Educational reform demands more than short-term, single-focus solutions. It requires a long-sighted, integrated approach-one that starts in kindergarten and involves the efforts of the entire community.
That is the thinking behind Project CONNSTRUCT, a statewide initiative to promote mathematics and science studies in Connecticut's public schools. Now in its fifth year, the program has met with encouraging success, citing real progress in the ways these subjects are taught, learned and assessed.
CONNSTRUCT was launched under President Bush's education plan. In 1990, after a thorough review of its programs, the National Science Foundation (NSF) issued a nationwide challenge: it would give grants to those states with the best proposals for systemic improvements in the mathematics, science and technology fields.
Connecticut was one of ten winners. Project CONNSTRUCT, created through a coalition of academic, business and government leaders, reaped $8.6 million in NSF funding, one of the largest competitive awards ever won by the state.
The initiative centers on focusing Connecticut's myriad educational elements and resources. These range from curriculum enhancement and teacher training, to public opinion and legislative mandates. CONNSTRUCT also seeks to strengthen the ties between the state's 1,000 schools and other technology-rich institutions, such as businesses, industries and museums. "Our aim is to raise the quality and quantity of instruction in the thousands of classrooms across the state," says Richard Cole, Executive Director of the Connecticut Academy of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology, the administrative arm that oversees Project CONNSTRUCT. "The courses we offer should prepare students for higher education, further their intellectual development, and be useful in job situations."
CONNSTRUCT targets change at the school district level. Although many of Connecticut's 166 districts embrace the idea of revamping the system, they need help implementing the revisions. Cognizant of that, CONNSTRUCT is working towards three goals:
Regarding upgrades to the curriculum, Dr. Cole adds that the national standards emphasize content that is less broad and more deep. "We want students to have a better understanding of certain, selective concepts, and with those concepts, to move beyond memorization, so they can apply what they learn," he says. The new standards also call for combining academic disciplines. English and mathematics instructors, for example, might team up to teach algebra as a language of logic.
Cole notes that the climate was ripe for reform when Project CONNSTRUCT began. Much groundwork had already been laid: the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) was in place, and the Common Core of Learning and Guides to Curricular Development had established course guidelines and student knowledge levels in the fields of mathematics and science. Additionally, two acts concerning teacher professionalism had been passed: one stepped up education, recertification and salary requirements; the other profiled Connecticut's school districts, along with their needs, resources and performance. A host of other refinements were under way as well.
"The state's activities weren't formally connected," says Dr. Cole, "nor were they totally fragmented. Nonetheless, they were all driven by an eagerness to make lasting improvements in technological education."
To carry out its goals, CONNSTRUCT has devised the following five strategies.
The first is the founding of the Connecticut Academy of Education in Mathematics, Science & Technology, a nonprofit organization conceived by CONNSTRUCT's framers and endorsed by the state Departments of Education and Higher Education.
"The academy is an advocate, catalyst and broker for higher standards," says Dr. Cole. As a formal body, it elevates CONNSTRUCT above the status of a simple program, ensuring that it will endure beyond the terms of the original NSF grant.
A diverse, 39-member board governs the academy. In addition, over 100 Connecticut residents serve as Fellows: this distinguished cadre, including college professors, industry experts and others, lends technical assistance to schools, the departments of education and other organizations. Members of the state's eight professional associations for mathematics, science and technology have also joined forces in the academy's Leadership Council, which coordinates policy and communicates information.
CONNSTRUCT's other strategies include:
Project CONNSTRUCT has evolved from a five-year initiative to a 12-year generational program. Its funding has grown as well, rising from $8.6 million in 1991 to over $22 million today. "More than 130 school districts are currently working to adopt new standards and procedures," says Dr. Cole. "By 2003, CONNSTRUCT promises to impact every student and community in Connecticut."
Many statistics already reflect encouraging trends throughout the state. For example:
Despite much progress in these areas, CONNSTRUCT still falls short of its objectives, says Dr. Cole. Consider these statistics:
The challenges to boosting the performance of all state students is immense, observes Dr. Cole. Part of the problem is that too few schools provide regular hands-on and minds-on learning, he says. "And, in doing that, we have to go beyond the idea that mathematics and science should be 'fun,'" he adds. "'Fun' often translates into meaningless exercises Instead, instruction should be intriguing, foster creative thinking, and explore different ways to arrive at the right answer."
Other issues include integration of national standards into daily, local lessons. Still, despite its shortcomings, Project CONNSTRUCT continues to pave the way toward universal mastery of mathematics and science, says Dr. Cole. "For the future, we'll look to broaden the impact, and scale up the intensity, of our operations."--Louise Petraitis, Indelible Communications.
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