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Establishing Long-Term Partnerships between K-12 Districts and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Faculty

Abstract

To strengthen K-12 mathematics and science education, one strategy has been to engage faculty from institutions of higher education (IHEs)--and in particular the faculty from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines--to collaborate with K-12 schools. The faculty are assumed to bring a high level of substantive expertise, to benefit both K-12 teachers and students.

Such an assumption is central to NSF's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program. The program requires STEM discipline faculty and K-12 schools to collaborate and ultimately to "...undergo the institutional change to sustain the partnership effort beyond the funding period" (NSF-03-541). Unfortunately, numerous earlier experiences have shown how these collaborative efforts are rarely sustainable. A major problem derives from the inability to create mutual benefits, with STEM faculty especially gaining little benefit to offset its need to pursue its own disciplinary teaching and research.

The present study examined the variety of collaborative activities supported by the MSP program, to determine which ones might hold any promise of continuing. Most of the activities resembled those of previous collaborative efforts.

However, one activity--the design and offering of formal IHE courses in STEM discipline departments for enrollment by existing K-12 teachers (therefore, not preservice programs)--differed from the past and appeared promising. This activity may produce mutual benefits and may form the basis for sustaining university-school partnerships. The study concludes that federal, state, and local agencies also can encourage this activity. For instance, school districts could require their teachers to satisfy their professional development needs by taking such courses.

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