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Next Generation Science Standards Are Smart

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Earlier this month California became the seventh state to adopt a new brand set of K-12 science outlines, dubbed Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS. The "real world" approach to science mastery focuses on engineering, problem solving, modeling, and cause and effect experiments. Other states that are on-board with the science outlines are Maryland, Nevada, Kentucky, Kansas, Rhode Island and Vermont. The term "science standards" sounds like a positive one as far as learning is concerned, but do schools need really need another tier of learning accountability - and will students really benefit?

What are Next Generation Science Standards?

Over the past year and a half, NGSS have been developed by education experts in several states. They are not an official part of the new Common Core standards but are meant to layer on top of the standards in place for stronger science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outcomes. These standards are intended to teach the overlapping nature of science subjects, rather than to present lessons in topic isolation. In states like California, the value of a strong STEM foundation is critical to individual and state success. Over the past decade, STEM jobs have grown at a rate three times faster than other industries. By equipping K-12 students with better STEM knowledge, the long-term economic outlook will improve.

Why are NGSS controversial?

A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals a flaw in the enthusiasm for NGSS. The Common Core math standards and NGSS outlines do not align. The authors of the math review from the Institute say that while there are many strengths on the math side, there are also "a distressing number of weaknesses." These include science expectations that have math components that are not grade-appropriate, according to an Education Week post by Erik Robelen.
Other critics believe the standards are actually subpar when compared to current state standards. There is also concern that implementing a one-size-fits-all approach to science neglects individual learning initiatives and also regional needs when it comes to science education. Some critics also believe there is a lack of computer learning in the standards which is a disservice to students with how rapidly science technology is changing.

The verdict?

Applying any cookie-cutter standards to any K-12 topic certainly comes with its share of potential problems, as NGSS critics have pointed out. Still, shining the focus on real world STEM learning in real-world settings is necessary to fully equip the present and future workforce. American students also need the extra focus in areas of math and science where they fall behind their peers in other developed nations.

Science, math and engineering topics are also less likely to be discovered by students, in the way that many find a love for reading or music, without some guidance from educators. Let's face it - science and math are less romantic than other topics and so the "aha" factor takes some navigation. Once students have experienced a science spark of interest, they are more likely to maintain it, particularly if they can see the real-world ramifications.

Like other curriculum standards, NGSS need some tweaking to best impact K-12 learners. The foundation is there though and that is a step in the right STEM direction. The NGSS are a building block of a much larger cultural shift that needs to happen where science and math are concerned. Empowering students with better conceptualization of science in everyday living is necessary for career success and progression as a nation.

Do you like the Next Generation Science Standards? Will students ultimately benefit from these areas of focus?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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