Report Links Increased Enrollments In Math, Science to Reforms of 80's

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More students are enrolling in advanced science and mathematics courses as a result of reforms enacted in the 1980's, a report by a team of education researchers concludes.

At the same time, fears that courses have been watered down to accommodate less-able students appear to be unfounded, the team from the Consortium for Policy Research in Education, based at Rutgers University, argues.

"The content of math and science courses appear[s] not to have been compromised by increased enrollments," the study, which was released last month, says.

Despite such progress, however, the research team found that new approaches to teaching math and science--advocated by such organizations as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics--have made little headway in teaching practices.

A key reason for this, team members said, is a lack of additional training in the new methods for teachers.

The N.C.T.M. math standards, as well as science-reform efforts led by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association, advocate a curriculum that emphasizes such skills as data-gathering and analysis instead of rote computation and memorization of scientific vocabularies.

The problem is that teachers generally have not been given the administrative support or training to make the transition from the existing pedagogy to the new model, said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education and business administration at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

"Even if students were taking algebra, it was rather traditional algebra," he said. "There was nothing new there in terms of content."

Mr. Kirst was one of five members of the research team, which was led by Andrew C. Porter, the director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Mr. Porter was traveling last week and could not be reached for comment.

The research was conducted with a grant from the National Science Foundation to CPRE, which also counts researchers from Harvard University and the University of Michigan among its membership.

Lack of Training

Mr. Kirst said the researchers set out to investigate the popularly held notion that states and local districts lowered their expectations of student performance even as they required them to complete more math and science courses to graduate.

The team studied enrollment patterns in six states--Arizona, California, Florida, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina--each of which significantly increased math and science requirements during the 1980's.

In each state, the research was conducted at two sites--one urban, the other suburban or rural.

The researchers observed classrooms and interviewed state education officials, district and school administrators, and teachers. They also asked some teachers to keep logs of their classroom practices.

They found that while some teachers were aware of the various reform efforts, few had had the time to apply the new approaches to their own work.

"Not one state or district that we looked at is doing anything like the necessary in-service work to teach these concepts," Mr. Kirst said. "Staff development is desperately needed if curriculum reform is to have its effect."

Moreover, few districts provide the necessary laboratory materials or field-studies needed to make the visions of national reformers a reality.

"The challenge for the 1990's," Mr. Kirst said, "is to move beyond intensifying the content to a changed pedagogy."

Vol. 14, Issue 06

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