design and problem solution-farm cooperatives-a historical approach used in rural America to face the economic and political demands placed on small farmers. This brief report provides insights into the design and results of the four factors in the modelPD, resources, classroom practices, and student achievement (see Shymansky, Annetta, Everett, & Yore, 2008, for a more detailed report).
Systemic change requires serious consideration of the system and subsystems involved. In the case of the Science Co-op Project, this meant two state education agencies (Iowa Department of Education and Missouri Department of Elementary and secondary Education), 36 school districts (25 in Iowa and 11 in Missouri), about 1,500 teachers, and approximately 20,000 students spread over 40,000 square miles. The enormity and complexity of the project are partially reflected in these numbers and further complicated by the fact that Iowa does not have an official statewide science curriculum and assessment program while Missouri has both. Historically, Iowa ranks amongst the leaders in the USA for literacy and science achievement while Missouri ranks below average in both.
The target school districts were small and geographically isolated, and many faced significant economic pressures leading to unexpected high attrition among school administrators and teachers. Furthermore, this project focused on consolidated school districts that are ferociously independent. These differences not only encouraged diversity and autonomy at the school district, school, and classroom levels but also contributed to the challenges of effecting systemic reform. Science Co-op attempted to address these concerns with a design mat incorporated a cascading leadership model that gradually moved leadership from a project-centered team to a local leadership team of advocates, coaches, and administrators in each school district across the five years of the project. …