The National Research Council's "Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards": Earth Science Feedback and the Future

published Sep 20, 2010 9:59am

Eric J. Pyle, James Madison University

Since 1996, the National Science Education Standards has been one of the central driving forces in science education policy and curriculum development. It was not a curriculum in itself, but was intended to provide guidance to those that developed not only curricula, but also those that designed assessments to match those curricula as well as those that prepared or provided professional development for teachers of science. Along with Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993), the Standards have influenced the lives of many students since their publication. Late in the past winter, the National Research Council commissioned the Board on Science Education to begin the process of re-conceptualizing the Standards, in preparation for the development of new standards. This project, called "Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards," sought to articulate core ideas in the major domains of science content. Draft frameworks were prepared by working groups or "Design Teams" within physical, life, and Earth sciences. Each of the Design Team members was selected not just on the basis of their knowledge of Earth science content, but also on the basis of their skills and experience in organizing that content for teachers and students alike in learning contexts.

The Earth Science Design Team took on the task with a bit of passion and no small desire to see the contemporary understanding of how the Earth works, and has worked over time, made accessible through the standards that would ultimately be developed from our work. Influenced by recent work such as the Earth Science Literacy Initiative and the 2009 NAEP Science Framework, the team developed a set of key ideas around four main "Big Ideas," each with a set of grade-band performance indicators for grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. It is important to note, however, that these ideas were intended as a conceptual framework and not standards in and of themselves. They were to "bear witness to the Light," but were not the light themselves. This package of information was submitted to the NRC in the early summer of 2010.

The NRC Committee compiled the work of the Design Teams and juxtaposed these against cross-cutting themes and common practices in science to produce an overall conceptual framework for the standards. This document was released for public comment in July, and the comments came in! I personally had the opportunity to participate in one focus group that provided comments, and was aware of several others that were going on at the same time, including NAGT's work. It seemed likely that the comments would be voluminous as well as largely consistent.

At the beginning of August, the Earth Science Design Team reconvened to consider the work, the modifications that had been introduced by the NRC Committee, and the public comments that had been submitted through NRC. On the weekend before the deadline, several hundred sets of comments had been submitted. The Design Team was supplied with the most Earth Science-relevant comments, which included comments from NAGT, the Climate Literacy Network, and the National Marine Educators Association, as well as prominent individuals within each of these organizations and others. At this point, the Design Team set to work and proceeded to draft a response to NRC that reconciled the original work, the public comment draft, and the comments that had been received to that time. It was a truly huge task, and over the following weeks information was supplied to the Design Team Chair to compile and submit back to NRC as recommendations. The input of NAGT in this process was very well received by the Design Team and allowed for the framing of strong statements and useful framing templates for future work on the Conceptual Framework.

What will happen next is that a separate group, Achieve, Inc., will draft standards based on the revised Conceptual Framework. I know of colleagues that have been contacted by Achieve to inquire of their willingness to either draft or review standards, and I trust in the professionalism and insight of those that I know have been contacted. I have encouraged them to participate in this continued effort, and would encourage each of you to consider an invitation from Achieve carefully and with favor. I have been involved with several of their projects in the past, and I have been impressed with the work that they have done. My understanding is that these new draft standards will be made available for comment sometime next year.

It will be of vital interest to anyone that has an involvement with geoscience education to take notice of developments along the standards front and provide input when opportunities arise. It is well to remember that such effort on your part has a significant multiplier effect, influencing the education of not just precollege students, but also these same students as they progress college classes. In this light, we have a genuine opportunity to come closer to the goal of "Earth Literacy."