Web Date: May 15, 2012
Setting A Standard
An important effort to unify K–12 science education nationwide entered the spotlight late last week when draft science standards were released for public comment by a nonprofit educational group. The standards are designed to be used by teachers in the classroom and as the basis for achievement tests.
Developed by a team of teachers, state science administrators, and professional standards writers, the Next Generation Science Standards are based on a July 2011 National Research Council (NRC) report, which lays out what all students should know about science by the time they graduate from high school. That NRC report, called the “Framework for K–12 Science Education,” is designed to give students deep knowledge of key science ideas and practices, rather than trying to cover a breadth of content.
After the public comment period, which closes on June 1, the Next Generation Science Standards team will assess the feedback, incorporate any necessary changes into the draft standards, and release a second draft later this year. There will then be another comment period before a final plan is released, which will likely happen early next year.
Under the current system for science education, “we try to do too many things in science at too little depth, and we don’t build systematically across time,” Brian Reiser explained at a May 10 symposium discussing the standards. Reiser is an education professor at Northwestern University who was on the NRC committee that developed the 2011 framework report.
The Next Generation Science Standards are divided into four areas: life sciences; physical sciences, including chemistry and physics; Earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science. This is the first time engineering has been proposed as part of national standards.
The project is being led by Achieve, a nonprofit educational group that has worked to develop nationwide standards for other disciplines. Other partners in the effort include 26 states, NRC, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Science Teachers Association. Development of both the NRC framework and the standards was funded by the Carnegie Foundation.
“What is really different this time is one unified voice in the scientific community saying this is what kids should learn in K–12,” Achieve’s Steven Pruitt said at the symposium. “The standards are going to be a leverage point that a lot of other things are going to be developed on,” he points out.
In many countries, the federal government controls educational standards, but in the U.S. standards are set by the states or, in some cases, local school districts. Several past efforts to create national science standards failed to catch on in part because they didn’t have state buy-in, says Martin Storksdieck, director of NRC’s Board on Science Education.
But Storksdieck and others involved say the Next Generation Science Standards will be different because 26 states are heavily invested in the development and review of the standards. When the participating states signed on to the project they agreed to give “serious consideration” to adopting the final standards. This agreement is vital because states voluntarily adopt science standards.
Achieve, NRC, and the other sponsors have been working to get the word out to scientists and science educators about the public comment period.
One group that plans to comment on the standards is the American Chemical Society. ACS will be reviewing the standards and reaching out to make sure the chemistry community knows about the comment period, says Mary Kirchhoff, director of the ACS Education Division.
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