Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Roland Otto
(edited by the speaker)

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 Go back to transcript of Justine Su

Teachers are the key to student learning and ongoing teacher preparation and professional development are essential components of a healthy education system. Fortunately in California we now have rigorous grade by grade level standards in four subject areas to aid in the professional development and preparation of teachers.

The California Subject Matter Projects is a teacher professional development network which comprises nine discipline based projects with about 100 professional development sites located on California State University and University of California Campuses. Under AB1734 six of the projects, (Writing, Reading and Literature, Mathematics, Science, History-Social Studies, and International Studies have been re-authorized with an explicit mandate to align the work of the projects with the four academic content standards. Three of the projects (Foreign Language, Arts, and Physical Education - Health are supported by the University of California Office of the President. All nine projects are administered through the UC Office of the President.

The web site for the CSMP's is

Under AB1734 the CSMPs are to carry out work in the following six areas.

  • Academic Content Knowledge
  • Developing teacher leadership
  • Contracted Services with low performing schools and districts
  • Partnerships with schools.
  • Professional Community and teacher networks
  • Evaluation

Taken together these six areas represent significant new challenges and ways of doing business. A short review of the accomplishments of the Subject Matter Projects, makes it clear that the nine CSMP's can have significant impact on California teachers.

In 1995-96 over 67,000 California teachers from 500 districts across the state and all 58 counties participated in CSMP activities. Teacher leaders in the CSMP's numbered over 10,700 and had an average of 15 years teaching experience, distributed somewhat proportionally between elementary, middle and high school grade levels. All subject matter areas were represented with half of the leaders specializing in mathematics, science or language arts. Teacher leaders organized and presented at intensive summer institutes, academic year workshops and professional conferences.. They provided support and follow-up to teachers at school sites and participated in advising school site and district and state policy makers and assisting program directors for state funded schools programs such as the middle school demonstration project and many others.

The CSMP's have built capacity for reaching teachers without increased funding. Between the period from 1992 to 1995 the number of teacher contact hours increased from just over 1 million to 1.6 million. The direct and indirect contributions of CSU, UC and Private universities in California have contributed significantly to capacity of the projects and well as to the quality of the experience in those contract hours.

Teacher participants reported that the following benefits:

  • Received concrete ideas for lessons
  • Added to content knowledge
  • Received help in developing curriculum
  • Deepened understanding in topics and teaching
  • Acquired strategies to reach underrepresented students

Two of several key distinguishing features of the California Subject Matter Projects include

  • An explicit commitment and systemic attention given to tapping the source of practioner knowledge that is possessed by the State's best teachers.
  • Belief in the centrality of the discipline and in the importance of providing teachers with an opportunity to engage in, and learn from the practice of the discipline.

Under AB1734 Mazoni 75% of the participants in the subject matter projects are to be from low performing schools. Teachers in these schools are more likely to be new to the profession and lack certification. At the middle school and level they are more likely to not have majored in the subject areas they are teaching and to hold multiple subject credentials. At the high school level they are more likely to be teaching out of their subject matter specialization, and to have less than a minor in the subject matter they teach. In the face of these challenges the Subject Matter projects are forming partnerships with low performing schools and assuming mutual accountability for raising student achievement in the schools where they are working.

The key to student achievement is quality teaching and the key to quality teaching is professional development. Teacher professional development is the work that teachers do to prepare themselves for improving their students' learning and understanding. In the subject matter projects the use of faculty and professionals who "do the discipline" provide teachers with an opportunity to experience learning the skills and knowledge base of the discipline, at the same time they are developing and reflecting on teaching methods, designing curriculum or constructing lessons. One of the most effective approaches for engaging teachers in learning both content and pedagogy is to share and discuss student work.

As standards become the organizing principle for professional development activities, the design and implementation of institutes and workshops will have to change to avoid superficial coverage of standards without deeper reflection on their implications for teaching and learning. With the State Board of Education adopted standards in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and History-Social Sciences, the content is defined at each grade level. This should have the positive effect of eliminating the question of "what content?" and allow teachers to explore and develop their own understanding of the prescribed content, how to best teach that content and what expectations they have for their students.

Will putting content standards at the core of the design for professional development in low performing schools meet the needs of teachers in these schools, especially inexperienced and new teachers? It has been suggested that many classroom management and student behavior problems are issues of weak curriculum and instruction in disguise. Standards based professional development will allow teachers to align their curriculum to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge called for in the standards that infact student are learning in high performing schools. It will provide teachers with the pedagogical tools, including but not limited to instructional and assessment strategies that allow them to check to see if their students have access to learning and show evidence for understanding. At the same time standards based professional development will deepen teachers own understanding of the discipline. I would note that for elementary school teachers a major issues is balancing the time allocated to the various subject areas. (which under the current testing structure should be read as finding time for science and history-social studies) This suggests combined disciplinary or intedisciplinary elementary institutes that address the balance and time allocation issues these teachers will face.

