Seeking Mark in Standards Process, N.S.T.A. Prepares Curriculum Guide
WASHINGTON--Seeking to make its mark on the process of setting national standards for science education, the National Science Teachers Association is poised to publish an exhaustive guide to curriculum reform based on its long-term program to improve secondary-school science.
"The Content Core: A Guide for Curriculum Designers" is not a curriculum itself, but rather is an organizational document that provides a framework for teaching science "according to the tenets" of the N.S.T.A.'s Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Secondary School Science Project.
The 142-page document is designed to serve both as a guide for curriculum developers and as an aid to "individual teachers considering modifications in their courses or teaching methods," according to the document.
Officials plan to formally unveil the "content core" late this month in Boston during the N.S.T.A.'s annual meeting. It will then be sold through the association's publications office.
The association provided Education Week with a final draft of the work last week.
An N.S.T.A. spokesman said that the only other copy of the final version of the document is in the hands of the Coordinating Council for Education of the National Academy of Sciences, which has received funding from the U.S. Education Department to oversee the setting of national standards.
Officials of the coordinating council have said that development of science standards is on a fast track, with drafts of curriculum and teaching standards expected to be completed within 18 months. (See Education Week, Feb. 19, 1992.)
However, they have yet to name the members of the independent body that will actually guide the standards-setting effort.
In a related development, the N.S.T.A.'s executive director, Bill Aldridge, who has been instrumental in the development of the scope-and-sequence project from its beginnings, said in an interview last week that Arnold Strassenburg, a physics professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has been appointed the principal investigator for the N.S.T.A. project.
"I'm not, in any way, associated with that project now," said Mr. Aldridge, who is working closely with the National Academy on the standards effort.
Mr. Strassenburg, who assumed his position with the N.S.T.A. in January, is a former employee of the National Science Foundation. From 1986 to 1989, he served as the director of the N.S.F.'s teacher-preparation programs and also worked as the head of its unit on materials-development research and informal science materials.
Two National Efforts
The scope-and-sequence project is one of two major national reform efforts aimed at developing a public-school science curriculum that will help create a "scientifically literate" citizenry while de-emphasizing rote memorization and recitation of facts.
The other effort, called Project 2061, is a separate initiative undertaken by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (See related story, page 1.)
That project is expected to exert a strong influence on the standards-setting process, a development that has caused some behind-the-scenes tensions between the two groups.
N.S.T.A. officials acknowledge that their new document differs markedly from "Science for All Americans,'' the science-literacy manifesto that guides Project 2061. But they say the N.S.T.A. effort also is "particularly compatible'' with the A.A.A.S. project.
"The content core quite consciously reflects the 2061 theme that 'less is more,' " the document notes.
The N.S.T.A. approach, which is being piloted by school districts in California, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, Puerto Rico, and Alaska, proposes to break down the traditional "layer cake" sequence of courses in biology, chemistry, and physics that tends to progressively whittle down the numbers of students enrolled in science courses. Under the scope-and-sequence effort, smaller courses that integrate the various sciences would be taught over several years.
To Serve as 'Template'
The content core, according to the forthcoming report, is designed as a "template for designing courses, selecting instructional materials, and constructing assessment instruments" in accordance with the scope-and-sequence philosophy.
And, while it encourages flexibility in reform, the document "does prescribe that schools offer the four science disciplines every year for seven years" and stresses "that how schools relate and connect topics from each discipline is critical."
The work is divided into chapters that provide "strategies for implementation" of the N.S.T.A. approach as well as sections on the frameworks for teaching biology, chemistry, earth and space science, and physics.
The document notes that schools implementing the content-core approach need not necessarily "supplant curricula in development or frameworks in use."
Rather, the document "serves as a guide to those individuals committed to restructuring their educational 'delivery system' and has the flexibility to be hybridized with current curricula."
An Evolving Document
Officials note that the publication is designated as the first of a multi-volume work. The second volume, to be issued this summer, will contain the research papers that undergird the curriculum document.
Work on the curriculum paper began two years ago, and at least 10 drafts of the printed version have been reviewed by more than 50 scientists and science educators.
Developers of the document say, however, that continuing revisions probably will be both necessary and beneficial.
"It's not at all possible for this to come out and satisfy everybody," said Russell Aiuto, the project's director of research and development. "It needs to be tested by utility."
The content core itself contains an open invitation to readers to "comment, critique, and propose changes" to the document and to raise questions about its usefulness.
"As designers and teachers begin to answer these questions with the content core in hand, the document will evolve, undergo change, and be revised," it notes.
An introduction to the work also points out that subsequent editions of the content core will correlate with the mathematics standards developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Vol. 11, Issue 24, Pages 1, 12