Partnerships between business and education are helping New Jersey students learn important skills at critical stages in their development. The Merck Institute for Science Education (MISE) works with school districts in communities around the world where Merck has its major operations. In New Jersey, MISE focuses on Rahway and Whitehouse Station.
Carlo Parravano, executive director of MISE, says, "We work with schools to identify what their needs are in mounting and sustaining a high quality science program. Our basic philosophy is that every child should have access to a great science education. It's really critical for a student to become productive in tomorrow's society."
Merck's effort is one example of how companies are working to reverse a trend that is plaguing high school students after graduation—poor preparation. The bottom line, say education experts, is that students need to perform better in high school in order to develop the mathematics, reading, writing and thinking skills they need to become successful in higher education and in the workforce.
MISE has been working in New Jersey school districts for 12 years. "We're seeing good impact on student achievement and classroom practice," says Parravano. "For example, in science, students need courses to be exciting, interesting and engaging. We work with science teachers to ensure they have the materials and the background to teach these courses." Merck has worked with about 5,000 teachers.
Throughout school, work and life, students will need to make personal decisions based on often-conflicting evidence. They need to learn skills scientists call "habits of mind"—how to gather and evaluate evidence and solve problems. Parravano stresses the importance of rigorous courses in math, science and language arts and the problem-solving skills these courses build. "Science is a dynamic field, so the content students learn in school will not be adequate," he says. "They must know how to acquire new knowledge, new skills and be able to take what they've learned in one situation and apply it to another."
Merck's experience with schools indicates that schools usually need the same things: standards-based instructional materials, increased teacher confidence, better assessment of student learning, recognizing good science teaching and parent-community support.
"We all need to focus more on high school reform than we have in the past," Parravano says.