Every district wants to improve student performance as efficiently as possible. Scientists and educators at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle say they’ve found a way — at least in chemistry and biology: Bring scientists to middle schools and have them teach the teachers.
“There’s tons of data out there about the number of science and math teachers who don’t have a science or math degree,” said Dana Riley Black, director of the institute’s Center for Inquiry Science. “But now they have these rock-star scientists at the table, and teachers learn all kinds of new content.”
State test scores suggest that student performance improved after the institute’s training, which takes place in two-day sessions three times per year. In the last 10 years, districts from Seattle to Tacoma to Snoqualmie Valley have signed on. But the biggest difference, the one that got researchers truly excited, was the jump in test scores among low-income students.
A study by the National Science Foundation found that Seattle’s s high-poverty schools improved their science scores by more than 36 percent.
In Everett, the collaboration between educators and institute scientists affected about 9,000 students between 2009 and 2012. During that time and afterward, passing rates on state science tests jumped 20 to 30 percentage points.
“It’s hard to make a direct correlation,” said Brian Day, who oversees science curricula in the Everett schools. “But our scores have gone up, and they’ve gone up during that time, definitely.”
Much of the institute’s work with science teachers was been funded through grants from Washington’s Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction and Boeing. Since 2000, the institute estimates that it has worked with more than 200 teachers and administrators, improving instruction for thousands of kids.
“Science has been back-burnered – if it’s even on the stove top,” said Black. “But I always think of biology as the new liberal arts. It should be a starting point for all fields.”
Next up: training math teachers.