Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Leadership in an Era of Accountability: A Call for Collaboration

Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Leadership in an Era of Accountability: A Call for Collaboration

Article excerpt

Collaboration is described as an important component in achieving meaningful leadership initiatives at the local, state, and national levels.

America's public schools encompass an amazing diversity of unique communities and constituents, so diverse in fact that they are immune to sweeping, generalized descriptions. But it is now conceivable to characterize the focus of American public education using one catch-all term: accountability. High-stakes assessment, standards-based curriculum reform, and the notion of teaching-to-the-test are certainly not novel or even recent developments in the education profession, though it is arguable that they have never saturated local, state, and federal practice and policymaking on such a sweeping nationwide basis. Accountability, in any of its manifestations, is woven through state and federal education legislation, local school board meetings, newspaper articles, re-election speeches, journal reports and professional conferences; science educators, parents, and citizens find it everywhere they turn.

How does the current context of accountability and high-stakes consequences impact the nature of science leadership? What strategies will foster more and better science leadership in this new era? This article examines ways in which science educators can address the challenges and mandates of the accountability movement through increased collaboration, forming networks to support sustainable, meaningful leadership initiatives at the local, state, and national levels.

The Changing Context of Science Leadership

The role of science leadership has changed significantly in the past decade alone. Hounshell & Madrazo (1987; 1997) found that over a ten-year period, the definition of the science supervisor's role remained ambiguous, perceived differently by principals, district administrators, teachers, and the supervisors themselves (Madrazo & Hounshell, 1987; Hounshell & Madrazo, 1997). Characterizing the identity, role, and objectives of science leaders today is complex, at a time when science instruction appears to have been set back as a lower priority in the general public and political conceptions of what matters in many K-12 schools. Today's science educators face a nationwide challenge that is unequaled since the Sputnik crisis of the 1950s. The nation's increasingly politicized focus on reading, writing, and math high-stakes testing has led to federal funding cuts to science education, and mounting evidence of lagging student science achievement. Science supervisors across the United States grapple with ways to reform curriculum and instruction in some consistent, meaningful manner, using guidelines such as the National Science Education Standards (NSES) (National Research Council, 1996). At the same time, an increasing body of empirical evidence supports the advantages of progressive, inquiry-based science instruction, showing that it contributes to improved student achievement in reading, writing, and math as well as science competency (Klentschy, Garrison, & Amerol, 2001; Einstein Project, 2001; Jorgenson & Vanosdall, 2002). Ironically, the nation's political leaders, as well as the public, are generally less receptive to the results of these data than at any time in the recent past.

Nonetheless, the charge to science teachers, coordinators, and supervisors is to identify and implement meaningful solutions to reform the systemic weaknesses pinpointed in American K-12 science education. Researchers, including Valverde & Schmidt (1997) analyzed the fundamental reasons for the shortcomings in student science achievement data provided by the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) (2001 ), and they argue that the challenge to science leaders is profound at every level of leadership. From the classroom to the state department, educators call for reform: deepening and narrowing what is taught, reducing redundancy, and critically examining the merit of the so-called spiral curriculum, navigating overstuffed but underdeveloped textbooks, and resisting the temptation to simply impose upper-grades courses on younger students in an attempt to emulate TIMSS countries that are considered successful. …

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