Improving K-12 Education

Progress within multidisciplinary centers bolsters K-12 Initiative


Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership program students visited Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve in 2009 as part of a program supported by the K-12 Initiative.

The Initiative on Improving K-12 Education took an important step forward in 2009 with the appointment of the first executive director for the Center for the Support of Excellence in Teaching (CSET). Susan O'Hara, whose research has focused on teacher professional development, also serves as an associate professor (teaching) in the School of Education.

CSET is one of three centers within Stanford’s efforts to improve K-12 education by enhancing education policy analysis, educational leadership and teacher professional development. The initiative also includes the Center for Leadership in Education and the Center for Education Policy Analysis.

CSET is based on a foundation of research that indicates high-quality teaching can directly improve student learning. Designed to be a model for helping K-12 educators better understand the subjects they teach and improve their teaching skills, CSET hosted its first professional development programs for high school humanities teachers in 2009. It will launch additional programs for middle school math and science instruction in 2010.

The Principal Fellows Program, which is under the auspices of the Stanford Center for Leadership in Education (SCLE), welcomed its second group in 2009.  More than 40 Bay Area principals, nominated to attend by their district superintendents, worked with School of Education, Graduate School of Business and Design School faculty, focusing on instructional leadership.

Also in 2009, research from the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) was used by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag to brief President Barack Obama about federal financial aid policies. Research by Eric Bettinger, associate professor of education, suggests that simplified financial aid procedures and enhanced application assistance would help increase college enrollment among eligible students. CEPA research also helped to rewrite the school finance formula in New Jersey, ending a contentious 20-year debate.

In 2009, the K-12 Initiative also continued to fund competitive grant proposals submitted by multidisciplinary faculty teams that are working to improve approaches to pre-college education from multiple perspectives. Research efforts currently involve more than 32 faculty members from 15 schools, departments and groups

For instance, education Professor Sam Wineburg’s “Reading like a Historian” project was piloted in the San Francisco Unified Public School District.  Teachers were trained to implement a document-based history curriculum over seven months.  Early results suggest that students in the test group made significant improvements in reading comprehension and scored equally well on state standardized history tests.

Another example is “Ecology: Learning by Doing and Building Bridges Between Science and Education to Make a Difference.” Initiative funding helped create the Redwood Environmental Academy of Leadership (REAL), coordinated by Rodolfo Dirzo, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science, and Cindy Wilber, education coordinator at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. REAL engages students from Redwood High School in ecology through hands-on research and teaching experiences.

The Sequoia Union High School District is expanding REAL to a district-wide science academy. With the help of Roy Pea, professor of education, Dirzo and Wilber are teaching the high school students to share their data with students in similar programs in Mexico and Sweden.