Power does not reside in institutions, not even the state or large corporations. It is located in the networks that structure society.
- Manuel Castells, “Afterword: Why Networks Matter”
Networks bring people together. They facilitate collaboration and the sharing of resources and ideas that, in turn, foster learning and knowledge development. And, as Francis Bacon—who is recognized as the originator of empirical methods of inquiry—famously said, knowledge is power.
In NCRPP’s recent work, we’ve also found that networks facilitate research use for school and district leaders . Our recent study of research use among members of the Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS) likewise found that networks of policy makers and educational leaders facilitate access to research that informs decisions related to statewide science education reform.
Visit our Our Work page to access and download the full report: Findings from a Study of State Science Leaders.
Implementing reform in science education
Last spring, we surveyed members of the Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS), a professional organization composed of science education specialists who serve at the state, territorial, or the protectorate educational agency in the United States and U.S. territories. Its members include all current supervisors of science education in State Education Agencies, as well as former supervisors. Within their jurisdictions, supervisors play key roles in directing efforts at ensuring excellence and equity in science education as outlined in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, which guides the development of science standards in many states and was used in the articulation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
As the vision of the Framework is being transformed into new curriculum materials, instructional strategies, and assessments in the process of implementation, it is critical that CSSS members have access to knowledge of sound evidence to facilitate changes in their states that ensure that students have equitable opportunities to learn and pursue science. Such changes require the reorganization of education systems around building understanding of disciplinary core ideas over time, engagement of students in the practices of science and engineering, and application of crosscutting concepts that unify science.
Using research in implementation efforts
We asked CSSS members a variety of questions to understand the activities they engage in as state science supervisors, as well as how they access and use research in their work. Sixty-one CSSS members across 38 states responded to our survey and reported that their work most frequently involves activities that attend to key components of their state’s education systems, including: reviewing and developing state science standards, designing state science assessments, and designing or conducting teacher professional development.
The research that CSSS members used to inform their state’s decisions likewise related to implementation of the Framework focused on instructional practices and student learning in science, such as the National Academies Press report, Ready, Set, Science!, and the edited volume, Working with Big Ideas.
Leveraging networks for research use
CSSS members most often accessed research through their professional networks, including through CSSS, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and colleagues in state departments of education, rather than via other research outlets such as the What Works Clearinghouse. Broad engagement in CSSS networks, such as through CSSS-sponsored meetings and workshops, appeared to facilitate the use of research more than activities like visiting or collaborating with other states.
These professional opportunities likely facilitated the development of a robust research network for CSSS members, who reported turning to a variety of individuals for research to inform their state’s decisions related to the Framework. These individuals represented a range of organizational affiliations, and included 16 current CSSS members, 7 former CSSS members, 8 state department of education leaders, 7 local educational leaders, 29 individuals working for educational non-profit organizations, and as many as 75 university researchers.
Visualizing the research network
To the right is a visual display of CSSS members’ research network.
In the diagram, each node represents an individual who was named by CSSS members as someone they turned to for research to inform their state’s decisions. Node color indicates organizational affiliation, as outlined in the key. Nodes are sized by the number of CSSS members who named that individual; the larger the node, the more often that person was turned to for research.
The diagram shows that CSSS members have a well-connected research network, indicating that most individuals can access one another via other individuals in the network. This is important, as it suggests that research can flow across the network relatively easily.
A few former CSSS members and university researchers are prominent in CSSS members’ research network, suggesting that the research they share is particularly influential. Former CSSS members are also key sources of research, suggesting that their participation in CSSS activities helps to preserve association memory around the kinds of research that inform members’ work, which is important for sustaining implementation efforts.
These findings reveal the power of networks for facilitating state science supervisors’ access to research, research that they use to inform their state’s implementation of the Framework, which aims to foster excellent and equitable educational opportunities in K-12 science.
Even so, it was striking that very little of the research that CSSS members used focused on science education reform in diverse contexts. As demographics shift in states and districts across the country, it will be important to consider how science education reform is implemented equitably across race and ethnicity, gender identity, socioeconomic status, language, and attributed ability, and for science education researchers to attend to these complex issues in their work.
Megan Hopkins is Assistant Professor of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her current work uses mixed methods, including social network analysis, to examine how formal policies and organizational structures, as well as school norms and individual beliefs, shape teachers’ opportunities to learn within and between education systems, especially those undergoing demographic and/or policy change.