The Merck Institute was launched in 1993, to
coordinate the company's efforts in K-8 education reform.
The initiative focused largely on professional
development of elementary and middle school teachers and
promoted systemic reform by
- With elementary teachers, to promote
investigative inquiry-centered science education
and make it accessible to all students
With school districts, to promote the teaching of
science and its integration with other content
- With parents, to make them partners in meeting
- With Merck employees, to serve as mentors to
teachers and as classroom volunteers
- With institutions of higher education, to give
tomorrow's teachers a stronger grounding in
science content and teaching methods.
In the early years, the Institute in Rahway, New
Jersey, is focusing on four school districts where Merck
has a corporate presence: Linden, Rahway, and Readington
Township in New Jersey; and North Penn in Pennsylvania.
All four districts have a history of Merck involvement
that predates the establishment of The Merck Institute.
Altogether, the four districts include 34 elementary
and middle schools with roughly 1,100 classroom teachers
and 17,500 students, but there is considerable variation
among them. For grades K-8, the districts range in size
from 1,700 students to 10,000 students; they have several
different grade ranges, e.g., K-4, K-6, preK-5; the
socio-economic and ethnic makeup of the districts is
quite different. Given these wide variations, it is no
surprise that their histories and policies with regard to
K-8 science education were all different.
While it may not be unusual for a company to support
science education in school districts surrounding one of
its sites, the Merck effort is unique in its long-term
commitment, its clear focus, and its emphasis on
assessment of results. To measure the effects of the
Instituteís partnership initiatives on science
education, the Consortium for Policy research in
Education (CPRE) at the University of Pennsylvania is
conducting a multi-year evaluation on the Institute's
Although, the challenges posed are considerable, so
also are the opportunities for success, as the Merck
Institute found when it encouraged communication and
cooperation across the districts. According to the most
recent CPRE annual report, what began as separate
partnerships between The Merck Institute and each of the
four districts has now emerged as a genuine, developing
collaborative among the five parties.
The strategy has been to recognize the independence of
the four school districts and, at the same time, to
promote and support all the basic elements of systemic
reform in each district:
- A curriculum and associated hands-on,
inquiry-centered instructional materials as
described in various national standards and state
- A system for supporting the use of these
- The professional development of teachers to
enable them to gain a deeper understanding of
both science and inquiry-centered learning and to
use the instructional materials selected by their
- Assessment of students that is aligned with the
hands-on inquiry-centered instruction
- Building support for this program in the school
and district administrations within the
Launching Systemic Reform. The first steps of
the Merck Institute were to encourage the partner
districts to examine and adopt state-of-the-art,
standards-based instructional materials and practices. To
further this goal, the Institute arranged for teams of
teachers and administrators from each of the four school
districts to attend an NSF-supported summer National Elementary
Science Leadership Institute (NESLI) of the National
Science Resources Center (NSRC) held in Washington,
DC. Each team also included a Merck scientist.
At the NSRC institutes the teams discussed the five
basic elements of reform listed above and began to
develop strategic plans for systemic reform in their own
school districts. Upon their return, teachers, curriculum
supervisors, and principals began reviewing
inquiry-centered instructional modules, planning systems
for managing the materials, and designing training in the
use of the modules.
- In 1996, the Partnership was awarded a 5-year,
$2.4 million National Science Foundation grant.
This grant, under NSF's Local Systemic Change
program, has had several effects:
- The science focus of the Partnership has been
expanded to include mathematics and technology,
and to reach a wider audience of teachers.
- Professional development programs have been
expanded to include seminars for principals.
- A pre-service program has been established to
incorporate into the Leader Teacher Institute
undergraduates preparing to be teachers, and to
place these Merck Fellows, as they are called, in
the classroom with experienced Leader Teachers
during the school year.
- Assessment Investigation Teams, established in
each district in 1995, have intensified their
study and development of assessment instruments
more appropriate to inquiry-centered instruction.
When the Merck Institute begins to realize some of its
goals with Partnership school districts, it plans to
expand the scope of its reform efforts beyond New Jersey