Choose a role that will make the most of your talent and time
Take a look at some of the most effective programs in the US
involving scientists and engineers in K-12 science education.
Broaden your understanding through selected articles and other
recommended resources.
Tell us what you think.
Contact Information for the RISE program
Working Directly with Students
Working with Teachers
Supporting Systemic Reform
Helping Develop Instructional Materials
Roles: Supporting Systemic Reform
What is "systemic reform"? To develop an understanding of this education reform concept, see Resources below and Background.

Is this role for you?

Your local community may have a "systemic initiative" underway, in which you may want to participate. There are probably a number of roles for you to play that require varying levels of effort.

If you are new to K-12 science education reform, you can prepare for having a more systemic impact by becoming involved in a science education partnership working directly with students and teachers. In doing so you will learn the key aspects of the local education system and how it works as a whole. Or you can begin to educate yourself by interacting as an individual with teachers, administrators, and students. See Background: Getting Started

If you are not new to K-12 science education reform, you may be involved in a science education partnership. But you may want to scale up your partnership efforts in order to have a wider, more systemic, more lasting effect.

Scientists who already are or who are ready to be leaders of systemic initiatives in local school systems or at the state level should

  • enjoy politics
  • have a strong commitment to and the patience to work within existing local systems to seek change over time
  • have experience interacting with K-12 educators and be willing to learn much more about state and national education systems
  • respect teachers and believe in public education
  • have at least a little support from their business or academic institution to help them participate more effectively in community outreach.

Scientists and engineers have attributes that are needed and valued in collaborative enterpises such as systemic reform of science education. You have

  • community connections--institutional and personal--that enable you to build coalitions and facilitate communication
  • business and administrative experiences that have taught you how to do long-term strategic planning
  • the ability to help remove barriers to change with appeals to school boards, community groups, and so on because your opinions are respected due to your status in the community

Advice from the field

  • Any group that wants to do systemic reform needs to decide on a working definition and communicate that definition to the scientists they target. It's critical that anyone working in systemic reform understand and be able to explain to others the difference between reforming and improving.
  • Working at the systemic level means that scientists work with school districts to achieve institutional restructuring that redefines the meaning of teaching.
  • Systemic ultimately means that change is institutionalized and becomes a way of doing business.
  • A good indicator for whether change has been institutionalized is the way a school district spends money before and after the change initiative.
  • Systemic reformers know the difference between "dabbling" and reforming.
  • Scientists need to understand that change is very complex. Systemic change is a political process. You will need to be dedicated, willing to stick with the process over the long haul. Constant dialogue and friendly pressure eventually result in change.
  • Plan your work and work your plan. Long-term strategic planning is an absolute necessity. Evaluate and describe current conditions in each relevant area of the education system. Develop goals that help you envision "what it will look like" when your innovations are in place. Then plan step-by-step how to get from here to there, including what your measures of progress will be. Details like who is responsible, numbers of participants, and budgets can become more sketchy as you build the framework past the next 1-2 years.
  • Take time to review progress and revise your plan at least annually.
  • Work to build a consortia of teams working for change. A synergy of strategies will result.
  • Diversify your funding.
  • Stimulate universities and corporations to include voluntary service with K-12 schools as a legitimate professional practice, worthy of merit review.
1. The National Science Resources Center's model for the systemic reform of elementary science education is now available in a book, Science for All Children, published by National Academy Press (1997). A description and the entire text are available on-line. Of particular interest are case studies of eight school districts engaged in systemic reform of elementary science education. Those districts are:

Montgomery County, Maryland A Large Suburban School District Works to Build a
Cadre of Effective Elementary Science Teachers
Spokane, Washington A City School District Struggles to Put the Pieces Together
East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana Corporate Partnership and an Emphasis on Strong Professional Development Spearhead Reform Efforts
Cupertino, California A Small School District Builds a Strong Corporate Partnership
Huntsville, Alabama A University-School District Partnership Creates a
Multidistrict Program Step by Step
Pasadena, California Pasadena Develops a Model for Teacher-Scientist Partnerships
San Francisco, California A University Works Collaboratively with a City School District
Green Bay, Wisconsin The Einstein Project Builds a Science Program through
Community Partnerships

2. The Science Education System Standards and Science Education Program Standards chapters of the National Science Education Standards provide a basic framework for the goals of systemic reform.

3. A widely read and recommended book on "systems thinking" is Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Doubleday/Currency, 1990.

Copyright National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.