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Next Generation Science Standards Represent a New Approach, Malcom Tells Noyce Scholars

Unlike previous efforts to develop science education standards across the country, the Next Generation Science Standards benefit from advances in cognitive science, increased capacity in education, and support from the business community, according to Shirley Malcom, AAAS Education and Human Resources director.

Shirley Malcom | AAAS/Kat Zambon

"For those of us who've been around a long time, like myself, we've been down this road before," Malcom said. "We've done standards. We've done all of this work before. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. I propose that there may in fact be something different this time and I call it new tools, new knowledge and learning from history."

Malcom spoke on 30 May at the 8th annual conference of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which encourages science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and professionals to become elementary and secondary school teachers. The meeting was co-hosted by AAAS and NSF.

Through the Noyce program, institutions of higher education receive funding for scholarships, stipends and programming to recruit and prepare STEM majors to become K-12 teachers. Beneficiaries of the program spend two years teaching in high-needs school districts for each year of support they receive. First authorized under the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002, the Noyce program was reauthorized in the 2007 America COMPETES Act and the 2010 America COMPETES Act Reauthorization.

In the first 10 years of the Noyce program, it supported about 6,800 new teachers and 385 master teachers, said Joan Prival, NSF Noyce program director. Additionally, 4,200 new teachers and 100 new master teachers will benefit from grants made to date.

"We already have over 3,700 new teachers who were supported through the Noyce program out there teaching in the high-needs school districts where they are needed most, day after day, every single day, impacting kids' lives," Prival said at the conference, which took place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Capitol Hill. "That's pretty powerful. We're really proud."

The Next Generation Science Standards represent an attempt to identify the most important ideas that students need to learn, including science disciplinary knowledge, the practice of science, and cross-cutting themes and concepts, Malcom said, and they are intended to complement the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math. "We've got to have the students integrating all of this knowledge, and a lot of the things that the Common Core is trying to provide around critical thinking [are also relevant to] the sciences," she said.

State legislators may also face criticism from those who suggest that the standards represent federal interference in a state's public education system, though similar to the Common Core State Standards, the Next Generation Science Standards are being developed with input from the states and without the involvement of the federal government. "There's a pressure not to conform, you know, ‘I don't want to become like every other state' or ‘I don't want the federal government to tell me what to do,' even though the states are the ones who have actually developed this," Malcom said.

Twenty-six states contributed to the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, including Rhode Island, which has already adopted them, Malcom said, though politics may prevent implementation in other states. "We understand that some of the states are going to have challenges because of the content," Malcom said. "They might not like evolution or climate change or stem cells or some of the other things that might be there when the content becomes political."

Proponents of the Next Generation Science Standards need to enlist the support of the business community and parents, Malcom said. "I think that the business community is probably your biggest asset because that's where jobs come from," she said. "Parents have to be helped to understand that backing away from standards for their children is not a benign act."

"I think that in this particular case, we're in a battle for children's lives and their futures," Malcom said. "And unless we make clear what we lose and what we gain and the consequences for all of us, I think that we get what we get. And I don't know that that's really acceptable for any of us."

Learn more about the
Next Generation Science Standards

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Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program