Next-Generation Science

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There is no doubt that science—and science education—is central to the lives of all Americans. To understand a visit to the doctor’s office, the latest scientific discovery or the newest gadget requires increasing levels of sophistication. Science education often manifests itself in ways not always obvious, like honing the ability to approach and solve problems and think critically. Science also drives innovation, which in turn drives the economy. Science is at the heart of the United States’ ability to compete and lead, which of course means that all students—whether they become technicians in a lab, PhD researchers or simply consumers—must all have a solid K-12 science education.

The National Research Council (NRC) has taken an important step forward in science education by releasing, for public comment, a draft conceptual science framework. The Framework for Science Education was created by a committee of 18 experts convened by the NRC who represent expertise in the natural sciences, learning sciences, learning and teaching, curriculum, assessment, and education policy. The NRC draft conceptual framework is based on scientific research and science education and can be reviewed here.

The NRC will be accepting comments on the Framework until August 2, 2010. Once the final conceptual framework is released in 2011, Achieve will develop—along with states and other interested stakeholders—next-generation science education standards that are faithful to the NRC Framework, internationally-benchmarked, and rigorous.

Since the input of the science community is critical to getting the science right, and given that it’s been 15 years since science education standards were last revised at the national level, this effort is proceeding very differently from the recent Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative to develop common K-12 mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) standards. The CCSS were possible in large measure because states had been working together for years to develop internationally-benchmarked, college- and career-ready standards in math and ELA.  Since the content areas were well developed, and states were accustomed to working together on math and ELA standards, it was possible for 48 states to take their efforts to the next level and agree to sign on to a process in which they would create common standards that they would consider adopting once finalized (and which, as of today, 24 states have done so).  

The development of next-generation science standards is proceeding in a very different manner in large measure because the field is in a very different place.  That’s why the first step—the NRC’s working with the science and science education communities to get the science right—is so important. Achieve will then—working with state policy leaders, higher education, K-12 educators, the science and business community and others—develop next-generation science standards that reflect the Framework. All of these stakeholders will be critical to the effort. And though this process is separate from the Common Core State Standards Initiative, all stakeholders can expect that there will be many opportunities for feedback, review and discussion just as there were in the CCSS process.  

There is interest in many states in revising their science standards and the standards developed in this process will create a solid foundation for states in those efforts. The goal of this process is to create excellent K-12 science standards.  Whether individual states decide to adopt them or whether they become “common” state standards will ultimately be up to the states to decide.  For now, first things first, let’s encourage the science and science educator community to comment on the draft NRC conceptual framework so we get the science right and have a strong foundation from which to develop next-generation science standards.