System-Wide Reform in Science: Student-Centered Inquiry at Scale, Part II

WCER Working Paper No. 2012-7

Eric J. Osthoff, Vansa Shewakramani, and Kimberle A. Kelly

July 2012, 46 pp.

ABSTRACT: This paper uses an organizational resources framework to explore the complex interactions among district context, school capacity, and reform vision and design for implementing science inquiry instructional reform at scale in the nation's second largest school district. The analysis uses interview data collected in connection with a randomized cluster trial involving 80 schools in which state and district science assessments were used to measure the student achievement effects of professional development on teachers' implementation of extended inquiry science units. Interviews were conducted with 129 actors, including central office and local district administrators and science experts as well as principals and teachers from treatment and comparison schools. Interviews were transcribed and a qualitative coding scheme was used to examine how the availability and allocation of material, human and social resources fostered or impeded the capacity of teachers to implement the ambitious instructional reform. The paper first summarizes the science instructional attitudes and practices of principals and teachers in the larger sample. We argue that reform initiatives progress most fruitfully when there is high alignment among a district's instructional support activities, a school's baseline stock of human and social resources for science instruction, and the specific characteristics of the reform initiative. We then present vignettes of two treatment schools to illustrate the complexity and dynamism of school organizations and the array of resources needed in order to foster system wide teaching for understanding in science. The resource framework proves fruitful for elucidating how resource availability and allocation affected teachers' responses to science professional development initiatives.

Full Paper

keywords: Elementary science; inquiry science; science professional development; system reform; organizational resources