American students are falling behind students in other countries on international assessments of math and science. Statistics such as these are driving the call for education reforms to strengthen science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the country’s schools.Next Generation Science Standards
While most states have adopted the Common Core Standards, which provide benchmarks for English language arts and math education, many states still rely on science standards based on the National Research Council’s 1996 “National Science Education Standards.” In the 18 years since this document was published, advances in science and pedagogy have made these standards outdated. To address this deficiency, the National Research Council, in collaboration with states and leaders in science, education and industry, has developed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The new science standards are more than just updated content. They are based on a framework that identifies essential concepts and competencies. The standards integrate content knowledge with practices in scientific inquiry and engineering design. This inclusion of engineering is new to science education and gives students the opportunity to broaden their understanding by applying knowledge to practical problem solving. The standards are designed to provide all students, no matter what career paths they choose, with the science education necessary to engage fully in society as informed citizens on issues such as national energy policy, climate change and healthcare.
Like the Common Core Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards were developed by the states, and each state is free to adopt or not adopt them. The final version of the standards was released in April 2013. As of July 2014, 12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them. Unlike the Common Core Standards, adoption of which meets one criterion for Race to the Top funding eligibility, there are no financial incentives to adopt the new science standards.
Some controversy around new standards
The Next Generation Science Standards are widely supported by several scientific, engineering and education organizations and dozens of American businesses. While the standards haven’t ignited the controversy raised by the Common Core, there is some opposition. Concerns that the standards push a political agenda, particularly in the area of climate change, have prompted protests in states that benefit from fossil fuel production.
Others view the science standards as an addition to the Common Core, which many consider a federal takeover of states’ education systems. In a May 2014 report, the New York Times quotes founder of the conservative think tank Wyoming Liberty Group Susan Gore: “I don’t think government should have anything to do with education.” Similar objections to the science standards have been raised in Ohio and Oklahoma.
Misconceptions about NGSS and Common Core
The misconception that the Common Core Standards were developed, and mandated, by the federal government appears to be spreading to the Next Generation Science Standards. The federal government was not involved with writing Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards, and no federal funds were used to produce them. The effort to update science education in America’s schools is separate from the Common Core initiative launched by the National Governor’s Association.
While President Obama has made strengthening STEM education a national priority, so far he has been mute on the subject of the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards are still new, and many states may be too occupied with implementing the Common Core to give attention to science at this time. Based on the pushback against the Common Core Standards once the Obama Administration embraced them, the science standards may have a better chance of being implemented without a presidential endorsement.
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Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.