NU science education partnership with D65 could see cuts

Evan Drake

Middle school teacher Carla Stone rarely finds curriculum that motivates her students to learn about science.

But through a partnership with Northwestern professors last year, the Nichols Middle School teacher became the heroine of her 8th-grade classroom.

Stone, now teaching at Haven Middle School, was one of many teachers in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 to try a new hands-on approach designed by NU professors that uses computers and technology to interest students.

“It’s active,” Stone said. “It gets the kids moving around and asking questions.”

The program is one of several under the umbrella of the Lighthouse Partnership, a collaboration between NU and District 65. But the partnership might see significant cuts as District 65 looks to balance a $1.7 million budget deficit.

On May 10, the District 65 School Board passed a list of $3 million in potential program cuts. Under the proposed cuts, District 65’s $175,000 contribution to the Lighthouse Partnership could be cut by up to $100,000.

The program was founded four years ago at the request of District 65 Superintendent Hardy Ray Murphy. At the time it was estimated to cost $670,000, with NU paying $500,000 of that.

District 65 Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Hiller said she hopes the district can continue their partnership with NU through funding from a different grant. NU and District 65 are planning to write new curriculum for the program in the summer.

“It’s very rich for both the teachers and the kids,” she said. “A school district can become rather ingrown, and it’s almost impossible to do the projects without the assistance of a university.”

Other programs overseen by the Lighthouse Partnership include an elementary school math video club, a study of the distribution of leadership in one district elementary school and support and monitoring of the district’s Two-Way Immersion language program for Spanish-speaking families.

“We’ve provided the district a considerable amount of assistance,” said Fred Hess Jr., a professor of education and social policy who coordinates the Lighthouse Partnership. “We’ve done significant work with the science programs at the middle schools.”

Hess said teachers’ and students’ responses to the curriculum have been positive. Four NU professors currently are involved with the program.

“We’re seeing a lot of various kinds of improvement at the middle school level,” Hess said.

One such middle school program is the science curriculum developed partially by NU professors through a program called Learning Technologies in Urban Schools, or LeTUS.

LeTUS, started in 1997, works to develop science curriculum in five Evanston public schools as well as public schools in Chicago, Detroit and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The program aims to give students a more hands-on approach to science.

One project, for example, asks students to analyze information about a local Chicago river. Another unit developed by professors asked middle school students to look at data and ask why birds on the Galapagos Islands might become extinct.

“They get really excited when it’s real life,” Stone said. “They make it personal and so the kids retain the information better.”