Public schools in the United States need to improve in order to enable students to compete in the global economy and sustain our democratic way of life. Low-income students of color are particularly vulnerable in the current highly stratified educational environment where the least well-prepared receive the fewest educational resources while the best-prepared receive the most educational resources.
The educational discourse since the passage of ‘No Child Left Behind’ has been dominated by an obsession with students’ performance on short answer, rapid fire standardized tests and assertions that poor teachers are the reason for poor student performance. Studies of countries with the highest student performance demonstrate that an entirely different orientation can lead to successful school improvement. Instead of trying to fire poor performing teachers or privatizing public schools, the most successful nations invest in improving teachers’ content knowledge and professional expertise by fostering teachers’ professional learning communities.
The formation of professional learning communities is especially well suited to address the lack of alignment in curriculum between elementary, middle, and secondary schools, including those in the San Diego Union School District (SDUSD). Currently, each segment of the K-12 system designs and implements its own version of curriculum, which disables students when they are promoted to the next segment of the system. Furthermore, the independence of the segments also often requires middle school and high school teachers to cover materials they had anticipated would have been covered in the students’ previous grades.
We propose TPDS, a collaborative project between Science Education Association of San Diego (SEASAND), UCSD, SDUSD to build a model system to demonstrate the viability of “vertical teaming” among K-12 teachers in order to align the science curriculum and instruction in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Our pilot program will be situated in the San Diego cluster of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools within the San Diego Unified School District. We have chosen the science curriculum, starting with Earth Sciences, to test our model because of the expertise and years of experience in vertical teaming of the educators associated with SEASAND, which is the California Subject Matter project serving San Diego County. We will leverage the work done by SEASAND on Climate Change last summer. The California Math Project has expressed an interest to extend this model to their subject matters. The sustainability of this effort will be ensured by the involvement of UCSD Extension in structuring the process and learning from this pilot into courses that can be offered to teams of teachers who can develop this type of teaming model and create positive STEM outcomes in their own school cluster and subject matter. CREATE will manage this project and will work on this pilot project to its successful completion including evaluation and, in parallel, record and abstract the knowledge for future use by UCSD Extension.