Reflecting on Sputnik:  Linking the Past, Present, and Future of Educational Reform
A symposium hosted by the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education

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Introduction
Before Sputnik
The Sputnik Era
What have we learned?

 

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J. Myron Atkin
(Rodger W. Bybee)
George DeBoer
Peter Dow
Marye Anne Fox
John Goodlad
Jeremy Kilpatrick
Glenda T. Lappan
Thomas T. Liao
F. James Rutherford

 

 

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Symposium Main Page

 

 

Center's Home Page  

   

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Symposium Main Page

 

 Current Paper Sections
Introduction
Before Sputnik
The Sputnik Era
What have we learned?

 

Other Papers
J. Myron Atkin
(Rodger W. Bybee)
George DeBoer
Peter Dow
Marye Anne Fox
John Goodlad
Jeremy Kilpatrick
Glenda T. Lappan
Thomas T. Liao
F. James Rutherford

 

 

Center's Home Page  

   

Back to the Top

 

Email questions or comments to csmeeinq@nas.edu

The Sputnik Era: Why is this Educational Reform Different from All Other Reforms? (continued)
Rodger W. Bybee, Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education, National Research Council

What Have We Learned?

Examination of the Sputnik era reveals that it had both similarities and differences from other educational reforms. Some observations are worth noting for reform minded individuals and groups. Following are several lessons that we can draw from the experience.

  • First, replacement of school science and mathematics programs is difficult at best, and probably impossible. Although leaders in the Sputnik era used terms like “revision” and “reform” the intention was to replace school science and mathematics programs. Their zeal and confidence was great. In some sense they approached the reform as a “field of dreams.” That is, if they built good curriculum materials then science teachers would adopt them, thus replacing traditional programs. Such an approach, however, confronts pervasive institutional resistance, raises the personal concerns of teachers, and alarms the public. The need to understand what happened in the Sputnik era contributed to research on curriculum implementation, concerns of teachers, and educational change.

    The lesson here is the importance of using our knowledge about educational change. Not only are new programs important, other components of the educational system must themselves change and provide support for the implementation of educational innovations. Those components include peer teachers, administration, school boards, the community, and a variety of local, state, and national policies.

  • Second, reluctance of teachers increases as the innovations vary from current programs and practices and they lack political, social, and educational support. Teachers had difficulty with the content and pedagogy of new programs such as PSSC, BSCS, CHEM Study, SCIS, and ESS. Lacking educational support within their system and experiencing political criticism from outside of education, they sought security by staying with or returning to the traditional programs.

    The educational lesson here centers on the importance of both initial and ongoing professional development and support for the new programs and practices. In addition, educational reformers have to recognize that changes in social and political forces has an affect on school programs.

  • Third, exclusion of those in the larger science and mathematics education community, e.g., teacher educators, science education researchers, and the public contributed to the slow acceptance and implementation of the programs, reduced understanding by those entering the profession, and afforded less than adequate professional development for teachers in the classroom.

    Here we learned to involve more than teachers. Education is a system consisting of many different components. One important component consists of those who have some responsibility for teacher preparation, workshops and professional development, and the implementation of school science and mathematics programs. It is best to work from a perspective that attempts to unify and coordinate efforts among teachers, educators, and scientists all of whom have strengths and weaknesses in their respective contribution to reform efforts.

  • Fourth, realities of state and local school districts went unrecognized. Support from federal agencies and national foundations freed developers from the political and educational constraints of state and local agencies and the power and influence of commercial publishers.

    This lesson directs attention to a broader, more systemic, view of education, one that includes a variety of policies. One view of education suggests it involves polices, programs, and practices. Usually, individuals, organizations, and agencies contribute in various ways in the formulation of policy, development of programs, or the implementation of practices, however, there must be coordination and consistency among the various efforts. Designing and developing new programs, such as we did in the Sputnik era, without attending to a larger educational context to support those programs and changing classroom practices to align with the innovative program surely marginalizes the success of the initiative.

  • Fifth, restricting initiatives to curriculum for specific groups of students, i.e., science and mathematically prone and college-bound students, resulted in criticism of Sputnik-era reforms as inappropriate for other students such as the average and the disadvantaged. To the degree school systems implemented the new programs teachers found that the materials were inappropriate for some populations of students and too difficult for others. Restricting policies or targeting programs opens the door to criticism on the grounds of equity. Proposing initiatives for ALL students also often results in criticism from both those who maintain there is a need for a specific program for those inclined toward science and mathematics and those who argue that programs for all discriminate against the disadvantaged.

    Examining the nature and lessons of Sputnik era reforms, as well as those that came before and after, clearly demonstrates that educational reforms differ. Although this may seem obvious, we have not always paid attention to some of the common themes and general lessons that may benefit the steady work of improving science, mathematics, and technology education. Stated succinctly, those lessons are: use what we know about educational change; include all the key players in the educational community; align policies, programs, and practices with the stated purposes of education; work on improving education for all students; and, attend to the support and continuous professional development of classroom teachers, since they are the most essential resource in the system of science and mathematics education.

REFERENCES


Cremin, L. 1961. The Genius of American Education. New York: Vintage.

Dow, P. 1991. Schoolhouse Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gardner, J. 1984. Excellence. New York: W.W. Norton

Goodlad, J.I. 1964. School Curriculum Reform in the United States. New York: The Fund for the Advancement of Education

Goodlad, J.I. 1997. In Praise of Education. New York: Teachers College Press

Helgeson, S. L., P. E. Blosser, and R. W. Howe. 1977. The Status of Pre-College Science, Mathematics, and Social Science Education: 1955-1975. Volume 1. Columbus, OH: Center on Science and Mathematics Education, Ohio State University.

Hurd, P.D. 1969. New Directions in Teaching Secondary School Science. Chicago Rand McNally

Ravitch, D. 1983. The Troubled Crusade: American Education 1945-1980. New York: Basic.

Shymansky, J. A., W. C. Kyle and J. M. Alport. 1983. The Effects of New Science Curricula on Student Performance. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 20(5): 387-404.

Tanner, D. and L. Tanner. 1990. History of the School Curriculum. New York MacMillan Publishing Company

Tyack, D. and L. Cuban. 1995. Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Weiss, I. 1978. Report of the 1977 National Survey of Science, Mathematics, and Social Studies Education. Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.


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