Thursday, January 10, 2013

Round Two: Science Standards for All

  Written with the hope of seeing improvements in science education across the nation, a second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) has been released for public comment. This is the last chance educators, leaders, and anyone else who is interested will have to make suggestions. Does it matter? Maybe. The standards can potentially impact everything from state standardized tests to textbooks and nonfiction literature. 
     National science standards already exist, though not widely implemented. Published nearly sixteen years ago, they provide suggestions to state education departments who are generally in charge of determining what gets taught in a particular state. Unlike many other nations who have the power to implement national standards, our federal government can only suggest them. America's constitution makes it clear that individual states are in charge of determining what their residents are taught in school.
     This new attempt at national science standards hopes to provide a popular document that all states can support, but adoption is voluntary. Already, national math and english standards called the "Common Core" have been adopted by nearly all states. As I review children's books, occasionally I notice references to alignment with the language arts standards of the common core. Clearly, national standards carry weight; the question is whether or not these new science standards will do the same.
     While at the federal level educational circles buzz with discussion about the NGSS, much of what is spoken does not filter down to the trenches. Teachers are too busy teaching to worry about standards that have not been released yet, that have no guarantee of being implemented in their state, and that populate one hundred and twenty-odd pages with magnifier-worthy text, ciphers, and color coded boxes (and the document comes in two versions!). I am not surprised that most of my colleagues back in Florida have no idea what the NGSS are, though they may be wonderful educators and administrators.
     So, who's interested? Clearly, the people involved in writing the standards are interested, as are states considering adoption, various education-focused organizations that have the resources to devote to the process, some federal agencies, some science organizations that want to make sure their field of science is adequately represented (most of which believe their field is critically important), and publishers of exams and textbooks looking to remain marketable.
     As someone who gets the opportunity to voice what I believe are the concerns of many educators, I have the resources and responsibility to comment, and I will. Whether or not that will make difference, who knows? I hope so. But my colleagues back home might not notice for another three to five years. Will the nation notice? Last year, a report was released demarcating the United States' rank amongst other nations in math and science. We are not at the top, but we did not score as poorly as some expected. You can see the results here. Will the new standards improve our standings?
     If you have read this far, it is likely because you are part of one of the groups I mentioned earlier. If not, congratulations! Much would need to fall right in place for these standards to transform education: the quality of the standards, state adoption, alignment with higher education curriculum, teacher preparation, administrators' attitude towards science (particularly at the elementary level), standardized exams...the list goes on. While some look forward to the impact these new standards will have, others stand unconcernedly by as they focus on the day to day responsibilities of teaching.

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