The Story Behind the Common Science Standards

A look at the effort to develop and promote new, uniform science standards for K-12 education across the nation, dubbed the Next Generation Science Standards.

  1. It all began more than three years ago...

  2. In the summer of 2011, a panel of experts convened by the National Research Council issued the final framework to guide development of the new standards.

  3. Initially, 20 states banded together with several national organizations to write the standards. By later that fall (of 2011), the number grew to 26 states.

  4. Here's a closer look at the authorship of the standards. Suffice to say, it's complicated.

  5. The first of two public drafts was issued in May of 2012.

  6. Not everyone was pleased with the first draft. Among those to find fault? The National Science Teachers Association and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. (As you'll see, Fordham still is not a big fan.) Also, advocates for computer science education complained (and still feel the final standards neglect their field).

  7. A second public draft was issued in January of this year. And then, in April, the final version was unveiled.

  8. In May, Rhode Island becomes the first state to adopt the standards.

  9. Next came favorable votes by the state boards of education in Kentucky and Kansas. (But in Kentucky, the action was still subject to a regulatory review that includes consideration by a legislative panel.)

  10. Two days after the Kansas vote in favor, the Fordham Institute gives the science standards a grade of C, and says states are better off looking elsewhere if they wish to revise their standards.

  11. And the NSTA takes issue with that grade.

  12. Then, on June 25, two more states, Maryland and Vermont, adopt the standards.
  13. So, who else is backing the new standards? Below is a running list of companies and other organizations. They include educational and scientific organizations, such as the NSTA, the American Chemical Society, and the American Society of Plant Biologists, as well as businesses including Chevron, Dupont, and Microsoft Corp.

  14. But plenty of debate is surely still to come. A recent public hearing in Kentucky was a reminder of that. Key issues that sparked division at the hearing included the handling of climate change and evolution. In fact, a legislative review panel in that state ultimately gave the standards a thumbs down, but Gov. Steve Beshears said the state will implement them anyway.

  15. Even before the standards were adopted, some teachers were getting an early start, with the help of some professional development, to start bringing the approach to science learning embraced in the standards and NRC framework to life.

  16. Of course, a decision to adopt is just the first step.There are lots of capacity issues to consider, from teacher education and professional development to curricular materials and assessment.
  17. At this point, plenty of states have yet to act. This may not be surprising. Organizers have urged a go-slow approach. The 26 lead state partners all have vowed to give serious consideration to doing so. And some others are interested, too. The latest additions are California, the nation's most populous state, and Delaware, bringing the grand total to seven.
  18. So, which state is next? And more important, what will the new science standards mean for science education in the adopting states? Stay tuned to Education Week for plenty more news and analysis in coming months.
  19. (The two photos in this Storify were taken by Gretchel Ertl for Education Week. They come from a classroom at Ranger Elementary School in Tiverton, R.I. where a teacher has already been working to shift her instruction in line with the new standards and the NRC framework document.)