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Four-Year Science Curriculum Proposed To 'Empower' All High-School Students

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To "empower" all students with a working knowledge of scientific concepts, the high-school science curriculum should be restructured around a core of learning that provides an "opportunity for in-depth engagement with science" over four years, argues a new report from the National Center for Improving Science Education.

The report outlines a proposed framework that would require all students to enroll in a two-year series of core courses. During their final two years of high school, students would attend specialized courses in one of three alternative "pathways."

The proposal "shifts the traditional emphasis of high-school science from college preparation for the select few to general education for all students," according to the report, which was released this month by the Washington-based N.C.I.S.E. and the Colorado Springs-based Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.

The model curriculum is designed to dovetail with other reform models for the lower grades developed by the N.C.I.S.E. The report contends that traditional science teaching gives "short shrift" even to college-bound students, the "population best served by the current science-education system."

In what it calls its "most radical" recommendation, the report suggests that, rather than segregating students by ability, they should be enrolled during the two years of core courses in "heterogeneous groups," matching "as closely as possible" the composition of the community that the school serves.

"This proposal is consistent with the philosophy of democratic schooling that underlies the stated purposes of schooling," the report states.

The report also urges that courses in the core curriculum seek to engage students in learning by focusing on contemporary social, civic, and personal issues.

Alternative Pathways

The framework laid out in the report would offer students who have completed the first two years of the new curriculum several choices for advanced study, depending on their interests and goals.

The report proposes that separate pathways be created for:

  • College- or junior-college-bound students, who would take half-year courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth and space sciences, as well as advanced-placement courses in the natural sciences. The courses would emphasize the knowledge and methodologies of the natural sciences.
  • Technical- or engineering-schoolbound students, who would take half-year courses aimed at developing natural-science concepts within the context of agricultural, medical, or engineering studies.
  • Students who intend to enter the job market after graduation, who would receive a mixture of academic coursework with practical experience in the workplace and supervised internships at local businesses.

Although content would "vary greatly" in such courses, "a clear principle should guide the individual's program planning: maintaining the student's involvement with science while keeping options open."

The report also notes that restructuring the curriculum to fit the outlines of its recommendations also will require significant changes in the ways in which student performance is assessed, the methods used to train teachers, and the "culture" of schools.

"All four components--programs, assessment, teaching, and change among teachers and in schools-must reinforce one another and proceed in tandem," the report argues.

Copies of the report, "The High Stakes of High School Science," are available for $22.50 each, plus $2.50 for shipping and handling, from The Network, Suite 900, 300 Brickstone Sq., Andover, Mass. 01810; 1-800877-5400, ext. 281 or 454.

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