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Houston Chronicle Commentary Urges Support for Consistent Science Education Standards

"Voluntary, nationwide education standards in science, along with reading and math, are the next logical step" toward improving K-12 education in America, according to commentary published 10 June 2009 in the Houston Chronicle.

Versions of the op-ed by Leshner and Roseman also appeared 23 June in Missouri's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 22 June in South Carolina's Greenville News, and 17 June in Alaska's Daily News-Miner of Fairbanks.

The op-ed article, co-authored by AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science, and Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, the AAAS science-literacy initiative, urges Texas, Alaska, Missouri, and South Carolina to join the push for consistent learning goals for all children nationwide.

On 1 June, Roseman and Leshner noted, officials in 46 other states and the District of Columbia agreed to move toward shared education standards in reading and mathematics. The effort, led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, was applauded by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Unfortunately, the Houston Chronicle piece points out, four states have so far resisted the plan, which also does not encompass expectations for what children should know about science at each grade level.

"It's a mistake to overlook the central role of science in every aspect of modern life, particularly the economy," Roseman and Leshner wrote. "From pre-school through high school, we need to teach science more effectively so that all students are prepared for the science- and technology-based 21st century economy. Virtually all future jobs will require at least some familiarity and comfort with science and technology."

The AAAS officials pointed to the SPEAK Act ("Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for All Kids") as one promising strategy for improving K-12 science-learning standards. That proposal is expected to be reintroduced soon by U.S. Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut), and U.S. Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-Michigan). "With the No Child Left Behind Act due for revision, the SPEAK Act suggests an effective template for establishing science-education guidelines," according to the AAAS op-ed article.

A previous AAAS op-ed, published 15 August 2007 in the Washington Times, had noted that national science education standards don't need to be created "from scratch." National standards for science learning could be based on well-tested, widely accepted guidelines set forth by Project 2061, the National Research Council, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Leshner wrote.

Indeed, the revised SPEAK Act "states that standards should not be created anew, but created based on a review of rigorous standards already issued," reported Joanne Carney, director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Congress. "It also calls on the National Assessment Governing Board to work with relevant constituents when developing standards."

Bolstering the U.S. economy will require a science-literate workforce, Roseman and Leshner wrote in the Houston Chronicle. But sadly, today's students face a hodgepodge of different learning expectations from state to state. While top-performing U.S. students are still among the world's elite, AAAS officials reported, others are lagging: Some 34% of all U.S. fourth graders, and 43% of eighth graders, scored below basic achievement levels in science on the U.S. Department of Education's most recent national report card. In a 2007 report, U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 21st among students in 30 developed nations, just behind Iceland and just ahead of the Slovak Republic, on the Programme for International Student Assessment. Even among college freshmen, nearly 30% need remedial science and math classes.

"We have to do better by children," Roseman and Leshner wrote. Texas, Missouri, Alaska and South Carolina "should get on board" with voluntary national science education standards, they added.