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Brief Introduction to the Next Generation Science Standards

Managed by Achieve, a non-profit collective who strives to promote quality education in the US, these standards strive to create a consistent level of expectation for science education across the country. There is presently a massive gap between where American students should be and where they are in terms of science education. Many incoming university students are unprepared for college level science courses and most adults are not considered scientifically literate. Should it go unchecked, this disparity will cost the United States its position as hegemon of scientific innovation and development. The Next Generation Science Standards are an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging. The most recent national standards, upon which most state standards are currently based, are over 15 years old. Given the immense amount of research that has been done into science education and recent developments in various scientific fields, an update is necessary.

Development on the Standards began in 2010 when a team organized by the National Research Council started on The Framework which was to include what all students needed to know and be able to do. The committee consisted of Nobel laureates, practicing scientists, science education researchers, and other outstanding individuals in the field. The initial public draft was released in July 2010. After revision based on public feedback, they published the final draft in July 2011, after which work began on turning their framework into a useable standards.

The draft standards is set to be released at the end of April, with states working hard to guide the development of standards while also preparing themselves for implementation. For those unfamiliar with American education, there are no national standards enforced. Education standards are determined by each state, with those states determining what students should know, how it should be taught, and how it should be evaluated. In recent years, states have begun having conversations to develop common standards for evaluation, largely based on college admission standards.

The NGSS still being developed. Molly Ewing of Achieve, who has been assisting with the Standards, commented on the state of development: "Lead states are guiding the development of the standards, but they are also beginning conversations about the effect the new standards will have in their states, if adopted. Adoption and implementation will be different in every state, but they are beginning to talk with one another now and think through some of the shared challenges and opportunities." She noted that implementing new standards is an issue many states are familiar with through work on their individual standards, but also through the Common Core State Standards. Achieve is very cognizant of the challenges the Common Core standards faced when being implemented nationally. Currently adopted in 44 states, Common Core for Mathematics and English Language Arts implementation was at the time a slow and tedious process. Every state has different language and framework which standards need to fit in order to be adopted, something that the individual states are preparing to address. The issue standing before the states is one of the utmost importance.

In Minnesota, the specific challenges that will be faced to implementation can seem daunting. Under Minnesota law, Science Education Standards cannot be updated until 2017/18, five years after the NGSS will be released. Moreover, there is some concern about the different instructional practices included in the NGSS. The NGSS call for some large changes in the way Science education would be taught in Minnesota, presenting concerns about staff training and preparation for implementation. There are also some concerns over assessment and local involvement with the NGSS adoption.

Fortunately, John Olson of the Minnesota Department of Education believes that even if the standards won't be adopted until 2017/18, there is still a lot of good that will come to Minnesota from the release of the NGSS. In large part, these standards promote the work that Minnesota has been doing in science education. Currently, Minnesota has a strand of Science Education called the 'Nature of Science and Engineering' which promotes a form of integrated STEM education within the traditional physical, life, and earth science strands. With the NGSS, the "practices" of science and engineering are directly woven with the core ideas from life, earth, and physical sciences. Thus each individual science is working to incorporate more practical applications of theory to the physical world. There is a greater emphasis on engineering education and this, Olsen argues, will lead to stronger support for the NGSS implementation come 2017/18.

If the legislature amends the statute and allows for the standards to be updated, the whole state will be involved in the process. The NGSS were developed with local teachers in mind, providing some criteria for educators to meet but leaving much of the actual delivery methodology up to them. This allows local districts to remain autonomous while having teachers utilize science education research. Olsen believes that while there will initially be some issues surrounding assessment, the state is ready to deal with such challenges and they will be overcome.

With the release of the Standards pending, Minnesota has begun to prepare itself for discussions about the upcoming changes in science instruction. On Thursday, April 12th at the Minnesota Museum of Science, there was a policy discussion regarding the practical considerations for Minnesota surrounding the Standards. This was the first of many such discussions being held by the Department of Education and others to develop a stronger understanding of how important the NGSS are and the impact they will have on the state.

For more information on the Next Generation Science Standards, visit their website: www.nextgenscience.org. To download and review the Framework, visit www.nap.edu

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