Achieve: New Research Reinforces the Need for Next Generation Science Standards

From the website of Achieve, the National Governors’ Association unit that works on educational standards, including the Common Core math and language arts standards and the Next Generation Science Standards:

Since the Sputnik launch, Americans have regarded science education as vital to national security and economic growth. Yet, recent research indicates that U.S. students lag internationally in science education, making them less competitive for jobs in the global workforce. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute released The State of State Science Standards, which points out that the K-12 science standards of most states are mediocre, at best, placing America’s technological prowess and scientific leadership in jeopardy. (Watch the panel discussion video.) Recently, a National Science Board report found that the U.S. could soon be overtaken as global leader in supporting science and technology unless improvements are made.

The need for the next generation of science standards is both real and urgent: Over the past 15 years, students’ achievement in science has remained stagnant with no more than 30% of students meeting the proficiency mark on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and about the same percentage of students at the “below basic” level. Internationally, between 2000 and 2006, the number of countries scoring higher than the U.S. on the PISA science assessment rose from 6 to 12. Economically, over the past 10 years, growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs, and STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a report exploring both projections for STEM jobs and how STEM skills are utilized across non-STEM jobs: “STEM provides choice for people both immediately after school and at mid-career, allowing people to transition to different and oftentimes more lucrative career pathways, including management and healthcare that provide long-term stability and excellent wages,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, the Center’s director and the report’s lead author. (See a state-level analysis of STEM jobs here.)

It’s clear that we must provide our students a strong science education so they have the necessary knowledge to compete in a global economy. A strong understanding of science is crucial not only to our success as a nation, but to living in the 21st century, and first-class K-12 science standards provide the necessary foundation.

All of this underscores why twenty-six states are leading the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a shared effort that will clearly define the science content, practices and crosscutting concepts all students will need to learn from kindergarten through high school graduation.

The NGSS are being developed in a two-step process in partnership with the National Research Council (NRC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Achieve. The first step was the development of the Framework for K-12 Science Education, led by the NRC, which identified the broad ideas and practices in natural sciences and engineering that all students should be familiar with by the time they graduate from high school.

The second step is drafting standards true to the Framework. Led by 26 states, a writing team comprised of science educators and experts from around the country have begun drafting the Next Generation Science Standards, a process which Achieve is managing. The final standards will be released in early 2013, with two public review and feedback periods scheduled for the spring and early fall of 2012. For more information, see www.nextgenscience.org.

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