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System is an idea that helps us think about parts and wholes. It draws our attention to the interactions of the parts of something with one another and to the relation of the parts to the whole. The idea also emphasizes effects-what influences the behavior of something and what, in turn, that thing accomplishes. Blueprints for Reform was created on the premise that it is useful to think of education as a system. More particularly, it grew out of Project 2061's conviction that serious efforts to achieve the science literacy goals in Science for All Americans ought to be based on an understanding of education as a system.

Project 2061's approach to reform is national and systemic. We define the educational system to include more than students, teachers, and school administrators. The organizational structures where these people work and the laws and policies that affect them must also be included in systemic change. Further, business leaders, textbook and test publishers, academic and industrial scientists, and many others must be involved if change is to take place at the necessary scale and depth to make science literacy a reality.

The Idea for Blueprints
If a system is a collection of interrelated parts (objects, materials, phenomena, processes, ideas, principles, rules, organizations, people) that interact to form a distinguishable whole, what are the parts that make up a K-12 educational system? Because what constitutes a system is a matter of definition and varies according to purpose, the questions for Project 2061 became: What are the components of the education system that matter most in thinking about the attainment of science literacy by all K-12 graduates? What changes in them are desirable or possible? What are the system's boundaries? Do the constituent parts of the system interact in ways that need to be taken into account?

After extensive consultation with educators, scientists, policy makers, and funders, Project 2061 concluded that for its purposes it should examine these twelve aspects (listed alphabetically here) of the K-12 education system. To frame the issues for each of these components, we asked ourselves the following questions:

Notice that there are some things missing from the above list that one might reasonably expect to find there. Learning goals have no blueprint because they are defined in SFAA and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. They are ends for which the education system is the means. Similarly, although curriculum issues are embedded in several Blueprints chapters, curriculum has no separate blueprint because it is the central subject of Project 2061's forthcoming Designs for Science Literacy. Even though they are not a subject of a blueprint, students are the focus of all our work and their presence is felt in all of the components, especially assessment, equity, family and community, and research. And, finally, teaching has no separate treatment because the key issues concerning teaching cut across several components, including teacher education, higher education, school organization, materials and technology, assessment, and research.

How Blueprints Was Developed

The development of both Blueprints for Reform and Blueprints Online has had input from many people. Future efforts to improve and refine Blueprints will require similar work and help.

Teams of experts from around the country were commissioned to write reports for Project 2061 on each of the twelve topics described earlier. The authors were asked to keep in mind that the project's interest in this was more practical than scholarly, for it wanted to acquire whatever insights about the educational system as a system would help it shape an effective reform strategy. In addition to Science for All Americans, drafts of Benchmarks for Science Literacy and other Project 2061 documents were furnished the authors.

The authors met as a group with the project staff (including representatives of the six Project 2061 School-District Centers that have worked with the project for the past several years) to learn more about Project 2061, share ideas with one another, and identify possible interactions between topics. After responding to external reviews of their drafts arranged by the project, the authors submitted their reports. Summaries of the full reports were written by outside consultants so that the project staff could more readily study them as a set.

Guided by external reviews of the summaries and recommendations from three meetings of experts, the staff prepared the versions of the summaries that now appear online and in this print volume. These were written to serve the needs of state and school level reformers more than those of specialists, although experts in one field may find chapters outside their specialty enlightening. And to provide concrete examples of how some of the Blueprints recommendations are being carried out, Project 2061 has developed a database of bibliographies, exemplary projects, and science- and education-related organizations and agencies.

Blueprints Online

Even though the original reports and their summaries were prepared for internal use by Project 2061, several considerations led to the decision to make them available online. Colleagues have urged the project to share this work with them, and this seemed like a cost-effective way to do so. Another is that as the work progressed it became evident that the chapters, regardless of their depth or completeness, would stimulate productive discussions of systems issues in science education reform. What better way to involve more educators in such discussions than by using the Blueprints chapters as the focus of online exchanges?

A third consideration is that the blueprint job is not over. Recall that the idea was to look at the pursuit of the goals expressed in Science for All Americans from the perspective of the education system as a system. That means taking interactions of systems components into account, not being satisfied with twelve or any other number of individual aspects considered one at a time. It is one thing to identify issues in diverse parts of a complex system, another to describe relationships among them, and still another to develop directions and plans for action. The current state of Blueprints (although named for action planning) has, so far, provided a competent summary of some important issues and a few indications of prominent connections. The important activity of developing useful "blueprints" for taking action is still to be done, with the help of online contributors.

This is where Blueprints Online becomes a challenge. Is it possible that together we can somehow come up with a way of thinking about the education system that will break new ground, that is integrative, yet builds on a deep understanding of the individual components of the system? We believe that it can happen if enough of us can dig more deeply into the possibilities.

Twelve topics are far too many to consider simultaneously. Fewer topics and a context would help. To that end, the 12 chapters were divided into three groups. The chapters in each group have at least a surface relationship, although other groupings might also be valid. The groupings are:

The Foundation: Equity, Policy, Finance, and Research.
The School Context: School Organization, Curriculum Connections, Materials and Technology, and Assessment.
The Support Structure: Teacher Education, Higher Education, Family and Community, and Business and Industry.

The intent here is not to create a taxonomy but to focus the discussion fruitfully. In short, we invite you to work with us in an effort to develop a more coherent and integrated view of the education system as a system than now exists. Our joint purpose can be to create a blueprint for reform that will help all of us to be more effective in fostering science literacy. The reports and summaries submitted to Project 2061 and the resulting chapters presented both in print and online are a good starting place. As a next step, we would like you to help us move beyond them.

How You Can Participate

There are several ways interested educators, parents, community and business leaders, legislators, and others can respond to this challenge. These include the following:

  1. Answer the monthly Project 2061 Blueprints Survey on our Web site ( This survey will focus on selected chapters or topics rather than on the whole collection of chapters. The results will be summarized and reported at the same online location.
  2. Join online conferences and discussions about Blueprints topics. These will be announced well in advance to provide an opportunity for the kind of intense sharing of ideas that can benefit the participants as well as Project 2061.
  3. Send email ( asking questions, expressing your reactions, and giving suggestions.
  4. Help Project 2061 expand and update Blueprints' resources and bibliographies by sending information on relevant programs, projects, reports, and research studies.

Here are some questions that Project 2061 would like responses on, though you can react to any aspects of the material. The questions in the first list refer to each of the chapters, in the second list to the entire collection. With regard to each of the individual chapters:

  1. Is the information up-to-date and accurate?
  2. Are the issues addressed truly important?
  3. Are significant issues missing?
  4. Is there support in practice or research for the claims that are made?
  5. Do the conclusions reached follow from the evidence given?
  6. Are there important alternative points of view, arguments, or interpretations?
  7. What additional key references to the literature, projects, and resources are needed?

With respect to the entire collection:

  1. Are the twelve chapters sufficient for characterizing the education system as a system? What chapters, if any, should be added? Eliminated?
  2. Is it helpful to sort the chapters into groups? Is there a better way to group them?
  3. How might the chapters be modified to emphasize their interrelations?
  4. Are there some themes that could be used to bring greater coherence to the collection?


Blueprints Online
Project 2061
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Washington, DC

Copyright © 1998 by American Association for the Advancement of Science