Academic journal article Science Educator

Engaging STEM Faculty in K-20 Reforms - Implications for Policies and Practices

Academic journal article Science Educator

Engaging STEM Faculty in K-20 Reforms - Implications for Policies and Practices

Article excerpt

This article looks at policies and strategies that can be used to promote partnerships involving university science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty and K-12 teachers, as well as the nature of such collaboration.


The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) is a major national research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships among institutions of higher education (LHEs), local K-12 school systems, and their supporting partners in order to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science.1 Deep engagement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplinary faculty is a hallmark of the MSP program. The program posits that disciplinary faculty hold the content knowledge that K-12 teachers need and that, if faculty are substantially involved, teachers' disciplinary knowledge will be strengthened, resulting in improved student achievement.

Many reforms stress partnerships among institutions of higher education, K-12 schools and districts, and community-based organizations and businesses (Abbott et al., 1992). The MSP program and the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher Quality Enhancement effort have the explicit goal of forming partnerships between K-12 districts and LHEs in order to create innovative solutions to persistent instructional problems and lead to improvement in both K-12 schools and IHEs. Educational partnerships between universities and public schools are not new. There are, however, three reasons for the current interest surrounding such partnerships. First, the politics of education reform have created the need for at least symbolic association among educational stakeholders. Second, increased accountability for student achievement, coupled with the need for better-prepared teachers, has placed pressures on public schools and IHEs to collaborate. Finally, K-12 schools and IHEs face similar problems, such as public criticism, lack of sufficient funding, limited public support or respect, low salaries, and faculty shortages (Sirotnik& Goodlad, 1988). According to Teitel (1999), common interests have brought together a strong convergence on four goals: improvement of student learning, preparation of educators, professional development of educators, and research and inquiry into improving practices.

Although partnerships are easy to extol, they are difficult to achieve. One of the most prominent reasons for this difficulty is the institutional reward structure, which puts different emphasis on research, teaching, and service (Boyer, 1990). According to Diamond (1999), an appropriate and effective tenure and promotion system should be aligned with the institution's mission statement; be sensitive to differences among the disciplines and individuals; include appropriate, fair, and workable assessment; and recognize that action takes place at the departmental level in which the most specificity in documentation is required. Although many IHEs' mission statements recognize teaching, research, and service, there is often a mismatch in reality between the mission of an institution and the priorities described for the tenure and promotion systems. As Boyer noted in 1990, "almost all colleges pay lip service to the trilogy of teaching, research and service, but when it comes to making judgments about professional performance, the three rarely are assigned equal merit" (p.15).

A 1996 survey of 50,000 faculty, chairs, deans, and administrators at research universities (Gray, Diamond, & Adam) showed that respondents often considered the balance between research and teaching on their campus to be inappropriate. A more recent national survey (Alshare, Wenger, & Miller, 2007) found that deans at teaching universities, on average, assigned percentages of 47/43/10 to teaching, research, and service activities for promotion and 48/42/10 for tenure decisions. …

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