Social Studies

Coming Next for Common Standards: Science and Social Studies?

By Sean Cavanagh — October 16, 2009 2 min read
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There’s a ton of interest these days in the possibility of creating common academic standards across states, as a multistate effort led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association rolls forward. So far, that project has focused on two subjects: math and English-language arts. Over the past couple months, I’ve also heard from educators and interested parties in other subjects, particularly science, asking “what about us?”

The answer: Your time could be coming soon.

Leaders of major science education organizations have already had preliminary discussions with folks from the NGA/CCSSO effort, known as Common Core State Standards Initiative, about cooperating on science standards. NGA and CCSSO officials have talked in fairly broad terms about eventually trying to forge common standards in other academic subjects. But after getting additional details from some of the people involved, I thought I’d put some of what is playing out behind the scenes on the record.

For about three years now, the National Science Teachers Association has been working on creating a new set of science standards. That project is known as “Anchors,” and is being undertaken in cooperation with officials from Achieve, as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Research Council, two prestigious scientific organizations, the NSTA’s executive director, Francis Eberle, explained in a recent interview. The NSTA, which has 58,000 members, has had tentative talks with Common Core folks about eventually merging “Anchors” with the Common Core, as opposed to producing two different documents, Eberle told me. “The hope is it’s not a separate effort,” he said. The goal is to bring more consistency to science lessons nationwide, he added, arguing that this would help “re-energize the field.”

The AAAS and National Research Council, as many science teachers know, produced their own standards documents in the 1990s, which are widely cited in individual states’ standards documents today. NSTA officials say they hope “Anchors” could draw from those documents but also present science in a more focused and streamlined way, placing an emphasis on major concepts in science. (I described the goals of “Anchors” in a story a few years ago.)

Dane Linn, who directs the education division at NGA’s Center for Best Practices, confirmed that Common Core officials have had some tentative talks with folks involved in “Anchors.” He also said that discussions have been held with various social studies organizations about future standards work in that area.

“We’ve heard from several states about their interest in moving into other subjects— particularly science—next,” Linn said. Discussions with advocates from the social studies community, he added, are ongoing.

While the NGA and CCSSO officials don’t want to put off the move into science and social studies for too long, Linn also emphasized that the organizations are determined to make sure that math and language arts are on solid ground before moving on. “We need to demonstrate success in the first two subjects we’re focused on,” he said.

If you’ve been following the standards push to this point, how easy or difficult do you think it would be to create multistate standards in science and social studies, compared to those in language arts and math?

Photo of student in science class by Dave Martin for Education Week.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.