Next Gen Navigator
By Dr. Heidi Schweingruber, Director for Board on Science Education at National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Posted on 2021-12-09
Over the past year and a half, Americans have been hearing a powerful message about why science is essential to the nation’s well-being. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines has shown us firsthand why science is a powerful public good that we must preserve and prioritize. Science is a foundational part of our national infrastructure, essential to our physical health; to the nurturing of an informed citizenry that makes fact-based decisions in everyday life; and to an economy that is becoming increasingly dependent on STEM fields. Yet science education is not the national priority it should be, and states and local communities are not yet delivering high-quality, rigorous learning experiences in equal measure to all students at all levels, from elementary school through higher education.
Recognizing the urgency of elevating the importance of science education, the Carnegie Corporation of New York commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) to develop a report, A Call to Action for Science Education. NASEM convened a committee of 10 experts to develop the report and solicited input from hundreds of educators across the country. The report presents a vision for equitable access to quality science learning experiences across K–16 education that will enable all people to develop the scientific literacy they need for personal and professional success. To achieve this vision, investing in improved science learning for all must be a national priority embraced by federal and state policy makers and local communities.
The committee’s vision for K–16 science education, grounded in decades of research on effective teaching and learning, is that every student is able to experience the joy and wonder of science, learn how science can be used to solve local and global problems, see the pathways they can take into science-related careers, and feel welcomed and valued in science classrooms. This vision parallels that of A Framework for K–12 Science Education (NRC 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards. This means we know what we are aiming for, and we have already begun to make the vision a reality.
Yet many students—particularly students living in poverty; Black, Latina/o, and Indigenous students; and students living in rural areas—have lacked access to high-quality science education across grades K–16 and have been excluded from many opportunities in STEM. This has happened despite the fact that 44 states have now adopted science standards that reflect the vision of the Framework. We need coordinated action at all levels of the education system and by policy makers and decision makers to accelerate the progress we are already making and to address the persistent gaps in opportunity. The committee’s report states the priorities for communities as they work to improve science education and identifies specific actions that policy makers and decision makers can take.
Teachers and teacher leaders are absolutely essential for advancing this effort. Their daily work in classrooms and schools is the lynchpin for science learning. But they also can play a role in advocating for the funding, resources, and policies needed. Targeted advocacy from teachers at local, state, and federal levels can help move policy makers and decision makers to implement the report’s recommendations.
In this unique moment, the nation has an opportunity to reset science education so that it is better for all Americans and more equitable for students from rural communities and those who are of color or are experiencing poverty. We all must work together to take advantage of this opportunity and make science education the national priority it deserves to be.
Dr. Heidi Schweingruber oversees a portfolio of work that includes K-12 science education, informal science education and higher education. In her time with the National Academies, she has directed or co-directed several projects including the study that resulted in the report A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) which served as the blueprint for the Next Generation Science Standards. She also directed a review of NASA’s pre-college education programs completed in 2008 and co-directed the study that produced the 2007 report Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Dr. Schweingruber is a nationally recognized leader in leveraging research findings to catalyze improvements in science and STEM education policy and practice. She presents widely on the work of the board and she co- authored three books for practitioners that translate findings of National Academies reports for a broader audience: Ready, Set, Science! Putting Research to Work in K-8 Science Classrooms (2008), Surrounded by Science (2010), and Seeing Students Learn Science (2017).
Note: This article is featured in the December 2021 issue of Next Gen Navigator, an e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators focusing on the themes highlighted in Call to Action for Science Education and on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction. Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.