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Are Teachers Ready for New Science Standards? National Academies: Not Really

Guest Post By Liana Heitin. Originally posted at Curriculum Matters.

Very few K-12 science teachers have the experience needed to teach the science and engineering practices described in the Next Generation Science Standards, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and MedicineAnd that's especially true among elementary teachers and those working in schools serving low-income students. 

The nearly 250-page study looks at what K-12 science teachers know, what they need to know, and the ways to strengthen teacher learning, mainly through reviews of existing research.  The National Academies also published the 2001 report A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, which the new science standards are largely based on. 

Overall, the authors write, teachers "will need new knowledge of the ideas and practices in the disciplines of science, an understanding of instructional strategies that are consistent with the NGSS vision, and the skill to implement those strategies in their classrooms," in order to meet the new standards, which more than a third of states have adopted so far. Professional development will need to adapt, too.

As of now, science teachers lack time and opportunities to collaborate with each other, which is an important source of teacher learning, they write. 

The authors offer recommendations for how schools and districts can improve the learning opportunities for science teachers. Those include:

  • Taking stock of current professional development offerings for teachers, using a broad definition of what those include. "Given differences in the learning needs of elementary, middle, and high school teachers, expenditures and time allocations should be broken down by grade level and by school and district level," they write. 
  • Creating a coherent, multiyear plan for science teacher learning that takes individual and context-specific needs into account. This can be done in partnership with "professional networks, institutions of higher education, cultural institutions, and the broader scientific community as appropriate."
  • Establishing dedicated professional development time for science teachers during the salaried work week. District leaders should also structure time for meeting with other teachers and observing classrooms. 
  • Looking into online supports for teacher learning.

The full report, Science Teachers' Learning: Enhancing Opportunities, Creating Supportive Contexts, is available for download here.

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