The Boston Science Partnership (BSP) aims to improve science education in Boston from middle school through graduate school.

BSP's vision

The BSP's vision is that at the end of our project challenging core science courses will be taught by highly qualified teachers; advanced science courses will be accessible to all BPS students; university faculty will work alongside K12 teachers in science education reform; and new structures will promote student achievement in science in grade 6 through 12. We envision this project as an exchange program, where science and engineering professors and pre-service science teachers learn as much about science education from K12 teachers as the teachers and pre-service teachers learn about science content from professors.

We have five goals:

  • Goal 1- Raise student achievement in science. [more]
  • Goal 2- Significantly improve the quality of BPS science teachers. [more]
  • Goal 3- Increase the number of students who succeed in higher-level courses in science, and who are admitted to and retained in university science and engineering programs. [more]
  • Goal 4- Improve science teaching both in BPS and at the universities. [more]
  • Goal 5- Institutionalize changes so that the Boston Science Partnership and its work will be sustained. [more]

The BSP brings together three core partners - Boston Public Schools, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts Boston as the lead organization - along with three supporting partners, Harvard Medical School, Roxbury Community College and the College Board. Research and evaluation is led by Educational Development Center. EDC supports research and the project evaluators are PERG at Lesley University .

The BSP project began in September 2004 with a Math Science Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation. In 2006, the NSF awarded a supplement to add RCC and BHCC to the partnership and support a research study of the STEM pipeline in Boston. A second supplement, received in 2008 and 2009, funds the Science Education Fellowships (SEF) in Boston. The grant will be completed in August, 2012. Funding to date totals over $14 million

See a short overview of the BSP and results here The BSP is led by a team of five co-PIs, a project director, and numerous full-time and part-time staff. We reach teachers, university faculty and students through a number of programs such as Contextualized Content Courses, Collaborative Coaching and Learning in Science, Vertical Planning, the Science Education Fellowship and the AP Student Support Program. See a graphic of our four core strategies here.

Since the start of the project, we have seen impressive results in student achievement, teacher quality, and relationships between the BPS and local higher education institutions. Read more here. Read exerpts from our evaluators' annual reports here. A full bibliography of our references is here.

Why is this important?

Starting in 2010, all Boston Public School students must pass one of the four MCAS science tests to graduate high school. With a diploma in hand, those students can continue in their education and careers. The need for a scientifically educated workforce is well documented, and Boston's need is no different. However, about one-third of Massachusetts workers lack the skills necessary to compete in the knowledge economy (MassINC, 2002). In Boston achievement rates for African American and Hispanic students, who are 76% of the school-age population, lag behind those of white and Asian students. For example, only 60% of 9th graders graduate in four years (BPS, 2009). 79% of 2009 high school students passed the science MCAS, an 8% increase over the prior year, leaving work to be done to reach the remaining 21%. Regional economic strength and personal career success in the "new economy" require skills gained in part through science attainment. With the health care sector, the green economy and innovation high among Boston's economic engines (The Boston Foundation, 2009), skills in the sciences open doors to employment.

What has the BSP done about it?

The BSP's programs directly address student achievement at every turn. Whether it is through lesson study groups in schools, graduate content courses at the universities, or aligning the curriculum, we focus on teaching and learning science. Strategies are synergistic, and have potential spill-over effects throughout school buildings and the district (Jackson and Bruegmann, 2009). Additionally, our programs provide opportunities for teachers at all stages of their careers to engage in improvement and become classroom leaders.

What are the results?
  • In 2008 71% of students passed the science MCAS and in 2009 that number jumped by 8% to 79%. In the same time the state average increased by 2% showing that progress is being made in Boston, even though there is still more work to be done.

  • Of those passing 34% earned a Proficient/ Advanced score, an increase of 5% over the prior year, and a greater increase than the state average.

  • Jumps for subgroups were encouraging, as each subgroup did better than that group the year prior, in many cases by 10 points or more.

Group Science 2008 Science 2009 % gain
African American 53 67 14
Asian 89 92 3
Latino/ Hispanic 55 68 13
White 78 87 9
Students with Disabilities 27 42 15
LEP/ FLEP 38 54 26
Low income 61 71 10

Why is this important ?

The greatest factor affecting student achievement is teacher quality (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Haycock, 1998). Recent studies indicate that teacher quality accounts for a greater amount of the variance in student achievement than do such variables as the racial composition of schools or students' economic levels (NRC, 2001). BPS is no exception to national statistics, in which many teachers are teaching "out of license," that is, outside of their primary area of expertise (Ingersoll, 1999). It is known that low-income and minority children have a much greater probability of having teachers who are unlicensed and/or teaching outside their fields (Jerald, 2002).

Much evidence suggests that students learn science best when they are engaged in scientific inquiry rather than when acting as passive vessels being filled with knowledge (Bransford, et al., 1999; Pellegrino, et al., 2001; Haury, 1993). Although it is well understood that methods of instruction engaging students in scientific inquiry are essential in teaching students science (NRC, 1996), evidence indicates that most science instructors K-16 continue to offer science lessons almost exclusively in traditional and often less effective formats where the instructor lectures (Bybee, 2000). At the undergraduate level, poor science teaching is the most common complaint (83%) cited by undergraduate students (Gibson and Chase, 2002). Improved science instruction at the university level leads to increased retention in science and math courses (Baretto, 2002).

What has the BSP done?

