System-Wide Reform in Science: The Impact of District and School Context Part I

WCER Working Paper No. 2010-4

Eric J. Osthoff, Vansa Shewakramani, and Kimberle Kelly

February 2010, 26 pp.

ABSTRACT: This paper (Part I of II) explores the impact of district and school contexts on the implementation of curriculum reform. The reform in question is an inquiry-oriented elementary science initiative undertaken in the Los Angeles Unified School District as part of a National Science Foundation–funded Math and Science Partnership. Of special interest is the role of partnership professional development in increasing the capacity of teachers individually and collectively to engage students in “immersion” science units—units that immerse students in an important science topic over a period of several weeks. The qualitative research reported in this paper is part of a larger project titled System-Wide Change: An Experimental Study of Teacher Development and Student Achievement in Elementary Science. The data come primarily from 40 interviews conducted near the end of the 2007–08 school year, after the reform had been in place for 2 years. Interviewees included central and local district administrators, local district science experts, principals, and Grade 4 science lead teachers. The data analysis is guided by a conceptual framework that recognizes the interrelated importance of material, human, and social resources. The findings show that national, state, and district contexts affected resource availability and allocation by shaping district policies, which in turn encouraged or constrained resources for reform. District administrators at all levels responded to pressure to avoid No Child Left Behind sanctions by prioritizing math and English/language arts over science in allocating instructional time and other resources. Efforts by local district science experts to support science instruction were impeded by a fragmented organizational structure. District resources for elementary science professional development, which were devoted largely to the immersion initiative in 2006–07, were substantially reallocated to the newly adopted Full Option Science Systems (FOSS) curriculum by 2007–08. Although the visibility of the science immersion initiative subsequently declined, many teachers continued to use the immersion units as the district formally recognized them as acceptable substitutes for certain FOSS units. Part II of this paper will use interview data from the 2008–09 school year to examine how teachers experienced and were affected by the allocation of organizational resources for elementary science professional development in the year following FOSS adoption.

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keywords: Elementary Science; Inquiry Science; Science Professional Development; System Reform