At this point I would like to shift my focus to professional development in science. The nature of Science requires investigation and experimentation activities in science teaching. Having content rich, specific grade by grade standards allows for the proper use of inquiry based instruction. During the hearings on the science standards there were many who complained that the academic content standards did not promote inquiry based teaching and learning. Some would go so far as to say that since inquiry was the essential content of science, teaching inquiry as a way of knowing was most important and further did not necessarily require factual science content.

These disagreements stem from disparate views on the nature of science. Glenn Seaborg wrote in A Letter to a Young Scientist, recently published under the Great Explorations in Math and Science series by the Lawrence Hall of Science;

"Dear Dianne, I understand that you think you may be interested in a career in science. Perhaps it will be helpful if I share with you some of my thoughts on the value and rewards of such a career. I remember well the influence and considerations that let me to turn in this direction as a very young man."

Glenn goes on to recount his introduction to science through his high school teacher and how it takes many people with different talents and abilities all working together to do important tasks in science that will bring benefits in medicine, agriculture, industry etc. He then states

"Science is an organized body of knowledge and a method of proceeding to an extension of this knowledge by hypothesis and experiment."

For Glenn Seaborg the focus is on the organized body of knowledge. It forms the basis and I would add the beauty and power of the discipline of Science. The role of scientific inquiry is to extend this knowledge. So what should we teach students? In the next sentence Glenn goes on to say,

"By learning fundamental principles, by mastering the elements of the scientific method, by acquainting yourself with the experimental techniques available to the modern scientist you can proceed with near certainty to significant scientific advances and to achievement which may exceed that of many mental giants of generation ago."

The answer for Glenn Seaborg was principles of science, and the elements of scientific methods and experimental techniques in modern science.

During the hearings on the standards many cautioned that there is already too much emphasis in current science teaching and learning on memorization. Glenn Seaborg took exception to the view in his May 6th opening remarks to the Science Committee of the Academic Standards commission.

"I noted that a number of respondents have expressed opposition to memorization of facts (which they refer to factoids) and concepts. They prefer only emphasis on "Big Ideas". I must say that I cannot agree with this view of memorization which has been the life blood of my entire career. During my high school chemistry and physics courses, I read and re-read my textbook assignments until I had memorized them. This led to my understanding and ability to work problems. As a working scientist, memorization of experimental data led to discoveries - memorization of the chemical properties of the heaviest elements led me to propose the actinide concept for which I received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Rather than discourage, I would encourage memorization for science students."

Experienced teachers have found the balance and professional development should provide opportunities for teachers to share their knowledge on effective practices including the role of memorization.

The Academic Science Content Standards are not perfect but go a long way toward expressing the core content for modern science and technology. The Science Academic Content Standards focus on the key concept principles and theories in science. Professional development should focus on giving teachers the opportunity to learn to teach these concept, principles and theories so that students are able to use them for understanding the natural world. This will both inform teaching and deepen teachers' understanding of the content. I would like to illustrate how a focus on the fundamental concept, principles and theories can provide a proper emphasis for professional development in science.

 Private Universe, a video documentation of student misconceptions opened by asking Harvard graduates "Why are there seasons?" The documentary goes on to show a high school teacher attempting to teach the correct view of seasons and phases of the moon. The instruction seems to focus on relating several factors, the tilt of the Earth's axis with respect to the plane of its orbit around the sun and the position of the Earth in its orbit at various times of the year. However as the accompanying diagram illustrates there is a more fundamental reason that is not taught or even suggested in this video that explains both the seasons and the variations in temperature between the poles and the equator. The diagram would illustrate that sun light falling on a plane at 45 degrees has a full 30% less energy (fewer photons) than sun light falling perpendicular to the same plane.

This is the primary cause of temperature change with lattitude. Students should be taught this principle as part of the instruction in standards such as California Science Content standards e.g. Sixth grade - (4a & b) Many phenomena on the Earth's Surface are affected by the transfer of energy through radiation and convection. Or High School Earth Science (4a and b) Energy enters the Earth system primarily as solar radiation and eventually escapes as heat

So what is the implications for professional development in relation to the California Science Content Standards? One implication is that teachers and content experts (often practicing scientists or many times experienced secondary teachers) should explore together the fundamental concepts, principles and theories needed for understanding each of the California Science Content Standards. They should identify the prerequisite knowledge needed for understanding and develop ways to assess if students' knowledge on a continual basis. They should develop teaching strategies and methods based on these concepts, principles and theories, that are accessible to all students, and they should explore ways to weave in the investigation and experimentation standards. This type of professional development work will result in more efficient and effective teaching and to greater student acheivement.

Go to transcript of Michael Podgursky 


Contact the organizers

Postal and telephone information:

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education

College of Science and Mathematics

California State University Northridge

18111 Nordhoff St.

Northridge CA 91330-8235

Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)

FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)