For the first time since 1966, national recommendations for science curricula have been released and, if adopted, will bring widespread changes to science education in the United States. A group of 26 states and various foundations and organizations including the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the Carnegie Corporation, and DuPont created the standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new standards are reminiscent of the math and English language arts Common Core State Standards that Achieve, a nonprofit education group, also helped write.
NGSS deals with a range of topics including climate change and evolution—subjects some educators have deemed controversial—which has drawn criticism from conservative groups, including Citizens for Objective Public Education, Inc. (COPE). However, climate change advocacy groups are pleased that the new standards will introduce the crucial arguments for climate change to students at a young age and increase public awareness. As of now, climate change is only sometimes included while studying environmental science, but this is just one example of how the authors of NGSS hope to tie in key topics to multiple science disciplines.
Regardless of individual topics, NGSS calls for a complete overhaul of the current system and emphasizes a stronger, more hands-on approach to learning, which will hopefully spur a genuine interest in the sciences through applicable real-life experiments. To quote from the NGSS executive summary: “Every NGSS standard has three dimensions: disciplinary core ideas (content), scientific and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts. . .The integration of rigorous content and application reflects how science and engineering is practiced in the real world.”
Each individual state must go through its own legal process to adopt the standards, since the national government cannot make the guidelines mandatory for all states; however, a driving force behind NGSS was to create a national benchmark. Many teachers and school boards strongly support the guidelines and are likely to push their states to adopt them over the next few years, though it would not be without challenges. States would need to create entirely new curriculum materials and standardized tests, as well as retrain teachers who are unprepared to teach at such a higher caliber, all while under enormous financial strain.
As of now, the Kansas State Board of Education has approved the standards, mostly because moderate Republicans and Democrats control the vote. On the other hand, Barbara Cargill, Republican chairwoman of Texas’s Board of Education, said the state is unlikely to approve the measure because they recently adopted their own standards. California also maintains a similar view on the situation. Massachusetts, however, is said to have already started the approval process.
New York, which serves as a lead state partner on the NGSS, has also committed to giving serious consideration to approving the standards. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, during an evaluation of the NGSS, urges states “to exercise caution and patience” because states are already tasked with the challenges of the Common Core State Standards, as well as other content-related issues with NGSS.
Regardless of whether states choose to adopt the standards, the release of NGSS highlights a pressing issue the United States faces on an international level—we have fallen far behind other countries in math and science testing scores. While other countries, most notably Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, have seen enormous growth in students’ math and science skills, the United States has not kept up. This issue is of growing concern for the United States in terms of the global economy and remaining on the forefront of scientific and technological innovation. NGSS aims to give American students a greater edge on standardized testing, hopefully resulting in higher test scores and spurring greater interest in continuing science education beyond high school.
- Kelsey Sheehy, “Next Generation Science Standards Released,” U.S. News & World Report, April 15, 2013, http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2013/04/15/next-generation-science-standards-released.
- Justin Gillis, “New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education,” The New York Times, April 9, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/science/panel-calls-for-broad-changes-in-science-education.html.