A draft of the Standards Framework for national science standards, funded by the Carnegie Foundation and sponsored by the National Governors Association and the US Chamber of Commerce (among others), has been published. The National Research Council drafted the framework, and is seeking comment until August 2, and I’ll have more to say as I work through the draft. Forty-eight states (excluding Texas and Alaska) have agreed to use English Language Arts and Mathematics standards produced through a similar process, and many people see these standards as natural additions to that national common core, so getting them right is important. Good national standards will prevent a host of problems, while bad ones would create colossal problems.

Perhaps the most crucial thing to examine is how the standards define science and present the nature of science. If we get that right, and give teachers good training in teaching the nature of science, it’ll go a long way towards heading off creationism, global warming denial, etc. And the draft does a solid job:

The committee’s vision of science is captured by the view that science is:

A creative and analytic human intellectual endeavor engaging hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to attain shared goals of understanding the material world and application of that understanding to solving real-world problems.
A cumulative and evolving body of knowledge formalized into a rigorously-tested and mutually consistent set of clearly articulated theories.
A set of practices for investigation, model and hypothesis development, theory building, argumentation, analysis, and communication of findings about the material world that support development of new understanding.
A set of cross-cutting concepts and strategies that inform work in all disciplinary areas of the natural sciences.

Not exactly how I’d phrase everything, but the gist is right. This emphasizes that science is a thing you do, first and foremost. The repetition of “material world” is important, as it emphasizes science’s limitation to natural phenomena, and that science class is not a place for discussing religion. That said, referring to it as “material” rather than “natural” or “empirical” makes me think someone on the writing is a fan of Madonna’s ontological claim that “we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl”:

UPDATED 7/13/10 to reflect the Carnegie Foundation’s role in this framework, and to clarify that no states have committed to adopting these standards yet, as they did with ELA and Math standards.


  1. #1 Physicalist
    July 12, 2010

    Yeah, “natural world” probably would have been better.


    A . . . body of knowledge formalized into a rigorously-tested and mutually consistent set of clearly articulated theories.

    This is surely a goal, which is approached when things go well. But this is misleading if it’s supposed to describe actual scientific theories we have in hand.

    For example, general relativity and quantum theory are arguably inconsistent with one another. We’re working to find a theory of quantum gravity that will resolve that conflict, but that theory is not part of current science.

    Likewise, rigorous testing is a goal that is not fully realized at each stage of “science.”

  2. #2 Michael D. Barton, FCD
    July 12, 2010

    Happy to see all the stuff about science and society, history of science, and “Impact of Societal Norms and Values on the Practices of Science and Engineering.”

  3. #3 George Soule
    July 13, 2010

    Dear Josh,
    I read your most recent blog post with great interest. My organization, Carnegie Corporation of New York, a foundation, has funded the independent, nonprofit National Research Council’s work to a draft science education framework. I agree with your assessment that “Good national standards will prevent a host of problems.”

    I wanted to point out a few important factual errors that your readership will certainly want straightened out.

    First, the Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards was drafted and issued by a committee of 18 experts convened by the National Research Council. It was NOT “sponsored by the National Governors Association and the US Chamber of Commerce (among others).”

    Second, you write that “Forty-eight states (excluding Texas and Alaska) have agreed to use these standards, so getting them right is important.” That is incorrect. Science is not part of the Common Core state standards initiative led by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, which recently issued common core standards. The Common Core currently includes mathematics and English/language arts. Your statement confuses the Common Core with the Framework for New Science Education Standards, which are two separate processes altogether.

    You can find NRC’s FAQ and Press release here:



    Our own press release is posted here:


    With regards,
    George Soule

    George Soule | Manager, Strategic Communications
    Carnegie Corporation of New York
    437 Madison Avenue | New York, NY 10022
    1. 212.207.6344 | gs@carnegie.org

  4. #4 Craig
    July 13, 2010

    Meh, semantics. Words have multiple meanings and it’s ok. If I were going to change one word in the world of science I’d change the word “theory” to something else. I’m so tired of the “just a theory” argument I want to scratch my eyeballs out. I’ve yet to hear someone criticize science on the grounds that it’s “too focused on accumulating material possessions”

  5. #5 The Science Goddess
    July 19, 2010

    While strong standards are important, this draft has a very long way to go before it will be useful in the classroom.

    The sheer volume of information included more or less assures that teachers will not choose to focus on inquiry, investigation, or critical thinking. It takes time to do science well in the K-12 classroom. A compendium of 49 “ideas” + associated skills will not add up to any sort of deep understanding for any topic. It’s lovely that the NRC chose scientific experts…maybe they should have included people who know about good instruction, too.

    Thank you so much for posting this on ScienceBlogs. I’ve been hoping that more science bloggers would get involved. The timeline is short for feedback. My take on things is (here).

  6. #6 Frank Weisel
    July 29, 2010

    I have to agree with The Science Goddess. Once states get hold of standards (new or old) they immediately set upon breaking them down into hundreds, if not thousands of factoids for students to memorize and regurgitate. The true meaning of science is lost amid the humdrum information they are forced to ingest. “Drill and kill” becomes the preferred method of instruction instead of real-world application of science.

    I’m sorry to see that the “enlightened age” of the 90’s has given way to this most inappropriate approach to the subject I love so much. Over the past 40 years I’ve seen the pendulum swing several times. It is at the lowest point yet.

  7. #7 Riaz-ul Haque
    March 24, 2011

    Let’s not complicate simplicity. Science needs to be a story from its beginning to now complete with a description of all the circumstances under which various discoveries were made. Since, most were made serendipitously. This fact needs to be made clear to the students, especially the beginning ones, otherwise they begin to feel incompetent if they cannot come up with solutions to posed problems. Also, let us not oversell the scientific method as if it is magic wand from which all solutions will automatically spring forth.

    Practically all science and therefore all discoveries emerge from ones knowledge base. The basic function that science teaching thus must perform is to enhance students’ knowledge but not by giving them a set of facts to memorize but to show them how science is actually done so they can see the facts emerging from their own experience. That is where true hands-on science comes in which becomes even more meaningful if it is presented in a chronological order starting with say the Leeuwenhoek’s microscope and that even after seeing the animalcules, no progress occurred until Pasteur’s time and that too accidentally. Otherwise, we are making those who made the discoveries giants and the beginners’ lowly nobodies. If that is not the way to crush an emerging ego and self worth then what is. My suggestion is to all those involved in the process of setting up standards including the Carnegie Corporation of New York to stop treating science as the sacred cow. Let it be felt by doing and living it in a lab setting see: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=149281.

  8. #8 manderson
    December 16, 2011

    Can anyone tell me where to find the rough draft of the standards? the link above is broken.

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