Scientific American:
Why America’s kids need new standards for science education

On Jan. 8, the public got a first look at the newest draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which lay out ambitious expectations for what elementary, middle and high school students should learn at each grade level.

In a guest post at Scientific American, Michael Wysession, PhD, one of the authors of the new standards and a seismologist at Washington University in St. Louis, explains why the science standards are so important. The new standards, released this afternoon at the NGSS website, are posted online and available for review and public input until Jan. 29. 


Wysession, associate professor of Earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, is a member of the Leadership Team for the writing of the Next Generation Science Standards. He also served as the Earth and Space Science Design Team leader for the National Research Council’s “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” which informed the new standards. 

In his guest post, Wysession notes that most Americans get almost no high school education in the areas of Earth and space science. He argues that the American public’s meager grasp of science leaves many vulnerable to pseudo-science scares, such as the recent uproar over the Mayan’s alleged doomsday prediction.

“Americans have been duped by too many scams concerning our planet for too long,” Wysession writes. “We need better science education.”

As Wysession explains in the Scientific American, the Next Generation Science Standards are a comprehensive set of K-12 student “performance expectations” for the areas of Earth and space science, life science, and physical science. They integrate concepts of engineering and technology and develop ties to the math and English “Common Core” standards.

The NGSS are based on the recommendations of a report by the National Research Council (the educational arm of the National Academies of Science) called “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas.”

The basis for the NGSS is that all of the performance expectations involve a weaving together of three dimensions – the practices of science, the crosscutting concepts of science, and the core ideas of science. This structure was established and defined in the NRC framework, and the NGSS are the resulting fleshed-out standards.

“Simply put, the NGSS will revolutionize science education for most of the country, at least for the states that choose to adopt them. Though they contain the latest and most up-to-date findings of science, their strength lies in incorporating the latest and most up-to-date advances in pedagogy and educational research. 

“The NGSS move away from presenting science as a list of facts to be memorized and present science as a set of practices to be done. In fact, every grade-appropriate performance expectation, each sentence, ties together a particular science content with a science practice; you cannot pull the content out into a list of factoids,” he argues. 

Learn More:

Washington University news release: National science standards to the rescue
Washington University in St. Louis geophysics professor leads the charge in Earth and planetary sciences (Oct. 17, 2011)

Michael Wysession of Washington University appears on Fox 2 News St. Louis to explain how America's poor science education standards leave the public vulnerable to pseudo-science scams, such as the Mayan doomsday prediction. View segment at Fox 2.

Diana Lutz
Senior News Director, Science
(314) 935-5272
Gerry Everding
Executive Director, News Research; Senior News Director, Social Sciences
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Michael Wysession
Associate Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences
(314) 623-3265