Next Generation Science Standards Released

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.

Rita celebrated girls learning science by making shark hats for a fundraiser with Girls Inc.

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.

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“Raising the Bar: Reviewing STEM Education in America”

On April 10, I attended a Hearing of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN), where they reviewed the need to evaluate the federal government’s STEM investment to ensure it is helping students complete for jobs in these high-demand STEM fields.

By 2018 the United States will have more than 1.2 million job openings in science, technology, engineering, and math occupations. Yet there is growing concern employers will be unable to fill these high paying jobs because too few students graduate high school prepared to pursue STEM-related opportunities.

Many believe the United States will be at a competitive disadvantage if today’s students to not have skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to fill the 9.2 million STEM jobs expected in the next ten years.

“There is a widespread concern that our nation’s preeminence in science and innovation is eroding,” said Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Museum of Science, Boston. “Only 5 percent of U.S. college graduates major in engineering, compared with 12 percent of European students and 20 percent of those in Asia.”

The hearing provided committee members a chance to examine federal STEM programs and discuss ways to help improve ways for students to acquire these critical STEM skills.

You can find an archived webcast of the hearing here, or visit www.edworkforce.house.gov/hearings to read witness testimony or opening statements.