North Carolina and the Next Generation Science Standards

The North Carolina Science Leadership Association (NCSLA) has a rich history of advocating quality science instruction for all students through public, private, and nonprofit partnerships. Our goal is to prepare students to compete for careers of the future. North Carolina’s leading efforts to adopt the Common Core Standards in 2010 demonstrated its commitment to developing clear and rigorous standards in reading and mathematics through its collaboration with other states. This forthright effort displayed our state’s strength in responding to the needs of students within the state and nation. In July 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) released A Framework for K-12 Science Standards: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. This framework outlined guiding principles for creating a scientifically literate populace and provided recommendations our nation is currently incorporating into the development of the Next Generation Science Standards.

NCSLA supports the national efforts devoted toward improving the rigor and clarity of science standard setting and testing. NCSLA puts forth the position that “North Carolina must align both the content of the Essential Science Standards and its implementation schedule with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) anticipated release in 2012” to prepare a scientifically literate citizenry and uphold our state’s history of leading education reform. As we adapt to rapid changes within our society, NCSLA reaffirms the importance of quality science education for ALL. To achieve this in North Carolina, NCSLA advocates the following:

Collaboration

The development of the NGSS has the benefit of expertise from the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Research Council, and Achieve, as well as input from advisory boards and representatives of each state. Our state would benefit significantly from North Carolina State Board of Education and North Carolina Department of Public Instruction partnering with these organizations to develop the state standards from the Next Generation Science Standards rather than mandating that the NC Essential Standards be taught and tested in 2012-2013, when the national standards are ready.

Fiscal Responsibility

New standards require money for teacher professional development, materials and assessment to ensure sound implementation. School districts with limited funding would be, in essence, required to financially support the implementation of both the Essential Standards in Science and the Next Generation Science Standards, provided these new national standards are integrated into the Common Core Curriculum with English Language Arts, and NGSS are available, the state and local school systems will save money and be positioned to acquire continual funding from the competitive Race To The Top (RTTP) grant initiatives (Reeves, 2010).

Sound Science Policy for the Future

North Carolina students continue to lag nationally behind more than half of the other states on the NAEP Science. Since American students lag behind other countries internationally, this places our students even further behind, making them less prepared for jobs now and in the future. The NGSS will be internationally benchmarked to help ensure that American students perform well on national and international tests and are prepared for the modern workforce. For North Carolina to proceed with its plan to release the Essential Standards in Science before the release of the national NGSS is contrary to its recent commitment to rigorous national standards in English/Language Arts and Mathematics.

In conclusion, NCSLA recommends that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) delay the implementation of the Essential Standards in Science until the release of the Next Generation of Science Standards anticipated in 2012. At that time, the Essential Standards can be aligned with the NGSS in order to take advantage of the national and international expertise that has been devoted to the development of the new NGSS. Science education in North Carolina would benefit tremendously through NCDPI’s alignment with this recommendation, which supports our state’s belief in collaboration, fiscal responsibility, and sound science education policy for all.

 Approved unanimously by the NCSLA Board on October 11, 2011

A Quantum Leap Required in NC Science Education

North Carolina must make science education a priority in a manner that is unprecedented in the state’s history. In 1957, with fear and wonder, Americans witnessed Sputnik, the first manmade (Russian) satellite.  This posed a serious military threat to the country and its status as the world’s leader in science. Subsequently, the National Defense Education Act was approved by Congress in 1958, leading to greatly enhanced science education nationally.  Now, more than 50 years later, the threat is an economic one and the future belongs to the world regions that possess the capacity for scientific innovation.  Innovation is a hallmark of American culture.  Woven with the tools of mathematics, language, and technology it remains, perhaps, our last economic advantage.  However, its essence is mercurial and will slip away without early, motivating science experiences leading to the rigorous engagement of all students beginning in elementary school. A quantum leap in science education requires attention to several key components.

 

  1. Accountability. Entire school communities must be rewarded according to the quality of their science program. This can only be accomplished if the same message resonates in the highest levels of North Carolina state government.  The past years have demonstrated that high stakes testing drives classroom function.  Unfortunately, this has transformed science into a fringe subject and, unwisely, distanced it from mathematics and language.
  2. Time. Good science education needs a lot of it and it is the single best method to improve performance.  Presently, instructional time for science is clearly inadequate.  At the K-5 level, it may be at a historic low. Four years of science are required at the 9-12 level. Even then we must query, “Can we compete globally with only five hours of science per week?”  Laboratory experiences are essential and additional innovative methodologies, such as project-based learning, science competitions, utilization of informal science facilities, and direct access to scientific research must find their way into common practice.
  3. Professional Development. Great science teachers possess considerable content knowledge, the very apparent desire to inquire and build that knowledge, and familiarity with the procedures of science that produce knowledge.  Good teachers can become great teachers when sufficient time and resources are provided for studying science content and developing the pedagogical practices that promote the learning of science. Pre-service education must also be targeted. A proposal put forth by the NC Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center calls for five or more science content courses for prospective K-8 teachers; in concert with that would be a 5% - 10% beginning pay increase.
  4. Materials. Veteran science teachers know that materials procurement, preparation, and maintenance are challenging aspects of the profession.  North Carolina needs to support these efforts in a structured, aggressive fashion by providing adequate funding for the materials and facilities required to teach science in an authentic, investigative fashion that truly reflects the nature of scientific endeavor.

 

Daily, scientific problems and issues punctuate the media.  Innovators in health, environment, computers, nanotechnology and other fields will benefit from new economic drivers.  How serious are we in assuring that North Carolina students will be the innovators?  That is no longer a guarantee simply by their place of birth. In a “hot, flat and crowded” world they will need every advantage we can give them.  A world-class K-12 science program is the best means of ensuring economic success for North Carolina and its children.

 

 

Published Fall 2009

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