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K-State Today

February 9, 2012

Kansas to lead effort to write new science standards

Submitted by Patrice Scott

Kansas has been selected as one of a group of states that will lead an important effort to improve science education for students nationwide.

In all, 20 states will lead the development of Next Generation Science Standards, which will clearly define and integrate the content and practices students need to learn from kindergarten through high school. The National Research Council, which is the staffing arm of the National Academy of Sciences, coordinates the Next Generation Science Standards process. The standards development process is being managed by Achieve, an education reform nonprofit organization.

"This is great news for Kansas and for Kansas students," said Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker. “As a lead state partner, Kansas will have an increased opportunity to have its voice heard as these standards come together and will reap the benefits of collaboration with other states.”

Four K-State faculty members are on the team to review proposed standards: Jackie Spears, professor of curriculum and instruction and director of the Center for Science Education; Kimberly Staples, associate professor of curriculum and instruction; Bette Grauer, assistant dean of the College of Engineering; and John Harrington, professor of geography.  

National collaboration on the new science standards brings many benefits, chiefly efficiency and consistency, which will ultimately result in cost savings, according to Spears.

"Like the Common Core Standards in English language arts and mathematics, this is a win-win process all the way," Spears said. "The biggest winners will be the students who currently face challenges when they move from state to state because the standards differ."

In addition to Kansas, the lead state partners are: Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

"The lead state partners will provide important leadership and guidance throughout the development of the Next Generation Science Standards and are to be congratulated for making a strong commitment to improving science education," said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. "This will be a collaborative process that will lead to a set of standards that provides America’s students a strong foundation in science and supports college and career readiness for all."

The development of the Next Generation Science Standards is a two-step process. The first step was building a framework that identified core ideas and practices in natural sciences and engineering that all students should be familiar with by the time they graduate. In July, the National Research Council released "A Framework for K-12 Science Education," developed by a committee representing expertise in science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and education policy.

The second step is the development of science standards based on the framework. As a lead state partner, Kansas will guide the standard writing process, gather and deliver feedback from state-level committees and come together to address common issues and challenges.

Staples’ provides perspective regarding the initiative. "Our state and nation have a vested interest in the science standards and the meaningful ways it will influence both science teacher education and the scope and depth of science content and processes K-12 students will receive," she said. "We enthusiastically accept this responsibility and firmly believe the decisions and direction we select will positively impact STEM education and ultimately increase the populace of students entering STEM careers."

The lead state partners also agree to commit staff time to the initiative and, upon completion, give serious consideration to adopting the Next Generation Science Standards. In order to be considered, states had to submit a letter with the signature of the chief state school officer and chair of the state's board of education.

"Participation in this process will push Kansas to think in new ways about its process for standards development and who is at the table as that process takes place," DeBacker said. "I believe the experience will prove valuable both in the development of new science standards for Kansas and in informing our process for standards development in other content areas."

American students continue to lag internationally in science education, making them less competitive for current and future jobs. A recent U.S. Department of Commerce study shows that over the past 10 years, growth in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, jobs was three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs. The report also shows that STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than other jobs in the coming decade.

"I believe the involvement of Kansas as a lead state partner in developing the Next Generation Science Standards provides us an opportunity to grow from our current focus on science knowledge to a focus that will engage students in the scientific and engineering enterprise," said Paul Adams, president of the Kansas Association for Teachers of Science and Anschutz professor of education and professor of physics at Fort Hays State University. "By participating in this process and embracing the Framework for K-12 Science Education, Kansas is building a solid foundation to grow a STEM-literate workforce and is investing in the future intellectual capital of the state."

For more information, visit the SDE science website at www.ksde.org/science or the Next Generation Science Standards website at www.nextgenscience.org.