nation will depend on generating a sufficient number of well-trained scientists and engineers. Thus, science education in U.S. schools must be effective for all students, encouraging talent and interest wherever it is found (NSB, 1998, 1999).
A Nation At Risk (NCEE, 1983) challenged our country to improve science education for all students. While we have made some progress, much work remains. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed clearly that while American elementary school students perform well in comparison to their foreign counterparts, their performance steadily declines in middle and high school (NCES, 1998a; Schmidt, McKnight, and Raizen, 1997; Schmidt and McKnight, 1998; NSB, 1998) Research associated with the TIMSS project found that many science textbooks in use in the United States emphasize breadth of coverage at the expense of deep understanding of fundamental scientific concepts (Schmidt et al., 1997; Schmidt and McKnight 1998). Even if the TIMSS data and interpretation are flawed in some respects — as some have argued (Rotberg, 1998; as referenced in Schmidt and McKnight, 1998) — we should take them as a serious challenge as we continue our efforts to improve instruction and performance.
The publication of the National Science Education Standards, abbreviated in this report as Standards (NRC, 1996), represents the core initiating element in the National Academies' response to the challenge of changing and improving science education in the United States. Complementary and consistent activities are ongoing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science under the title Project 2061 (AAAS, 1989, 1993).
The Standards (NRC, 1996) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) were developed to provide goals for the entire nation. They implicitly recognize that U.S. educational policy is made and implemented locally in the states and school districts. It is expected that, depending on local interests and needs, diverse routes will be taken to reach the goals of the standards. Nevertheless, national standards are important if all children are to experience successful science instruction. Currently, there is enormous local variability in the quality and quantity of science programs. In 1996, for example, 41% of eighth grade students in North Dakota met or exceeded the national Goals 2000 proficiency performance standards in science, while only 5% and 20% of eighth grade students in the District of Columbia