Since 2004, eight of New York City’s leading cultural institutions — including museums, zoos, and botanical gardens — have worked with the New York City Department of Education to support effective science instruction in the city’s middle schools. This unprecedented partnership was called “Urban Advantage” to highlight the unique concentration of science-rich cultural institutions students can access in New York City. Participating institutions include: the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the New York Botanical Garden, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Botanical Garden, the Staten Island Zoo, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium, and the New York City Department of Education, with leadership funding from the New York City Council.
Traditionally, cultural institutions have supported formal science education goals only indirectly. UA involves institutions outside the formal education system that support the science-specific goals of the public-school system.
“A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” which provides the blueprint for the Next Generation Science Standards, says “Engaging in the practices of science helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops… The actual doing of science or engineering can also pique students’ curiosity, capture their interest, and motivate their continued study…” (NRC Framework 2012). The National Research Council’s report How Students Learn Science in the Classroom (2005) indicates that a deep understanding of science is grounded in doing science. To this end, Urban Advantage partnerships give students opportunities to conduct hands-on investigations that engage them in science as a way of thinking, investigating and communicating, rather than simply as a body of knowledge. And the professional learning teachers receive in Urban Advantage increasingly supports adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, and New York State’s new NGSS-aligned P-12 Science Learning Standards.
Urban Advantage includes six research-based components designed to support schools, principals, teachers, students and families. They are:
- High-quality professional development for teachers and administrators
- Classroom materials and equipment that promote scientific inquiry and authentic investigations
- Access to UA Partner institutions through free school and family field trips
- Outreach through family events, celebrations of student achievement, and parent coordinator workshops
- Capacity-building and sustainability structures, including support for the development of lead teachers
- Assessment of program goals, student learning, systems of delivery, and outcomes
Urban Advantage serves 46% of New York City schools with eighth grade students. Program-wide assessments show that UA has had a tangible impact on the New York City Department of Education’s middle school science education program as measured by:
- Learning experiences in UA classrooms have become more inquiry-based.
- Science investigations are now designed around opportunities to conduct hands-on investigations.
- UA teachers report more mastery of science content and an increased capacity to support students’ investigations.
- Students have more confidence in their grasp of science content.
- An unprecedented number of school groups and families have visited the eight cultural institutions.
Since 2008, researchers have studied the impact of Urban Advantage (UA) on students’ achievement in science. Their work shows that:
- UA positively affects students’ performance on the Grade 8 Intermediate Level Science (ILS) test. Students of color and students in traditionally lower-performing middle schools show the biggest gains.
- Students who have a UA teacher are 4 percentage points more likely to score “proficient” on the exam compared to their non-UA peers. (Weinstein & Shiferaw, 2017).
- UA teachers are approximately 3% more likely to stay at their school the following academic year, which is equivalent to approximately 45 teachers per year staying at their school rather than leaving (Weinstein & Shiferaw, 2017).
– UA Teacher