California became the sixth state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards with the unanimous approval Wednesday by the State Board of Education. The Board, however, has not yet adopted a timeline for implementing them.
Like the Common Core standards, their counterparts in English language arts and math, the new science standards stress problem solving, critical thinking and finding common principles or “cross-cutting concepts” that engineering and various fields of science share. They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas over memorization in the hope that more students will become intrigued by science.
The new standards offer “more explicit connections between learning in a classroom and what lies beyond school,” Sheryle Bolton, CEO of the San Diego-based science education company Sally Ride Science, told the State Board. “They show how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can be fun and engaging and offer fulfilling careers.”
Two years in the making, the new standards were the work of teachers, academicians and experts from two dozen states. They were endorsed by the California Science Teachers Association, the California STEM Learning Network, an 80-person state review team and a Science Expert Panel that includes Stanford physicist Helen Quinn.
Even some supporters, however, expressed concern over the timing of the new standards. Sherry Griffith, interim assistant executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, said that teachers, already consumed by the new Common Core standards, may be “overwhelmed” at the prospect of taking on new science standards as well. She suggested phasing them in.
State Board member Aida Molina agreed. “We need to invest in teachers and roll out the standards in a thoughtful way.”
There is no timeline now for implementing the standards or for writing new assessments, perhaps in conjunction with other states. This year’s state budget contains no extra money for training teachers in the new standards, and the State Board must now appoint a committee to write the curriculum frameworks that will elaborate on the standards.
Phil Lafontaine, the state Department of Education’s point person for the standards, will present an implementation plan to the State Board in coming months. The State Board put off a related decision until its next meeting in November: whether instruction of the new standards in middle school should continue to be taught by discipline – earth sciences in 6th grade, life sciences in 7th and physical sciences in 8th – or reconstituted in new integrated courses. At three regional forums, many middle school teachers said they opposed an integrated approach, though the state’s Science Expert Panel is recommending it.
John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him or follow him @jfenster.