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A Final Case Study of SCALE Activities at California State University, Northridge


Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) play an important role in math and science education by providing undergraduate instruction, teacher training programs, and in-service training for K-12 teachers. The National Science Foundation-funded System-wide Change for All Learners and Educators (SCALE) project sought to effect change in its partner IHEs by creating a "transformative culture" through "cross-cultural working teams" that operated at the intersections among K-12 districts, colleges of education, and colleges of mathematics, science, and engineering (SCALE, 2005). The SCALE goals for IHEs are to: a) improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate education; b) improve collaboration between STEM and education faculty regarding preservice programs; c) improve collaboration between IHE faculty and K-12 districts regarding in-service training; and (d) improve institutional policies and practices that support these activities. As part of the SCALE IHE Case Studies line of work, this document provides findings on the effects of the SCALE project at the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) between March 2005 and August 2007. Case studies of two other SCALE IHEs--the California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison)-- have been produced. A cross-case analysis of the three IHE case studies will present a diagnostic approach to evaluating STEM education interventions in complex organizations.
This report provides findings about the System-wide Change for all Learners and Educators (SCALE) project's activities at the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) between March 2005 and August 2007. This research and evaluation addresses a critical challenge in studying and evaluating systemic reform in complex organizations: the lack of methodologies that account for non-linear change processes while simultaneously incorporating technical, social, cultural, and cognitive elements. This qualitative case study used a repeated cross-sectional design, and data included interviews, official university and SCALE documents, and observations of SCALE meetings. In-depth interview (n = 34) data, relevant documents, and observation data were collected in early 2006 and late 2007. Analytic procedures included the inductive analysis of interview transcripts using a structured approach to grounded theory, a causal network analysis that allows for the graphic representation of the relationships among multi-level phenomenon, and an exploratory analysis of mental models and their constituent cultural schema. Contextual factors relevant to SCALE were assessed. Findings include several factors that supported (e.g., the presence of a cohort of faculty who were previously engaged in STEM education reform), and several that inhibited (e.g., a combination of pervasive beliefs and their structural instantiations that discourage teaching innovations at the expense of research productivity) achievement of SCALE goals. SCALE formed inter-disciplinary teams of STEM faculty, education faculty, and K-12 personnel to collaboratively design and facilitate professional development workshops for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) math and science teachers. These cross-institutional teams developed science immersion units and then co-facilitated 13 five-day science institutes for a total of 270 LAUSD teachers, and 4 three-week long math institutes for a total of 83 LAUSD teachers. These activities yielded both anticipated and unanticipated outcomes that were captured by our multi-dimensional approach to assessing the institutional context. Without measurable objectives with which to evaluate the SCALE project it is difficult to make a definitive statement about the relative success or failure of the project, but in light of SCALE's original goals to affect structural and behavioral changes at CSUN, the effects of the SCALE project must be considered modest. A key finding of this research is that some pervasive values pertaining to STEM education reform and their related contextual determinants, which we call a cultural complex for scientific legitimacy and credibility, posed a significant challenge to implementing the types of institutional and pedagogical changes envisioned by the SCALE project. An enduring lesson from SCALE at CSUN is that multi-institutional reform efforts that aim to affect deep and lasting institutional change should focus on recruiting local leaders who can be sufficiently informed about and active at each partner institution. Limitations to this evaluation include a relatively small sample size and the lack of a longitudinal cohort due to respondent attrition, and rival explanations for the findings may include other non-SCALE factors that led to observed changes.