Document Type

Policy Brief

Date of this Version





In 1990, the National Science Foundation (NSF) created the Statewide Systemic Initiative Program. The solicitation issued by the Directorate for Science and Engineering Education sought proposals “for projects intended to broaden the impact, accelerate the pace, and increase the effectiveness of improvements in science, mathematics, and engineering education in both K-12 and post-secondary levels“(NSF, 1990, p. 1).

Projects funded as Statewide Systemic Initiatives (SSIs) were to align various parts of the system to produce comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained change. Curriculum learning goals; content, instructional materials, and practice; assessment; teacher recruitment and preparation; and professional development of teachers, administrators, and others — all were to come under the umbrella of systemic reform, as were other parts of the system that affected “ways of doing business“: organizational structure and decision making, allocation of resources, articulation within the system, and accountability. SSIs were also to involve an array of stakeholders in reform efforts — scientists and mathematicians, business and community representatives, local school system decision makers, and leaders of parent and community-based organizations. This CPRE Policy Brief looks at some of the lessons from the SSI experience gleaned from a Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI) study of NSF's Statewide Systemic Initiative Program.

The systemic approach was intended to address two perceived shortcomings of past reform efforts. First, some analysts argue that education reform targeting isolated components of a system, even when successful, have been short-lived, primarily because pressures within the system quickly prompt a return to the status quo (e.g., Berman & McLaughlin, 1978; Fullan, 2001; Smith & O'Day, 1991). Second, more sophisticated efforts toward education reform — ones that address multiple components of the system — have often been tied to the vision and leadership of a single individual or source of funding. With the departure of the critical individual or the loss of the particular source of funding, some researchers suggest that reform within an education system will not endure (e.g., Wiles, 1993).


Date Posted: 29 June 2015