The impact of a state systemic initiative on U.S. science teachers and students

Douglas Huffman, Francis Lawrenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study investigated the extent to which a State Systemic Initiative (SSI), a National Science Foundation program designed to improve science education across an entire state, implemented in the United States, could reform science education. Impacts that were measured included teachers' instructional practices, professional community, influence of the SSI on school policy, external influences on science instruction, and family involvement. In addition, students' views of instructional practice, school community and family involvement were measured. A retrospective comparative design was used to collect survey data from 46 middle schools: 23 that had significant amounts of contact with the SSI and 23 matched schools that had little to no contact with the SSI. The results suggested there were important differences favoring schools whose science teachers had participated in the SSI. Included were differences in the use of standards-based instruction, and external influences on science instruction teachers' influence on policy. No differences between the two groups were found for professional community or family involvement. For students, significant differences were only found for access to standards-based instruction. Results imply that SSIs can help change specific aspects of the system, but broader impacts are more difficult to achieve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-377
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
As in many countries around the world, the United States is currently engaged in an effort to reform science education. With funding from the federal government numerous new programs were created in an attempt to reform aspects of educational systems. Included were systemic initiatives at both the state and local level, and initiatives with a focus on urban or rural areas. One such program that was funded by the National Science Foundation was the State Systemic Initiatives (SSIs) program. The SSIs were designed to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace and increase the effectiveness of improvements in K-12 science and mathematics education throughout an entire state. These initiatives followed closely on the heels of the development of national standards for science and mathematics in the United States and were grounded in the belief that significant change would be most likely in an entire system that was supportive of change. From the National Science Foundation (NSF) point of view the goal was

Funding Information:
The authors of this study were independently funded by the National Science Foundation to conduct a retrospective study of the impact of SSIs on teachers and students. We were not part of any SSI implementation, which allowed us to provide an external perspective on the program. The SSI examined in this study worked intensively with some schools more than others creating a natural ex-post facto comparison design. In this design, the views of teachers and students from schools with high involvement in the SSI were compared to those with little or no involvement in the SSI. The treatment group included 8th grade science teachers in schools with a high level of contact with the SSI. High level of contact was defined as a school where at least 50% of the science teachers participated in the professional development activities offered by the SSI. The comparison group included 8th grade science teachers in matched schools where the science teachers had no or very low contact with the SSI. No or low contact was defined as schools where less than 20% of the science teachers were involved in the SSI and where the remaining percentage of teachers were involved in SSI activities for less than one day.

Funding Information:
The SSI program studied in this state began in 1991 and was funded by the National Science Foundation for eight years along with matching funds from the state department of education. The grant was made to the state department of education, and all SSI activities were administered by the state department of education. The goal of the SSI was to improve mathematics and science education through professional development opportunities, enhance the way the subject matter was taught in the classroom, and increase the use of standards-based curriculum, instruction and assessment. The SSI program itself was designed to impact many aspects of the educational system; however, one of the unique features of this SSI was its focus on professional development. The goal was to help impact teachers through professional development as a means of systemic reform. A wide variety of professional development workshops were offered throughout the state. From 1999–2001 the SSI offered 63 professional development workshops. Throughout the state, more than 7,000 teachers from 66 school districts were impacted. The SSI workshops were sponsored by the state department of education, but they were offered by university faculty. Teachers could pick and choose among a wide variety of different offerings with varied length and duration. The workshops ranged from short three to five day workshops, to longer summer workshops with extended follow-up throughout the school year. For example, in one workshop for biology, chemistry, and physical science teachers the focus was on collecting and analyzing water collected from a local watershed. The teachers attended an initial ten day summer workshop, followed by five additional days during the academic school year. Given the voluntary nature of teachers’ participation, the engagement of teachers varied quite widely, which meant that some teachers engaged in more professional development than others.

Funding Information:
One of the key findings from the present study is that both high SSI contact teachers and their students reported using more standards-based in- structional techniques as defined by the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996). This included instructional techniques such as participating in discussions to deepen understandings, working on solving real-world problems, engaging in more hands-on activities, and recording, representing and analyzing data. This is an important finding for systemic reform and suggests that systemic reform efforts are associated with standards-based instructional practice. It may be that teachers who engaged in SSI sponsored professional development activities tended to have more standards-based classroom environments, or it may be that the SSI actually had an impact on teachers’ instructional practice. This is a positive finding for professional development given that short-term professional development does not always have such an impact on classroom practice (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998). This finding is also supported by previous research. In a comprehensive study using U.S. national longitudinal data from over one thousand teachers, Desimone, Porter, Garet Yoon and Bir-man (2002) found that high quality professional development, including collective participation, long term contact, active learning, coherence and content focus can have a positive influence on teachers’ classroom practice.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Professional development
  • Reform
  • Science education

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