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Teachers' Summer Science Study Found to Benefit Students


A new study suggests that when science teachers spend their summers collaborating with university scholars on research projects, their students do better on standardized tests.

Scheduled to appear tomorrow in the journal Science, the study reports on effects from a professional development program at Columbia University for middle and high school science teachers from New York City's public schools. As part of the program, which is competitive, teachers spend a total of 16 weeks over two summers working with faculty mentors. The teachers spend one day a week in a professional-development session and the rest of the week in the laboratory.

To gauge the program's effects, a group of university researchers collected data on 32 teachers who passed through the program between 1994 and 2005 and who taught Regents-level science courses for several years in a row. (In New York City, high school students have to pass at least one Regents science test in order to graduate.)

Compared to teachers who did not take part in the program, the researchers found, the passing rates for students of participating teachers were 10 percent higher in the two years following their laboratory stints.

If you think the participating teachers were more motivated—and they probably were—you might also want to consider this: Before the study began, the students of teachers from both groups passed the exams at identical rates.

The growth in passing rates presumably came because teachers had improved their instruction. Most teachers did say, in fact, that they had changed their teaching to reflect what they had learned in their summer study programs. They introduced new laboratory exercises, for example, revised content, or introduced PowerPoint, chromatography, and other new technologies.

"Teachers are asked to teach inquiry-based science and that's something they never experienced when they were students," said Jay Dubner, a study co-author and the program coordinator. "This is actually giving them an experience they've only read about."

This study was 13 years in the making, though, and the researchers don't stop there. They go on to show how the program, which also includes a $6,000 stipend for teachers as well as other expenses, translates into short- and long-term cost savings for society. In the short term, savings come from a reduction in the number of students who have to retake a Regents science course and lower turnover rates among participating teachers.

The bottom line: For every $1 spent on the program, New York City's education department saved $1.14. The researchers calculate that the long-term savings amount to $10.27.

Dubner says the National Science Foundation has helped sponsor hundreds of programs like this around the country over the last two decades. This is the first study, though, to document its effects. When you consider that few professional development programs of any kind seem to yield much in the way of student-achievement effects, I'd say these findings give hope.


That is a heartening study. Years ago, the Council for Basic Education offered teachers similar fellowships in several different disciplines. (I wonder if fellowships in the humanities could yield similar results.) That project was de-funded because it was deemed extravagant.

There is a wonderful, long-running program in the San Francisco Bay area that puts teachers from all disciplines into real world settings each summer. IISME (Industry Initiatives for Science and Math Education) places ~200 teachers each summer. Columbia's Summer Research Program for Science Teachers has partnered with them. They 'suffer' from the same problem many of these teacher professional development programs experience, lack of centralized data to assess the impact on student achievement.

I am a science teacher always searching for classes that enrich and expand my ability to teach kids about science. Can someone direct me to other sites/areas/schools - that offer these classes? I have been teaching science in private, international schools and have been back in states for 3 years. I am shocked and dismayed at the level of education and science that is NOT getting to our kids at some of the public schools. (I am currently in AZ)I want to make a difference and be involved in the process.

This makes far more sense to me than spending the ridiculous amounts of money most of our states have spent and continue to spend on tests and machines to score them! I wish my own district would spend money on projects like this for teachers in all subject areas. If it works for science education-- and we all know how hard those texts are for many students to read -- it's sure to help students (and teachers) in other subjects as well.

There are several things that make this a successful professional development program:
1. 16 weeks over two summers
2. teachers are working with experts
3. teachers are paid for the internship.

Too many staff developement programs are one-shot or short-term with no follow-up. Research shows these are not effective for teacher change.
I am sure the teachers learned more science and how to carry on science experiments as they worked with professors. Finally, since teahers got a summer stipend, they were spending their time learning rather than at some other way to earm money.

Good comments, all. Thanks for contributing.
I think Maria hit the nail on the head with her comments on why this program seems to be succeeding.

Maria did hit the nail on the head. Studies have shown that you need at least 80 hours of a sustained professional development activity for it to have an impact on student achievement.

There is one other point that makes the Summer Research Program a premier professional development experience...the weekly pedagogical meetings. Over the course of the summer a Professional Learning Community forms. First year participants find the weekly meetings to be a 'comfort zone,' a place where they can talk about the struggles they are having in the lab and learn from the second year participants how to transfer the program experience to their classroom.

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