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The Support Structure

Schools reflect the society in which they exist. This is true for neighborhood schools and for the entire education system of the United States. Indeed, education can be thought of as a subsystem of a social-political-economic system. In Blueprints we turn that around and look at aspects of the larger system as components of the education system. These four chapters examine the roles of families and communities, business and industry, higher education, and teacher education in relation to K-12 science and mathematics education.

While the main role of families, communities, businesses, and universities may be to "support" the K-12 education enterprise, it is certainly not their only one. These entities often play a major part in actually shaping the education enterprise. They do so by pressing the schools to establish policies they favor and discontinue ones they dislike, and by taking a hand in setting financial and other constraints for the schools to observe. What complicates matters is that in the United States the "they" of parents, communities, etc., is extremely diverse and rarely of a single mind. Moreover, control over the policies, finances, and operation of "the education enterprise" they wish to support or shape is widely and confusingly dispersed. Understanding education as a system would seem to require exploring its interactions with the social system in which it is embedded.

The first two chapters of this section might well have been one. On the face of it, higher education subsumes teacher education. But not all teacher education-in preparation or ongoing staff development-is sponsored by higher education or conducted by professors. Project 2061 commissioned separate reports in order to be sure to highlight the paramount importance of teacher education for reform. Also, the project wanted to be sure that sufficient attention was paid to all of the functions of colleges and universities that have an impact on K-12 education. Still, the reader may want to reassemble these chapters conceptually.

As influences on the policies and practices of individual school systems, teacher education and higher education can be as important as family, community, and business. However, while university-school partnerships of one kind or another are not unknown, they are neither numerous nor enduring. More commonly, the influence of higher education on K-12 schools is indirect. For example, the admissions standards of a college apply to the graduates of all high schools, not just to the schools in its immediate vicinity, and a school district can hire any teachers who meet state licensing requirements, no matter where they trained. This indirect influence can be strong (school districts everywhere pay attention to Ivy League admissions standards) as well as dynamic (there is a strong relationship between state universities that produce large numbers of teachers and the school districts around them). Finally, the important role of community colleges and historically Black universities should be carefully studied, not only as models of how to meet the needs of a changing undergraduate population, but as partners in meeting our goal of a more diverse science and mathematics teaching force.

Chapter 11 and 12 deal with individuals and groups that have an interest in the policies, budgets, and practices of particular schools or school systems. These include:

Clearly there is considerable overlap among these individuals, groups, and organizations, but their stories are told in two chapters: "Family and Community" and "Business and Industry." Each discusses reform in science and mathematics education from its own perspective. By considering the two chapters at the same time, readers may appreciate the complexity, and perhaps gain some insight into the inevitable clashes as well as the areas of potential cooperation and support by these important clients of the schools.

Again, the following questions are intended to initiate discussions of the interactions of components of the education system, with some attention to their bearing on the aims of Project 2061.

Chapter 9: Teacher Education

  1. If everyone should acquire the knowledge and skills recommended in Science for All Americans, doesn't it follow that all teachers and school administrators should also do so? What can be done to bring current and future educators up to that standard? What distinctions should be made between the preparation of elementary and secondary teachers?
  2. Given the amount to be learned and the technical skills to be developed, how long should pre-service education take? Five years? More? Do economic and social realities limit the possibilities, such as raising certification standards dramatically or reducing the number of teacher education institutions by half or more, so that those that remain can be more selective? What would be the effect of instituting rigorous entry tests to teaching modeled after those in other professions? What are the likely benefits and costs of such tests?
  3. How would the teacher training picture change if it became possible (at least in principle) to reduce the size of the certified teaching force necessary to operate the schools and still meet high standards of student learning? Would teacher salaries and status rise? Would the nature of the job change radically? Would new specialties arise?
  4. Are there steps that can be taken to reduce the parochialism of education? Would it help if the top 100 or so professional development schools, like the top medical schools, deliberately drew their students from every section of the country? Is national certification a possibility? A combination of state and national certification?
  5. Should the growing number of professional development schools (which are designed to be to the education of teachers as university-affiliated hospitals are to the education of physicians) become the norm and model for teacher education? How should the faculties of such training institutions be assembled? What should be required in the way of prior knowledge and experience to compete for admission? What evidence of competence should be required for graduation?
Chapter 10: Higher Education
  1. What can be done to get science, mathematics, and engineering departments in colleges and universities to work together on behalf of assuring science literacy of all their graduates (many of whom will later influence education policy as legislators and business leaders)? What steps can be taken to improve the cooperation between academic departments and schools of education?
  2. Because many teachers attend community colleges before transferring to teacher training institutions, what can be done to build coherent teacher education programs that reach across the full range of higher education institutions? Can more coherence among institutions help to build a pipeline that would increase the proportion of minority teachers of science and mathematics teachers in the nation's schools?
  3. How can universities set admissions in order to motivate K-12 institutions to produce science literate graduates? Because few colleges and universities in America have entrance examinations at all, what might they use as a reasonable substitute?
  4. How can science and mathematics instruction at colleges and universities be improved? Are standards and incentives necessary? How can professional societies support this effort?
  5. How can higher education faculty be encouraged to work with schools to improve the K-12 science and mathematics curricula, and to participate in the development of learning materials for the schools? To provide science research, laboratory, and field experience opportunities for K-12 teachers?
Chapter 11: Family and Community
  1. How do and how should schools respond to the changing nature of family structure and life? What evidence is there that diverse family arrangements are deleterious to learning? Are there responses to family circumstances that are educationally effective?
  2. What are the educational consequences of having both substantial numbers of either poverty-stricken or wealthy families in a community? Where do ideas such as school choice, charter schools, and school-based councils fit into this picture? What does research have to say about the effects of socioeconomic issues and programs to deal with them?
  3. What is the place of out-of-school learning? How can all students have access to museums and informal science learning? How can families help to foster and support high expectations and achievement?
  4. What ways have been found effective to secure the support of families for standards-based learning goals, such as those recommended in Science for All Americans and Benchmarks? Does it vary according to family structure and circumstances? Cultural background? If the school and the families it serves are at odds on this, what steps have proven to be helpful in reaching a workable compromise?
  5. What are the responsibilities of parents, community health agencies, state and federal governments, and the schools in safeguarding the health of all school-age children? Where do the issues of drugs, drinking, teenage pregnancy, and other health-related issues that are value-laden, fit into the education policy mix?
Chapter 12: Business and Industry
  1. Does the reform of American industry in the 1980s and 1990s provide a model-or anti-model-for education? If not a model, are their some particular lessons to be learned for the operation of school systems? For the education of students for employment in those industries?
  2. How can school systems enlist the political influence of large corporations on policy and financial issues at state and national levels? Likewise, how can teachers and administrators gain the support of smaller businesses in their communities? When the interests of business and education are in conflict, as in tax matters, what's to be done?
  3. Which kinds of business-school interactions pay off? What are the short and long-term effects of contributions to the schools in the form of materials and consultants, grants, career information, scholarships or business-site experience for teachers and school administrators? Do they come and go, or are they generally sustained for years and decades?


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