As a science education community, we have a great opportunity ahead of us. A major goal for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is to allow science to be taught as it should—not in pieces, but rather as scientific knowledge organized in a coherent progression that builds across the full K–12 spectrum. The NGSS have been under development for well more than a year, as the second part of a two-part process based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education (Framework), which was developed in a partnership among the National Research Council (NRC), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), NSTA, and Achieve. This second phase is being led by 26 Lead State Partners guiding 41 writers from across the country in drafting the new science standards. The development of the NGSS is progressing at a pace that will enable the release of the final NGSS in the first quarter of 2013.
The partnerships among the 26 states and the original partner organizations have been unprecedented and are at the heart of the standards development process. The Framework set a vision for science education for all students that all of us can rally around. From the beginning of the development process, collaboration was central to the success of the NGSS. As explained on the NGSS website, the writing team consists of 33 educators with K–12 classroom experience, 18 of whom are current classroom teachers and three others who moved to administration after the project began. When the writing team was being formed, Achieve, on behalf of the states, approached NSTA to request nominations for excellent teachers who could help translate the Framework’s vision into teachable student performances. The 26 Lead State Partners also appointed classroom teachers to state review committees to work with the state education agencies and the writers to evaluate the quality and utility of the NGSS.
NSTA has also played a central role in convening educators and experts to review the NGSS. These standards were neither written by an unknown group nor kept hidden; the NGSS were written and reviewed by people like you. In fact, many of you also took the opportunity to review and comment on the May draft of the NGSS. During the upcoming public review in November, I invite you to submit feedback on the next draft.
We, the science education community, stand at a critical moment in history. Many claim we are at the same place the United States was in during 1957 and the launch of Sputnik, when as a nation, we focused on a singular problem and used all of our knowledge and innovation to win the space race. That critical moment in history has since led to many innovations in science and mathematics education in our country. Our task and moment are no less in magnitude. When I am asked why the NGSS are so important and why I wanted to play a role in their development, my response is “Equity.” Our task is large because it aims to ensure that every student in every classroom has the same opportunity to make more effective life decisions because he or she has access to a relevant and coherent science education. We have allowed science to be portrayed as accessible only to a small group of students when it is a key that allows all students to unlock their future. Our task is not about teachers or administrators or politicians; it is about children. Giving each child an opportunity to hear the story that is science, appreciate what makes science unique, and experience how engineering helps us solve both our own and society’s problems will result in all students having greater options and opportunities when they leave high school. Given the focus on science and engineering practices and rich content, all students—from those most in need to those who seek to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields—will be able to access science and be far better prepared for their chosen field, regardless of what it is.
Although we will not all agree all the time on all the standards, my hope is that we all will accept the final decisions that represent a consensus of all the stakeholders who have participated in the development, and together, assist science education to progress. Change is hard, and these standards are meant to perturb the status quo enough to catalyze change. We will all experience and benefit from this change; therefore, we must realize we are all in this together. I am very grateful for the leadership role NSTA is taking and the plans the association is putting into place to support teachers and schools during this time of change.
I am very excited about where we are and where we are heading. Our students stand to benefit from this opportunity, but only if we accept the challenge first. I look forward to finishing this project and moving to the next phase with great teachers and great partners.
Stephen Pruitt is the vice president for content, research, and development at Achieve, Inc., where he is coordinating the development of the Next Generation Science Standards. He previously taught high school chemistry and worked for the Georgia Department of Education.