The NGSS is one piece of a bigger system

Several reviewers noted that education standards like the NGSS are only one influence on classroom instruction, whether in science or other subjects. We heartily agree! Their comments are an important reminder.

The quality of science teachers, the support they receive, the amount of time allocated to teaching science, the nature of high-stakes tests, support of STEM education by parents and the community—these are just a sample of other important influences on teaching and learning science. One reviewer wrote, “I agree with the ultimate goals for raising scientifically literate students … but I question what new and improved standards will do without addressing the current lack of infrastructure to implement them.”

The white paper does not claim that improving the NGSS is the one and only way to improve science education. At the same time, the NGSS promotes an excessively narrow vision of science and scientific literacy, so we should not be surprised when many teachers adopt that narrow vision.

As an example, too many parents believe that vaccines cause autism. Students graduating high school ought to know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) is an excellent source of information about vaccine safety and about many other public health issues. Similarly, students should learn that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) is a primary source of information about the causes and the impacts of climate change. Organizations like the CDC and the IPCC are central to NGSS practice #8, “obtaining, evaluating, and communicating” science-related information, bringing together experts from many institutions to synthesize and vet scientific findings. Such institutions are one key mechanism for determining scientific consensus, if and when it exists. Yet the NGSS makes no mention of any scientific institution. Nor does it explain how science helps to inform public policy—about vaccines, climate, food safety, or other issues. This is short-sighted.

Improving the NGSS is no guarantee that science instruction will improve, yet guidance from national standards cannot be ignored merely because other factors are important, too.

Andy and Penny

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