Sustainability and Funding
Valle Imperial - Project in Science
Issues Pertaining to Funding
Continued funding and sustainability is an issue many LSC projects think about as the NSF funding is winding down. In order for continued funding and sustainability to truly become a reality, it must be part of a strategic plan for systemic reform and addressed from the inception of the reform effort. In other words, a funding plan for sustainability must be in place from day one. If systemic reform is truly to become systemic, the strategic plan must address two critical dimensions - restructuring and reculturing. Restructuring is the organization of the system itself in terms of five critical elements: 1) high quality curriculum; 2) sustained professional development; 3) materials support; 4) administrative/community support; and 5) assessment/evaluation. The reculturing dimension encompasses the roles, responsibilities and relationships established between the stakeholders within the system. Within this context, continued funding and sustainability must be viewed as an active and on-going process to insure that the reform effort will carry on over time.
There are several issues or questions that must be addressed as a project examines continued funding and sustainability. Who are the stakeholders? Do we have a vertical team making decisions by consensus or is this program viewed as one person's program? What would happen if the Superintendent were to leave? What about the press for reading and mathematics achievement due to state accountability requirements? Where is the data to support the impact of our project? What sources of local, state and federal funding are available and can be used to sustain our program? Does the leadership of our district or project have the will to continue our reform effort?
There are multiple entry points for addressing these questions regarding continued funding and sustainability in a long-term strategic plan. Four such entry points are easily accomplished if carefully planned and properly implemented. First, there is tremendous potential for continued funding and sustainability if a vertical team guides the reform effort. Second, in times of standards, assessment and accountability, sustainability must be data driven. Third, with extreme pressure on schools, principals and classroom teachers to improve reading and mathematics achievement, the sustainability entry point in the long-term strategic plan must address opportunities for the integration of reading and mathematics into the science program without diminishing the science content. The forth entry point is also critical. It is also more elusive in many respects. This entry point is the will of the system to sustain reform.
The power of a vertical team in guiding reform efforts is often undervalued in terms of its potential for sustainability. If an individual, not a team, guides systemic reform efforts, the voice is often fragile and not sustainable. This is especially true should that individual leave the reform effort. Superintendents generally have a short life span in many large districts. The power of many voices representing different segments of the stakeholder groups speaking as one has an impact on sustainability. Administrators, curriculum and professional development directors, principals, teachers, university staff, science professionals and parents are all members of this vertical team. When decisions are made by consensus by this vertical team, the voice is strong and lasting. Members of the vertical team often change, but the voice remains a common voice. This powerful, coherent, voice creates the broad base of support necessary to attract continued sources of funding and to ensure sustainability.
"This is a great program, but are the students learning anything?" This question is frequently asked of systemic reform programs. In times of standards, assessment and accountability, sustainability must be data driven. A plan for monitoring progress must begin with the inception of the reform effort. Not only must a plan for monitoring student progress be in place, but a plan for using the data to guide decisions must also be in place. The strategic plan also includes a mechanism to regularly report progress to the stakeholders. This can be in the form of school board presentations, newsletters, press releases and other media coverage. Many programs shortchange their capacity for sustainability and for attracting sources of funding, by not being data driven.
There is extreme pressure in almost every state, school district and classroom to improve reading/language arts and mathematics performance for all students. This press for improvement often removes time from the regular school day that was formally allocated to science instruction. The long-term plan for sustainability must include provisions to integrate reading/language arts and mathematics into the science curriculum without diminishing the science content. The vertical team must communicate to all stakeholders' current research on the fact that student reading/language arts and mathematics performance will only improve so much by just doing more of it. The issue of teaching for understanding versus teaching for coverage must take center stage in any discussion and decision making regarding how time during the school day is allocated. Increasingly, sustainability must be addressed through current research demonstrating the effects of student writing in science on reading comprehension, the impact of the use of mathematics in science, especially measurement and relations, functions and statistics. The impact of hands-on inquiry based science on the language development of English Language Learners must also be addressed in terms of learning and using language in context. We can easily find ways to link, rather than fragment, federal, state and local resources designed to improve reading/language arts, mathematics and English language development efforts with federal, state and local resources designated for science. We all must become stronger advocates for balance in our instructional programs for sustainability to occur. This aspect of strategic planning for sustainability is linked to the first two entry points - the power of the vertical team and planning to become data driven. Recognizing that there are vast differences between state funding mechanisms, I would be pleased to discuss alternatives with any of you during this virtual conference.
The fourth entry point discussed in this paper is also paramount to the sustainability of any reform effort. It comes more in a state of awareness and being than in an action. It is a state of being or awareness that causes action. From its inception in a system, the moral voice of the system must face a question that will guide all other decisions. The question is what is the "will" of the system to sustain reform. As superintendent's we have a strong role in shaping the will of our districts. We are now at a time in public education when we have more human, material and physical resources than we have ever had before in our history. The question is what is our will to use these resources in the highest and best use for our teachers and students? All too often we depend on grants to assist as a catalyst for reform and then not support the reform when the grant runs out. We do not depend on grants to replace light bulbs or paper towels. Why have we taken this position when in comes to instruction and reform programs? It is a question of will. As superintendent's we must have the will to support sustainability of our reform efforts. This is especially true if we have a common voice of support from a strong vertical team of stakeholders, a reform effort that is data driven and a reform effort that is focused on teaching for understanding rather than teaching for coverage. The will must be there as well.