2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

March/April 2006

Examining Policy and Curriculum

Mathematics curriculum conference offers insights for CCMS

Through its eighteen centers, the National Science Foundation’s Centers for Learning and Teaching program addresses nationally significant issues related to the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). At a February conference hosted by one of these centers, the Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum (CSMC), 90 education researchers from around the country gathered to share ideas about the relationship between policy and the K–12 mathematics curriculum. Sessions focused on the relationship between policy and practice at the national, state, and local levels and between policy and curriculum research in mathematics.

Several members of the Project 2061-led Center for Curriculum Materials in Science (CCMS) attended the meeting to learn how policy that impacts the mathematics curriculum might also affect the development and implementation of the science curriculum. Representing CCMS were George DeBoer and Cari Herrmann Abell of Project 2061, Ed Smith and Dean Grosshandler of Michigan State University, and Aaron Rogat and Cory Forbes of the University of Michigan.

National, State, and Local Policy

The policy most on people’s minds was the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation that requires states to measure student progress toward meeting explicit content standards in mathematics and language arts. This policy has far-reaching impact on what is included in textbooks, what is taught in school, and where school resources are concentrated. With science due to join the mandatory testing of NCLB in 2007, CCMS researchers are preparing for the impact that NCLB will have on the design, selection, and use of curriculum materials in science.

But NCLB is not the only policy that affects the curriculum. State-level policies on teacher education affect how well-prepared teachers are (i.e., what they know about the content they are to teach and how to teach it). And district-level policies affect how much time is allocated to each subject and the range of a teacher's responsibilities. This means developers have to pay attention to the preparation teachers have had, how they are accustomed to carrying out their teaching, and what else they are expected to do on a day-to-day basis. The success of innovative materials depends on the culture of the school, the knowledge and values of teachers, and the capabilities of the students. All of these interact with policies that have been established at the local, state, and national levels.

“The policy field is enormously complex,” said George DeBoer, Project 2061 deputy director and associate director of CCMS. “But it is something that educators need to be aware of as they do their work. We are driven by policy decisions that others make, but we can also affect policy decisions as long as we are aware of the way that these decisions are made, how they are interpreted, and how they are followed and sometimes subverted.”

Recognizing that policies are the rules and expectations that guide practice, CCMS includes attention to the policy dimension among its core principles for the development and use of science curriculum materials. Attending the mathematics curriculum conference gave CCMS researchers insights into the complexity of curriculum policy and ways to strengthen the Center’s efforts in the area of policy. To share what was learned at the conference, CCMS is organizing a session on policy and the science curriculum for its 2006 Knowledge Sharing Institute in July at the University of Michigan.

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For more information about CCMS and its work on policy and curriculum, please contact:

CCMS Associate Director: Dr. George DeBoer, (202) 326-6624

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