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AAAS, National School Boards Association Join in Historic Science Education Effort
SAN FRANCISCO—Despite public perceptions that local school boards are battlegrounds over evolution and other science-related issues, board members in the Kansas City area are far more concerned with developing science, mathematics and technology studies that will ensure students' future success, according to research to be discussed Saturday at the National School Boards Association (NSBA) annual conference.
While the findings focus just on one heartland metropolitan area, they likely parallel the interests and challenges prevailing in school districts nationwide, say officials for Public Agenda, the non-partisan research organization. Public Agenda has interviewed dozens of board members, superintendents and other Kansas City-area school officials in the opening phase of a three-year collaboration between NSBA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), funded by the Kauffman Foundation, to help school boards develop policies and public support for a state-of-the-art curriculum.
The forum convened Saturday afternoon (14 April) at the National School Board's annual conference in San Francisco.
Public Agenda's preliminary findings run counter to impressions created in the high-profile conflicts over teaching evolution in public schools that have played out in the Kansas State Board of Education and in local school boards in Dover, Pa., Grantsburg, Wis., and other communities. The Kansas City-area board members expressed strong interest in learning more about updated curriculums for a new economy and the technology that can support that effort in the classroom, and that shows the importance of the new NSBA/AAAS project.
"Our partnership with the NSBA is very exciting," said Connie Bertka, who is overseeing the project for AAAS as director of the association's Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. "The scientific community will now have an opportunity to discover firsthand what the needs and concerns of school board members are around science, math, and technology education. We can now work collaboratively with school board leadership to respond to those needs."
"We have been working for the past 10 years to help school board members to recognize that student achievement is the top priority for school boards—that's what they should focus on," added Joseph S. Villani, NSBA's deputy executive director. "This project blends perfectly with that. Content expertise with science, math and technology is something that we don't have a lot of experience with, and that's the value of working with AAAS."
Villani called the collaboration historic. AAAS is deeply engaged in promoting and improving science-related education at every level, but the new project creates a partnership with an organization that represents 95,000 local school board members—virtually all of them elected—who govern nearly 15,000 local school districts serving more than 47 million public school students.
Under a $739,000 grant from the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, NSBA and AAAS will work intensively over the next year to develop resources that can help train and inform local school board officials.
"The Kauffman Foundation recognizes the critical role that local school boards play in improving mathematics, science, and technology education," said Dennis Cheek, the foundation's vice president for education. "Yet these school leaders have largely been overlooked in discussions of school reform at national and state levels and rarely viewed as vital to the improvement enterprise. This grant will provide local school boards with high-quality, up-to-date tools and information that can inform their local decisions to significantly improve programs in mathematics, science, and technology education at all levels of pre-K-12 education."
The project features three key stages:
A three-hour session Saturday April 14 at the NSBA annual conference will bring school board members together with legal experts, science authorities and community engagement strategists to hear the preliminary results of Public Agenda's research on the Missouri and Kansas school districts surrounding Kansas City and to identify and discuss issues facing school boards nationwide.
Workshops in Kansas City on two consecutive Saturdays—June 23 and 30—for members of the area's local school boards to discuss the final results of the Public Agenda research, the insights gleaned from the San Francisco forum and what resources board members would like from AAAS and NSBA.
In early February 2008, NSBA and AAAS will release a comprehensive resource on CD-ROM that can be used by state school board associations in their programs to train local board members and tailored to aid local districts of different sizes and needs. In addition, the organizations will debut a web site geared to individual board members that includes material from the CD-ROM as well as regular updates on issues related to science, mathematics, and technology education.
AAAS officials initially had considered engaging with school boards about the issue of teaching evolution in schools. But in discussions with NSBA and other experts, the need emerged for a broader initiative, said Peyton West, a senior program associate at AAAS.
Indeed, many of the school board members interviewed in the Kansas City area have expressed frustration with the high profile of evolution in school discussions and news coverage, calling it a political issue that has been of little concern to most local boards, said Alison Kadlec, senior public engagement research associate at Public Agenda. Of more concern is what schools must do to prepare students for the 21st century economy, in which growth and opportunity will be concentrated in science and technology fields.
In general, the board members Public Agenda interviewed "are very interested in better understanding what kids absolutely need to know to be successful in life after school," Kadlec said. They recognize that superintendents, principals and teachers are the education experts, Kadlec added. They see their own role as "members of the community who are advocating community values for the school district, but they also want to advocate for students to the community."
And for that, she said, they want the clearest, most current understanding of science-related curriculum and educational resources.
Other partners and participants in the project include AAAS's Education and Human Resources division; Project 2061, AAAS's influential science literacy initiative; and the International Technology Education Association.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City is a private, nonpartisan foundation that works with partners to advance entrepreneurship in America and improve the education of children and youth. The Kauffman Foundation was established in the mid-1960s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman.
The National School Boards Association, founded in 1940, is a not-for-profit federation of state associations of school boards. Its mission is to foster excellence and equity in public education through school board leadership. NSBA achieves that mission by representing the school board perspective before federal government agencies and with national organizations that affect education, and by providing vital information and services to state associations of school boards and local school boards throughout the nation.
Public Agenda was founded by social scientist and author Daniel Yankelovich and former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1975. The two-fold mission of the non-profit organization is to help American leaders better understand the public's point of view and to help citizens know more about critical policy issues so they can make thoughtful, informed decisions. It explores issues ranging from education and foreign policy to immigration, religion and civility in American life.
AAAS, founded in 1848, is the world's largest general scientific society, serving 262 affiliated societies and academies of science that reach 10 million individuals. It is publisher of the journal Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world and an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit association is open to everyone and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
Edward W. Lempinen
14 April 2007