Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards

published Mar 19, 2010 8:42am

By Michael Wysession

The National Research Council of the National Academies of Science has undertaken the creation of a new "Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards." The project, funded by the Carnegie Foundation of New York, aims to create a framework, one use of which will be to develop the next generation of science standards that will improve upon previous science standards in both content and pedagogy. Details on the project can be found at

The new framework aims to be completed by the fall of 2010, and to serve as the basis for a new set of science standards that will be constructed by Achieve, Inc., over the following 1.5 years. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) are now more than 15 years old. The motivation behind the new framework is not just in updating the NSES content with new scientific discoveries but also in taking the information learned from the implementation of current standards as well as from research on learning science and creating a framework that will allow for an improvement in future ones. For example, the large number of current science standards gives teachers little flexibility in their teaching. There is often no room for additional or in-depth studies or for re-teaching materials that the students don't satisfactorily understand. An aim of the current project is to have fewer, deeper, and clearer standards that will not push teachers into presenting the material as a long list of facts. There has also been significant research in the areas of performance expectations, learning achievements, learning progressions, and strands of science proficiency in the areas of knowledge, reasoning, and practices, and this will also motivate the current framework.

Earth and Space Science is an integral part of the new conceptual framework, on equal footing with the other sciences. Renown scientists Tanya Atwater and John Mather are part of the formal Committee, and Earth and Space Science is one of four components to the content (along with life science, physical science, and engineering-related science). There are five of us on the Earth and Space Science Design Team – myself, Don Duggen-Haas, Scott Linneman, Eric Pyle, and Dennis Schatz. It is our job to organize the Earth & Space Science content and learning progressions for the framework, working both with and for the Committee.

Two meetings of the Committee have been had so far in 2010. Both of these have had parts that are open to the public. The recent March meeting presented fascinating current research on learning progressions in science, presented by Aaron Rogat (Consortium for Policy Research in Education), Andy Anderson (Michigan State University), Ravit Golan-Duncan (Rutgers University), Joseph Krajcik (University of Michigan), Leona Schauble and Rich Lehrer (Vanderbilt University), and David Hammer (University of Maryland). The next meeting will be April 22-23.

The first draft of the framework will be presented to the public in the summer. The Earth and Space Design Team is drawing heavily upon work that has been previously done (the recent literacy documents for Earth, Atmosphere, Ocean, and Climate Science, as well as NSES, AAAS, NAEP, and College Board documents, and research on Earth and Space Science learning progressions), but will value input from the geocommunity on the draft that is produced. NAGT, AGI, and NESTA are setting up mechanisms for taking in community feedback when the draft of the conceptual framework is released. Please provide them with your comments at that time. If it turns out that the states agree to use the science standards that come out of this project the way they have for the recent math and English standards, this document could be very important in shaping the future of Earth and Space science education.

If you are interested in receiving announcements and requests for input as NRC moves forward on the development of the new national science standards, we would like to encourage you to join the new NAGTLiteracy email list . We will use this list to forward announcements about the process, as well as updates and requests for input from the NRC committees involved. We will also use this list to provide information about work to create an integrated literacy document for the Earth Sciences, and other updates on subjects related to K-12 standards.