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Keynoter to highlight need for continual change in sustainable education reform

Any educational reform, no matter how effective it may seem today, will have to change in order to last, according to University of Chicago education researcher Jeanne Century.

The oxymoron stems from the reality of complex social processes. But this complexity is paralyzing educational reform efforts, said Century, director of science education at the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.

"Even when you identify best practices, they never, ever are replicated as they move from one place to another place. They always translate in one way or another. The idea that we can identify a best practice in education and just scale it up is a dramatic oversimplification."

Century will discuss these and related issues on Wednesday, April 29, in Irvine, Calif., during her keynote address at a convocation of stakeholders in California's elementary science education system. She and her staff conduct research on the sustainability of science education reform with a grant from the National Science Foundation.

She compares the magnitude of the educational reform challenge to that of curing cancer. But people know that curing cancer is a huge problem requiring large investments of money over a long period; the perception is otherwise for educational reform.

"People expect us to make improvements in education immediately," Century said. "People have the perception that we know what to do, so let's just scale it up. What's the problem?"

But research shows that people don't do things simply because they're effective, she said. Her newly launched Researchers Without Borders project is designed to surmount the disciplinary and institutional barriers that hinder lasting educational reform.

"The purpose of our project is to get us to a starting point, so we can just begin to study and accumulate knowledge about how to make changes in education last," she said.

Topic: "How Can the Research Literature Inform Decisions About What Can and Should Be Sustained in Education?" Jeanne Century, Director of Science Education, Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, University of Chicago.

Venue: "Building a Village: Learning From and Sustaining Successful Programs in Elementary Science Education," a convocation of key stakeholders in California's science education program.

Convocation sponsors: The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council's Center for Education, the California Council on Science and Technology, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, and the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.

Steve Koppes | University of Chicago
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