Science + More Time = Stronger Results

This week, NCTL hosted a science event with the The After-School Corporation (TASC) and the Noyce Foundation at the American Natural History Museum in New York. We had the opportunity to highlight our report on how more time can boost science education, Strengthening Science Education: The Power of More Time to Deepen Inquiry and Engagement. In some sense, this event was similar to the one in D.C. at Change the Equation when we released the report back in November, where policy and school leaders discussed how more school time and better science education are inextricably linked. At this week’s event in New York, I was left thinking about comments from four of the speakers…

First, the opening and closing message of the day came from Ron Ottinger, Executive Director of the Noyce Foundation, which provided financial support for our publication. The Noyce Foundation has been a national leader on promoting improved science education. Ron challenged the audience, NCTL and TASC to take the event’s conversation to the next level. How do we implement the strategies and models identified in the report in more schools and with more community science partners across the nation? NCTL takes that challenge seriously because we know better science education can lead to better career opportunities and better lives for our students.    
Second, we were delighted to hear Kumar Garg, a policy analyst with the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, talk about our report having caught the attention of key White House staff. Kumar went on to explain that President Obama takes the mission of science education very seriously and, in addition to launching several important initiatives, he is determined to elevate the importance of science education achievement.  If winning sports teams are invited to the White House, why not winning science teams?  Check out this awesome video of President Obama firing a marshmallow across the State Dining Room of the White House during the White House Science Fair!

Third, as she was presenting on the role of her Community Development Corporation in trying to provide for better educational opportunities for the children of her neighborhood (Harlem), Sheena Wright, President & CEO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, described her sense of urgency. “We’re at war,” she declared matter-of-factly. “We don’t have 20 years to try to figure out a plan to fix what is wrong with schools. We have to do this now, for the children who are in the schools now.” I think her strong words reminded the hundred or so folks in the room—a mixture of practitioners and policymakers—that we cannot let up on the work we are all engaged in to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.  The pressure to dramatically improve public education must remain a top American priority. 
Finally, the specific task was defined more concretely by Gregg Bethiel, the Executive Director, Office of School Programs & Partnerships at the New York City Department of Education. In his remarks about what the NYC Department of Ed is doing to boost science education, he suggested to audience members that “We know what good science education is. And we have the curricula to make science exciting and engaging. It just hasn’t been available to all.” Indeed, what our report shows is that there are schools and teachers and community partners out in the world that are bringing better science learning opportunities to their students, but because of lack of the strategic allocation of resources and better coordination, these success stories are too rare, especially in schools serving large populations of poor children.  That has to change. 
After witnessing a substantive, serious discussion like this in New York, it is hard not to notice that there are indeed a lot of people paying attention and working hard to turn recommendations of the study into reality. Looks like we’re gaining some ground in the war.