In July, the National Academies released A Framework for K–12 Science Standards: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. The long-awaited document has many in science education wondering how this framework will affect them, now and in the long term.
NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle says the framework, and the new standards it is meant to guide, is necessary. “The world in which we live requires all citizens to make educated, science-savvy decisions. It’s also been [more than] a decade since the release of the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy,” he notes. “We believe the National Research Council’s framework is motivating and forward thinking. It addresses the need for ‘fewer’ by presenting a limited number of core ideas in science and engineering both within and across the disciplines, and moves the field forward in the integration of content, practices, and crosscutting elements.”
The creation of the framework and Next Generation Science Standards “are two logically separate tasks,” explains Helen Quinn, chair of the committee that developed the framework and professor emerita of physics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. “The framework does the first, defining all the aspects of what students should learn in K–12 science, and Achieve [Inc.] will do the second, developing explicit standards and performance expectations for the various grade levels based on the content specified in the framework.”
“The framework is there to provide a vision, not to be directly implemented. The framework is designed to organize, direct the standards,” comments Harold Pratt, 2001–2002 NSTA President. “NSTA is developing a set of recommendations [for] Achieve that add to and support the recommendations in the framework…[We are suggesting they] clarify some things in the framework.”
A draft of the framework was released in summer 2010. The National Research Council gathered feedback from educators, education researchers, policymakers, scientists, and the public. The framework identified three dimensions of science necessary for students to understand how science works:
- Scientific and engineering practices;
- Crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields; and
- Core ideas in four disciplinary areas—physical sciences; life sciences; Earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science.
“What is clearer, more explicit, is that there are three dimensions [to science education],” Pratt continues. “The practice of inquiry is more explicit; this framework recommends a very detailed organization of the standards. There are 13 recommendations about what the standards should look like in Chapter 12 [of the framework]. It’s a pretty good sense of what the new standards will look like, even though we haven’t seen them. A good recommendation for everybody involved is to review the framework, and compare the recommendations in it to their current curricula and instructional strategies,” adds Pratt, cautioning he wouldn’t start revising curricula or classroom materials at this point.
“Since both the practices and the crosscutting concepts apply across all of science, these can be iterated into the way science is taught, no matter what the curriculum being followed,” says Quinn. “This would then begin to provide the students with a more coherent view of science, and allow them to make connections across topics.”
“The average teacher should go online and read the PDF; get acquainted with it,” advises Pratt. “The word ‘practices’ is replacing ‘inquiry.’ If you read the list of practices, they’re not all that different from what’s currently listed in the National Standards as inquiry. There’s a little more detail, some differences, but the substance is not really different…One of the other things that must be understood is the existing standards haven’t been fully implemented…The same is true of the Benchmarks… If the National Science Education Standards or Benchmarks for Science Literacy were fully implemented, the implementation of the Next Generation Standards would not be a huge task for schools and educators.”
Quinn wants educators to keep in mind “that a solid science lesson should involve all three dimensions; that is, practices, crosscutting concepts, and some disciplinary core idea.”
Next Steps to Standards
“The framework doesn’t lay out how these three (dimensions) come together,” says Stephen Pruitt, PhD, vice president of content, research, and development for Achieve, Inc. “The states need specific learning performances. The next stage will blend the three dimensions laid out in the framework” to create the Next Generation Science Standards. Achieve will work with NSTA and its members and affiliates, including the Council of State Science Supervisors, as it moves forward writing the standards. Two public drafts are expected to be released during the 18-month process. Achieve expects to announce the 36-person writing team and its lead partner states in early September on its forthcoming website for the Next Generation Science Standards.
The writing team will consist primarily of “K–12 teachers; the vast majority are people in the classroom teaching every day…The people who have to implement this have to help write it,” Pruitt observes. “We want to paint a coherent picture of what science means in K–12 so students can see the joys and benefits of science. Students should be able to use that to make whatever choice they want to out of school and life. The standards must also have utility in the classroom to support teachers and quality science instruction.”
Twenty states applied to become lead partners. “Each [state] submitted an application that included a set of assurances, such things as the state agreed to give serious consideration to adopting the Next Generation Science Standards as presented,” he explains. States had to agree to convene broad-based committees to provide feedback on the standards and any implementation issues. The applications also included information on infrastructure, ability to disseminate information and collect feedback, and historic policies regarding science education (if science was included in state graduation requirements, for example). “We were looking for a diverse group of states. This group is going to be not only directing the writing, but also a group we can problem-solve with.”
In addition to working with the lead state partners and the two public drafts to be circulated, Achieve will send additional drafts to all states for feedback. “This is a state-led process,” he emphasizes.
Once the Next Generation Standards are finalized, “then states and school districts have to decide what to do with them. The direct impact on teachers (policy expectations) will be in two or three years,” contends Pratt, noting educators will have time to prepare. He suggests curricula advisors, administrators, and teachers should begin identifying funding for professional development (PD) now. “Support for professional development is going to be critical. Implementation is the key, not the standards themselves.”
A free PDF of the framework can be downloaded from the National Academies at http://bit.ly/nzDnip; hard copies can be purchased through the site as well.
To help educators, PD providers, and others interested in science education understand the framework and prepare for the release of the standards, NSTA will post a series of online articles by leading experts exploring various aspects of the framework on its Next Generation Science Standards resource page (http://bit.ly/qOB1MX). NSTA will also hold sessions to discuss the document during its upcoming area conferences in Hartford, Connecticut; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Seattle, Washington; presentations from the sessions will also be posted online. Hundreds of people participated in a live NSTA Web Seminar on the framework; the archive of the session is available on the resource page as well. NSTA is planning another Web Seminar on the framework this fall.