Science Groups Ask Academy To Lead Standards Initiative

By Peter West — September 11, 1991 2 min read

WASHINGTON--The National Academy of Sciences is expected to take a lead role in a new initiative to coordinate the efforts of several organizations trying to develop standards for what students need to know and be able to do in the sciences.

“Several different science-education organizations have approached [the academy] to take the lead in convening and overseeing the process of developing and building consensus behind [such] standards,” said Ken Hoffman, the associate executive officer for education at the National Research Council, a branch of the academy.

But while academy officials are looking favorably on the project, he noted, the decision to have the N.R.C. take a “lead role” in the undertaking has not yet been made.

As envisioned by Mr. Hoffman and representatives of other leading science-education organizations, the project would produce a set of educational goals that students and teachers would aspire to attain.

The standards, observers said, would be similar in scope and depth to those developed for mathematics by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

To be effective, Mr. Hoffman said, the science project would have to be completed “within a few years.”

Mr. Hoffman said the first step in the initiative should be to obtain an agreement “among the major players” in the science-education community “as to the meaning of standards ... in this context.”

That task--which was largely absent from the mathematics standards-setting process because of the relatively homogeneity of the subdisciplines--would be crucial to the success of such a development, observers agree.

“It’s awfully important that the project be developed by the stake-holders; otherwise, it will never be adopted by [them],” said Bonnie Brunkhorst, who, as a past president of the National Science Teachers Association, helped launch a standards-setting process within the N.S.T.A. that would continue in tandem with any national effort.

Contributors as ‘Co-Equals’

The academy’s reputation, as well as its ties to the science community, would forestall what one of observer called “the battle of the umbrellas ,” in which various organizations would compete to have the standards developed under the umbrella of their individual disciplines.

“Our umbrellas are all very contradictory,” the observer said.

The academy’s leadership “will help to the various players join as coequals,” Ms. Brunkhorst said. “The sense of tension as to who should have the leadership role will be mitigated that way.”

Mr. Hoffman said that developing a consensus among science educators on the proposed standards would help ensure a broad representation of essential information from a wide range of subdisciplines.

But, he added, the finished product would likely draw heavily from the science-education objectives laid out in “Science for All Americans,” a plan for fostering science literacy developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Also to be decided is how to articulate between standards for the science education of all students and standards for the more comprehensive education needed by those who intend to pursue scientific careers, Mr. Hoffman said.

Many organizations seem to welcome an effort to develop a consensus about how to define science literacy.

“There’s a great deal of enthusiasm for it,” said Andrew Ahlgren, who served as the associate project director for the “Science for All Americans” project.

A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 1991 edition of Education Week as Science Groups Ask Academy To Lead Standards Initiative