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New AAAS-National School Boards Association Training Materials to Help Bolster Science Education at the Local Level
Anne L. Bryant and Shirley Malcom
AAAS and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) recently unveiled new materials intended to help state-level school board groups provide training to local school boards on the importance of improving science-related education.
Part of an effort supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the training module for school boards was the focus of a 1 February reception at AAAS during the NSBA's annual Leadership Conference. The NSBA represents 14,600 school boards and 95,000 school board members nationwide.
The training module, which was distributed free to state school boards associations, includes a facilitator's guide, a participant's manual, and an audiovisual presentation, all on a single CD-ROM. A related Web site, which will provide updated information and online links, is scheduled to launch in May.
"Throughout the United States, school boards face special challenges when attempting to improve their math, science and technology programs," said Peyton West, senior program associate with AAAS's Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER) program who serves as project manager on the SMarT Training for School Boards initiative.
Teachers must undergo frequent training in order to stay current in science and other topics. The curriculum may require significant funding, particularly when it comes to technology courses. Yet in many regions, limited resources are available to help school boards meet such challenges. Parents, meanwhile, often remain unaware of the crisis in science education, and religiously motivated objections to curriculum may confront educators, too.
"This is the first time that a national science organization like AAAS has reached out to local school boards on science issues in a proactive way," West said. "School boards have an important role in determining what the science curriculum will be and how it is taught."
The materials drew an enthusiastic response at the reception, held at AAAS' headquarters facility. "This is a wonderful example of the type of collaboration we need in education if we're going to be effective in our quest for increased student achievement," said NSBA President Norm Wooten of Kodiak, Alaska.
SMAarT Training for School Boards originally stemmed from AAAS' desire to help local school boards grapple with problems surrounding evolution. Then, research demonstrated that while school boards acknowledged the importance of dealing with that issue, they were more concerned about improving science-related programs in general.
The three-year collaboration between AAAS and NSBA, announced last spring, is being underwritten by a $739,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation.
"School board members need help from experts in developing better programs and getting their constituencies—both funding sources and the community at large—to support these initiatives," Wooten said. "I am blown away by the credentials and credibility of the people in [AAAS]. We couldn't buy this kind of collaboration."
Trying to improve science education is "a monumental task, especially when you don't know where to start," said Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, who volunteered to assist her local school board in Howard County, Md., in that effort several years ago. "But it's always so much easier when you're starting with good stuff."
NSBA's Executive Director, Anne L. Bryant said, "This collaboration will help school districts nationwide to up the ante when it comes to science and technology education. When we can work together, providing tools that will empower local school boards to provide the best possible resources for their students, everyone wins."
State school boards associations will use the new materials to train local school board members on the issues involved in strengthening science, math and technology education. The training module addresses the critical question of why school boards should care about these issues. A longer workshop, scheduled to be available in June, will cover the nature and use of standards, public engagement around science, mathematics, and technology education and how to address these topics using the model of NSBA's The Key Work of School Boards guidebook.
The materials were created by Angie Peifer, associate executive director for board development at the Illinois Association of School Boards and grew out of a daylong seminar on science, mathematics, and technology education that AAAS and NSBA offered in June 2007 to local school boards from Kansas and Kansas City, Mo.
"The main thing is that science, math and technology education in the United States are not what they need to be," West said. "We don't score as well we should on international tests, But they play an increasingly important role in the 21st century economy, and the nation's future competitiveness is an issue. Furthermore, just to be a responsible citizen you need to understand things like global warming."
Some of the state school leaders who attended the AAAS reception believe that the route to improvement must include making today's adults, especially teachers, as comfortable as their students in dealing with new technology.
"Teachers are terrified that kids understand things that they don't know," said Peter Herman of Montpelier, Vt., president of the Vermont School Boards Association. "If we're going to change the system, the appropriate use of technology will change." With the development of new software programs, "you don't have to kill frogs in biology labs anymore," he added.
That's fine with Suzanne Schweiger-Nitchals of Phoenix, president of the Arizona School Boards Association, who said, "We may never have the funds to equip science labs the way we want to, but with new technology, you can do so much more."
The challenge, then, she explained, is to convince teachers, and the public, to buy into new methods of instruction in which teachers serve more as facilitators who help students explore and discover scientific principles.
Kevin Ciak of Sayreville, president of the New Jersey School Boards Association, agrees. "When you look at where science and technology are going in the 21st century, it's all about educating students to be exploratory learners," he said.
The AAAS approach drew strong endorsement from Robin Krause of Knob Noster, president of the Missouri School Boards Association. AAAS "brings real clarity and a scientific approach to how science should be taught in public schools—and it's not based on politics or ideology," he said.
8 February 2008