U. CHICAGO (US)—In educational reform, change is not only good, it’s essential. In fact, today’s most effective approaches will need to adapt to be sustainable. Why? Because social processes are complex, says University of Chicago’s Jeanne Century, and complexity paralyzes reform efforts.
“Even when you identify best practices, they never, ever are replicated as they move from one place to another place. They always translate in one way or another. The idea that we can identify a best practice in education and just scale it up is a dramatic oversimplification,” says Century, director of science education at Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.
She compares the magnitude of the educational reform challenge to that of curing cancer. But people know that curing cancer is a huge problem requiring large investments of money over a long period; the perception is otherwise for educational reform.
“People expect us to make improvements in education immediately,” Century says. “People have the perception that we know what to do, so let’s just scale it up. What’s the problem?”
But research shows that people don’t do things simply because they’re effective, she says. Her newly launched Researchers Without Borders project is designed to surmount the disciplinary and institutional barriers that hinder lasting educational reform. Her research on the sustainability of science education reform is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
“The purpose of our project is to get us to a starting point,” she explains, “so we can just begin to study and accumulate knowledge about how to make changes in education last.”
April 29 talk: sustained reform
Century is scheduled to discuss these and related issues on April 29 in Irvine, Calif., during her keynote address at a convocation of stakeholders in California’s elementary science education system. Get details about the event: “Building a Village: Learning from and Sustaining Successful Programs in Elementary Science Education.”
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