Include Science in Proposed National Education Standards, AAAS Officials Write

While the nation’s governors and state school officers have proposed uniform standards in English and mathematics for all students in American public schools, science also should be included in the standards, two AAAS officials write in an op-ed article published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Shirley Malcom, AAAS director of Education and Human Resources, and Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of Science, say the proposed standards in English and math would “replace the crazy-quilt pattern of wildly varying tests and proficiency thresholds maintained by different states — differences that have held American children back for far too long.”

While that is an excellent first step, they say, Virginia and the other states also must adopt common national standards for science if the nation’s students are to acquire the skills they need to compete for the best jobs in the world of the future.

“We must not overlook the central role that science plays in the U.S. economy and all other aspects of modern life,” Malcom and Leshner write in their 28 March op-ed. “Science and technology drive innovation, which creates new jobs, most of which require familiarity with science. Since World War II, science and technology have been responsible for half of America’s economic progress.”

In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell has said that he supports the concept of shared standards but not if it means replacing the state’s existing standardized test, the Standards of Learning. “We hope that he might reconsider,” Malcom and Leshner write. “While some say this test has supported solid progress, only 36 percent of all Virginia eighth-graders had achieved proficiency in mathematics as of 2009, down from 37 percent in 2007.”

The story is much the same nationally. “America is already falling behind many other industrialized countries at the task of preparing tomorrow’s labor force,” Malcom and Leshner write. “U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 21st among students in 30 developed nations in science on the latest Programme for International Student Assessment. On the U.S. Department of Education’s most recent national report card, some 34 percent of all U.S. fourth-graders and 43 percent of eighth-graders scored below basic achievement levels in science.”

According to Malcom and Leshner, states that boycott shared standards will risk much because the U.S. Department of Education’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative will reward regions that embrace the new, uniformly high academic standards. Rejecting the common standards also would undermine efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all children, a core American value, they say.

The proposed common standards for English and mathematics will remain open for public comment until April 2. State education officials in Virginia and elsewhere will need to assess them carefully before they can be expected to embrace them, Malcom and Leshner say. But they urge Virginia educators to support common standards — including for science — so that the state’s students can compete on a level playing field with students from other states and nations.

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To find out more about the proposed common standards in English and mathematics, and to comment on the initiative, click here.

Read the full text of the Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed by Shirley Malcom, AAAS director of Education and Human Resources, and Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer and executive publisher of Science. See a pdf version or a Web text version.