Preparing students for college and careers

The NGSS introduction states that its “content is focused on preparing students for college and careers” (p. xiii). Perhaps it is not surprising that even someone familiar with the NGSS may never have focused on that part of the standards; after all, the standards are 324 pages long, with another 170 pages of appendices.

Nonetheless, it is clear that authors of the NGSS were aware of the focus of their work. As we wrote in our last post, one of the NGSS Performance Expectations is that all students should be able to “use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.” A typical American will never use that knowledge, nor is it necessary to use mathematics to understand the most important aspects of ecosystems. We can only assume that the NGSS includes this performance expectation, and various others, because the authors, who were mainly disciplinary specialists, were aiming at preparing students for college and careers.

As we wrote in our last post, authors of the NGSS were not thinking primarily of students as future citizens concerned about science in the context of societal and personal concerns. Earlier science education standards included those focal points; however, the people who created the NGSS made a conscious decision not to. Indeed, as an earlier post indicates, one of the key writers for the NGSS now regrets that the connections between science, technology, and society were left on the cutting room floor, as the expression goes.

Only about a third of Americans over the age of 25 hold a four-year college degree, and even today graduating from college is not the norm. In 2015 fewer than half of adults ages 25-34 had earned an associate’s degree or more. Indeed, only 85 percent of students even graduate high school. And of course the majority of students will not need a specialists’ knowledge of science or technology, such as acquired in college, for their future jobs.

Yet all students will benefit from applying their understanding of science to decisions in their later lives (e.g., about health care for themselves and others). Similarly, students will apply science to decisions they make as citizens (e.g., deciding whether to support candidates who don’t accept mainstream scientific findings, or voting whether to approve state or regional carbon fees).

Preparing students for college and careers is a reasonable goal, up to a point. However, we don’t believe it should be the exclusive goal of national science education standards at the expense of other priorities, such as teaching science in the context of societal and personal concerns.

Will required state tests, or national exams like the SAT, focus on students’ science knowledge and skills as related to societal and personal concerns? Will students be expected to demonstrate that they can distinguish between more or less reliable sources of scientific information? These are examples of performance expectations that are not priorities under the NGSS as it is now written. That concerns us, and we hope it concerns you.


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