Our strategies are synergistic, and they work to reach teachers across the district with support in their school (CCLS), in university courses (CCC), and through workshops (Vertical Planning) or support for advanced placement work. Teachers engage with pedagogy, content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, the specific talent teachers have to bring students along in that subject. For example, in CCLS groups, teachers within one building gain deeper knowledge of assessment strategies, best practices, new tools for reaching students and resources. They focus closely on making the most of various elements of teaching, such as using evidence, lab notebooks, group work, formative assessment, and reading strategies.

What are the results?
  • Doubled the number of licensed physics teachers.

  • Created professional pathways for teachers to grow as leaders: 38 adjunct instructors; engaged 182 middle and high school teachers in focused peer-led professional development; prepared 66 teachers to run AP science courses; Created the Science Education Fellowship.

  • Contributed to 170 new licenses being earned by 25% of all teachers of science over the past three years. Result: increase of 47% in the number of science courses taught by teachers with the appropriate license.

  • Enrolled 240 BPS teachers in content courses specifically created to support the district-wide curriculum. Courses are co-taught with university faculty and middle and high school teachers - effectively linking content and pedagogy.

  • Launched the Science Education Fellowship to further develop teacher instructional leadership with the first cohort of 20 teachers teaching grades K - 12.

Why is this important ?

Undergraduate students from low-income families, high-poverty schools, and with parents who did not attend college are as likely as their counterparts from more privileged backgrounds to complete undergraduate degrees if they have taken rigorous, advanced math and science courses in high school (Campbell, et al., n.d.). Peer and parental pressures to succeed academically are less prevalent, however, in urban schools. Incentives help to maintain positive results - teachers and students have greater motivation to do quality work in schools linked to institutions of higher education (Cohen and Ball, 2003). Boston offers some of the country's highest quality institutions of higher education with enormous resources to support these goals. Challenging courses that are vertically aligned from grades 6 through graduate school will increase the numbers of students pursuing advanced science courses, majoring in science, and ultimately pursuing science and engineering careers.

What has the BSP done?

The BSP partnered with the College Board to develop a series of workshops on vertical teaming in science. The unique model brings higher education faculty into the discussions so that the content expectations can anchor the conversations and so that faculty can understand the preparation their students have prior to college. In the first years we created content maps that illustrate how concepts build across the years towards college-level material. Teams worked in each discipline area to "backward map" concepts from Freshman back to grade six. In more recent years, Navigation Guides were created by teacher leaders to ensure that core concepts receive the attention necessary.

Our vertical planning model is profiled in the College Board's revised Vertical Planning Guide for AP Science, released in fall, 2009.

To encourage the formation of a supportive university learning community, the universities support regular structured opportunities for sharing and reflection on the practice of science teaching. For example, at UMB this takes the form of COSMIC seminars. Senior administrators work with faculty to implement a reward system for those who participate and improve their educational practices both pre- and post- tenure. Along with the other supports in the colleges, those from underrepresented communities benefit from links between their high school years and their college experiences.

A number of one-day programs bring students to the campuses for hands-on labs and tours. These connections introduce young people to the college resources early and often. Programs include the Harvard Explorations for middle school students, From Community College to University for Bunker Hill Community College science students, East Boston High School visits to the chemistry department, and others.

What are the results?
  • Tripled AP science enrollment while increasing the percentage of passing scores. Increased reach of support to serve 33 AP science classes in four subject areas. 66% are in non-exam schools.

  • In the summer of 2008, 18 teachers brought 308 AP students to one of three universities for 8 full days of advanced study and lab time, exposing high school students to life on the campus.

  • Supported changing graduation requirements. Starting in 2010, BPS students must pass the one of the four science MCAS tests. The BSP participants increase the percent of students passing state MCAS science tests.

  • Provided tools so that teachers can increase rigor across the district, better preparing students for college.

  • Developed stronger pathways to and access to advanced science course work. Teacher leaders created 43 curriculum guides for every unit in the district so that teachers can increase rigor by effectively building on students' prior learning and prepping students for their next steps.

  • Through outreach to students and sharing information with them and their families, applications to and enrollment in science major at both Northeastern University and UMass Boston from Boston Public School students has increased.

Why is this important?

With a common focus on achievement, the educational experience will be fruitful for all students. All stakeholders have an interest in seeing Boston youth succeed and gain the skills, knowledge and experience that they need for success as adults. University faculty have an enormous amount to contribute to these efforts as their subject-area knowledge and experience in the higher education classrooms provide important context for learning. At the same time, classroom teachers provide the expertise of reaching youth every day and the understanding of reaching diverse audiences. Increasingly colleges are drawing from these experiences to inform their work with diverse college students who arrive with a variety of life experiences and skills.

What has the BSP done?

University faculty have been included in workshops on the middle and high school curriculum such as the Vertical Planning groups. Teachers have been co-instructors in the CCC graduate level courses for their fellow teachers. Leadership in teaching and learning has been encouraged of everyone.

The Contextualized Content Courses provide graduate level content, modeling of best practices in teaching, and a community of learners who share ideas about reaching every student successfully. Our eleven courses are taught during the semester and summer to reach the most participants, and together are the core of a Masters of Middle School Science Teaching degree at Northeastern University.

What are the results?
  • Increased the readiness of higher education faculty to embrace research in how students learn.

  • Forged connections between teachers and University faculty.

  • Faculty participants have been awarded teaching and service awards by the university

  • 36 teachers have been "adjunct" instructors at UMass Boston and Northeastern University

  • Launched the Masters in Middle School Science Teaching at Northeastern University.

Why is this important?

What has the BSP done?

What are the results?

Link to the Math Science Partnership Website Link to the National Science Foundation website Link to the National Science Foundation website