There are many reasons why making
policy and financial decisions to foster equity in science education is
difficult. The skill that diverse constituencies have in influencing federal,
state, and local policy makers is one, and the lack of agreement on what
constitutes equity is another. In the long run, making good policy decisions
about equity is hard because the needed data and research on what works
are limited. Despite these difficulties, Project 2061 remains committed
to the idea of science literacy for all students and to setting standards
and expectations to work toward this goal. Examples of successful programs
provide plenty of reason to believe that the goal is possible, given the
will and necessary resources.
It sometimes seems as though policy and finance are as inseparable as
light and shadow. Policies usually have financial consequences, and financial
resources generally influence, if not determine, policy. A school board
policy decision, based on sound educational principles, to decrease the
student/teacher ratio, lengthen the school year, or increase the number
of after-school activities will add substantial costs to the annual budget.
The same board, under the threat of a large budget deficit might, for sound
financial reasons, increase the student/teacher ratio, shorten the school
year, or decrease the number of after-school student activities.
To be sure, in practice the intertwining of policy and finance is not
a simple matter. It is not always evident, for example, what the dollar
cost of an educational policy decision will turn out to be nor what the
educational cost of a budget decision will turn out to be. One thing we
can be certain of, however, is that rarely will policy or financial decisions
have the same impact on all students. Educational equity may be a great
rallying cry in the United States, but it is far from having been achieved.
Whether science for all Americans can become a reality any time
soon depends on how thoughtfully policy and financial decisions are made
in the years ahead-a daunting prospect in the face of the political pluralism
and dispersed decision-making that characterizes our education system.
Systematic research in education of the right kind and quality is needed
to inform education policies and practices. The case for thinking of research
as a foundation for every aspect of education may rest more on optimistic
hopes for the future than on incontrovertible evidence from the past. The
current picture of research with its successes, failures, impediments and
opportunities is notable for the absence of a clearly articulated research
agenda built around the idea of science literacy. An important characteristic
of such an agenda is that it should be interdisciplinary-not only in content
but in research methodology. As a relatively new scholarly area, education
research is only beginning to be productive in informing practitioners.
The increasing use of qualitative methods may provide improved congruence
between research and the classroom. Nevertheless, finding effective ways
to bring researchers and teachers into closer and more active relationships
remains a challenge for the future.
For the most part, the equity, policy, finance, and research chapters
that follow do not explicitly address the interdependencies among them.
Yet it is helpful to read them with an eye for implicit connections and
for missed opportunities to put on the table. Some of the questions below
bear on interconnections. The purpose of the questions is to prompt a conversation
that will lead to a better understanding of the issues treated in the chapters,
not to suggest either praise or criticism of them. Some of the questions
appear to be answered directly in the chapters, and some not. In either
case, we again urge you to raise your own questions as you peruse the chapters,
then forward them for posting in the Blueprints News Room via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 1: Equity
Chapter 2: Policy
Is it possible to reconcile a commitment to equity as equal opportunity
with that of equity as equal outcomes? What measures of opportunity should
be used? What measures of outcomes? What does research say about the relationship
between opportunity and outcome?
What characteristics of the American educational system are the greatest
barriers to equal opportunity or outcome? Which of these are most amenable
Can science literacy for all be achieved given the current unequal distribution
of financial resources? Would an equal distribution of resources be equitable?
Are some kinds of resources more important than others in providing equal
Which groups of students are most in need of help in science and mathematics?
Are their needs the same? Will the same instructional, support, and organizational
policies serve them equally well? The same proportional investment?
How can a common set of learning goals be achieved while honoring individual
and cultural differences? Are new materials and teaching needed? How can
we communicate and meet high expectations for all students?
Chapter 3: Finance
How do such entreaties as "set high standards of learning for all students,"
and "pay attention to individual, socioeconomic, and cultural differences,"
translate into policy decisions? Is there sound research to guide the making
of those decisions?
Because policy decisions are made at federal, state, local, school, and
classroom levels, what possibilities are there for ending up with coherent
policies rather than conflicting ones?
If authority for making policy decisions is devolving from the federal
government to state governments to school districts to individual schools,
where does the responsibility rest for educational equity? What is the
balance between the power of the purse and the power of the courts in shaping
state and local policies that bear on educational equity?
Because state licensing authorities, teacher education institutions, and
school district policies (hiring, salary, professional development opportunities,
and tenure) all influence teacher quality, what can be done to improve
it? What would it cost, and who would bear the burden? Are there state
or federal policies that could improve the distribution of highly qualified
teachers with regard to urban and remote school districts?
Are professional associations and unions effective in influencing education
policy? If so, does that influence tend to foster or impede reform? In
particular, are these organizations a force for educational equity?
Chapter 4: Research
What are the financial costs of adopting policies that place a top priority
on having all students become science literate? What effect will such policies
have on students who may be headed for careers in science and science-related
fields? What research is needed to answer such questions?
If it matters more how money is spent for science and mathematics education
(or any other disciplines) than how much is spent, what research-based
principles are there to guide how best to spend whatever money is available?
What basis is there for deciding what the threshold of investment is?
Is financing of reform an added cost or is it only a matter of reallocating
existing funds? What knowledge is there to guide decisions on how to distribute
reform costs among such things as retraining teachers, providing better
materials for instruction, upgrading technologies, realigning organizational
structures, and other components of the system?
In what ways do the funding policies of federal and state agencies and
philanthropic foundations shape-or try to shape-educational reform? How
could funding polices be changed to become more effective? Is coordination
among funders of reform desirable? Possible?
Does it take financial incentives to get states and school districts to
adopt voluntary standards? How costly would such incentives be and who
would foot the bill? What other incentives are likely to prompt a response
from states and schools?
Given the total cost of the educational enterprise in the United States,
what dollar investment should the nation make in research? What should
be the balance of investment between research focusing on learning and
research focusing on policy issues? Research to develop a knowledge base
and research to help solve urgent problems? Research to inform instructional,
policy, and financial decisions and research to determine the effects of
What policies might lead to an educational research enterprise that meets
scientific standards, is less fragmented than the current one, and can
be sustained long enough to yield useful knowledge? Is a research agenda
needed at all, or is the search for systematic knowledge in education better
served by a support policy that funds the most creative researchers regardless
of their focus?
How can research link standards-based reform efforts in a way that focuses
on learning and policy questions about equity? Can such research produce
knowledge that can be applied more generally?
How can knowledge, once created, be used to influence educational policies
and practices? What training would teachers, materials developers, administrators,
and others who are part of the system of education need to be able to understand
and apply research findings?
How can educational research be focused on long-term visions that could
enlist and energize the entire research community? How can research be
structured to reveal how learning progresses from childhood to adult literacy,
and how understanding of important topics is developed? How can research
be integrated so that knowledge about learning, teaching, instructional
materials, and assessment are connected in ways that are useable by all
American Association for
the Advancement of Science
Copyright © 1998 by American Association for the Advancement of Science