Turning somewhat away from politics, I wanted to share some thoughts on some recent education news. The final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were released on Tuesday, April 9th and they call for some dramatic changes to the way science is taught in the United States.
The NGSS guidelines are rigorous: they are intended to combat widespread scientific ignorance, provide a set of internationally benchmarked standards for K-12 science education and stipulates what science and engineering concepts should be mastered for college and career readiness. In many states, science education only begins in high school, missing the opportunity to ignite interest and build knowledge in science at earlier ages.
The new standards were built from the Framework for K-12 Science Education, published by the National Academies National Research Council in 2011. Twenty-six states, industry partners and a 41-member writing team worked for two years on the guidelines.
While states are not required to adopt the standards, the 26 states involved in their development have committed to seriously consider adoption. This includes Arizona, Arkansas, California, Iowa, Kansas and New York, as well as Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.
The final version of the standards have contracted the content a bit, and educators at last week’s National Science Teacher Association annual conference in San Antonio expressed excitement that the guidelines will have them covering fewer subject but digging more deeply into the ones they do cover.
Like all major educational reform efforts, the Next Generation Science Standards, like the other Common Core standards projects in language arts and mathematics, are as much about politics as they are about policy. While there will be backlash against a national set of standards in science, from a science curriculum developer’s point of view, they could prove to be an invaluable tool in strengthening science education across the country.
For too long, science curriculum has been vulnerable to the whims of non-educator political groups and movements, as exemplified by efforts made on state levels to include religious theory alongside scientific theory in the creationism vs. evolution debate. National standards will put much of this to rest. Less dramatically, but still importantly, having a common set of standards will allow curriculum companies to spend their time investing in how science is taught as opposed to what is taught – strengthening pedagogical approaches and tools. This is particularly important for elementary science because so many elementary teachers are undereducated in science and lack confidence in teaching it.
It will be interesting to watch how these standards take their place in the American educational landscape. With any luck, they will help to move the US forward in its quest to become a STEM-fluent society.