RECOMMENDATION 18 Ensure existing state and local policies are consistent with the goals for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. State boards or commissions with the appropriate authority should review and revise where necessary state-level policies with regard to teacher certification, graduation requirements, and admissions requirements for higher education to ensure they do not create barriers to effective implementation. District leaders should ensure local policies such as teacher assignment support implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards.
RECOMMENDATION 19 Create realistic timelines and monitor progress. State, district, and school leaders should ensure that timelines for implementing the Next Generation Science Standards are realistic and are clearly understood at all levels of the system. They should monitor the implementation and make adjustments when necessary.
RECOMMENDATION 20 Use A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas and the Next Generation Science Standards to drive teacher preparation. Provosts, deans, department heads, and faculty in higher education institutions should review and revise programs and requirements for teacher preservice training and introductory undergraduate science courses to ensure these are responsive to teachers’ needs under the Next Generation Science Standards, at both the elementary and secondary levels.
RECOMMENDATION 21 Communicate with local stakeholders. State, district, and school leaders should develop a comprehensive strategy for communicating with parents and community members about the Next Generation Science Standards and the changes that will take place to implement them, including a multiyear timeline, possible changes in students’ assessment results, and how science classrooms may be different. The communication strategy should include opportunities for public dialogues in which parents and others in the community can provide feedback and express concerns.
State education leaders need to be aware of the interplay of various policy decisions, including some not directly connected to science education. Those policies include budget allocation, human capital, accountability, school configuration, use of classroom time, and course requirements. Leaders need to review them to ensure that they are consistent with the goals of A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012; hereafter referred to as the Framework) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to change them when they are not.
Ensuring that students at all grade levels have adequate time and opportunity for science learning needs to be a priority for successful implementation. Because this time competes with priorities and other demands for student time, science learning
opportunities have to be a topic of district- and school-level policy and decision making.
The one obvious time issue is the number of years of science required for high school graduation. Given the standards for grades 9-12 under the NGSS, it is difficult to envision any course sequence that offers all students an opportunity to explore these ideas and reach the expected level of competence with them in less than a 3-year sequence. Indeed, for many students it will require 4 years of high school science or opportunities for students to learn some of the science ideas and practices in the context of career and technical education courses. An example that maps the 9-12 grade standards over each year of high school results in three demanding courses with high expectations for student learning (see NGSS Lead States, 2013, App. K).
States or districts that currently require less than 3 years of science for high school graduation will need to consider how this policy affects students’ opportunity to learn the science and take steps to ensure that all students indeed have this opportunity. Decisions about course requirements and sequencing, and about the timing and content of the science testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act,1 have implications for available course options. Course options, classroom space, and resources devoted to science classes all affect the ability of students to effectively engage in the science practices throughout high school. The NGSS represent the minimum standards to be achieved by all students. Options for interested students to take more advanced science courses at the high school level (advanced placement, international baccalaureate, or honors courses) also need to be supported, and such options need to be equitably available to all students. Policies that tightly restrict the number of courses a student may enroll in each semester may limit options for science for ambitious students.
Other state and or local policies particularly affect time for learning in the lower grades, such as policies on instructional minutes for specific subjects or on how English-language learners are supported to learn English. If state or district policies in these areas result in less class time for science, it may mean that some students are not being given the needed opportunity to learn science. Some rethinking of how best to serve the students with particular needs may be necessary.
1For a discussion of the act and its implications for science education see Systems for State Science Assessment (National Research Council, 2006b).
Teachers need to be supported and given the flexibility to work across subject areas to implement instruction that supports student learning across multiple learning goals: that is, science learning and literacy or language learning need to work together and not be regarded as competing options (Lee et al, 2013; NGSS Lead States, 2013, App. D; Quinn et al., 2013). Understanding such shared learning goals is the kind of activity for which school leaders and teachers can learn from others who are further down the path of implementation, through networks and other kinds of collaboration.
Higher education systems will need to review and may need to update their admissions policies with regard to science courses, such as what courses are accepted as “laboratory based” (for a discussion of laboratory experiences in high school, see National Research Council, 2006a). Rigorous new courses intended to meet the NGSS must not be excluded from acceptance because the science investigations that they include are chiefly field work, for example, in Earth or environmental science. Engineering design work, as well as science investigations, need to qualify as meeting requirements for practical or laboratory work. The system for review and qualification of new high school courses as acceptable under admissions standards needs to be consistent with the view of science practices elaborated in the Framework.
Science teacher preparation programs (including both traditional programs and alternative pathways into teaching) and certification requirements will also need to be adjusted to better prepare teachers for supporting the NGSS. Secondary teachers will need to be prepared to make stronger connections across disciplines than is usual in the current high school curriculum: for example, expecting chemistry teachers to cover some applications of chemistry in an Earth science context or physics teachers to engage their students in engineering design. In addition, if new course patterns emerge at middle and high school, there may be a need for new credential options for teachers at these levels that are better matched to the courses.
Ensuring that preservice education and alternative certification programs produce science teachers for all levels who enter the classroom prepared to meet the new demands of science instruction will likely require redesigning both science
and science teaching methods courses. It may also entail some changes to certification requirements, particularly those used for alternate paths to subject-area certification. Teacher preparation should include participation in the full range of science practices and applying crosscutting concepts. Finally, the assessments required for teacher licensure and the course work needed for subject-area certification need to reflect the types of learning and assessment tasks that teachers will be expected to develop for students. It is important to ensure that the value of learning activities and assessments that integrate the three dimensions of the Framework for students also apply to the evaluations used to assess teachers’ ability to teach science.
In making any significant change, such as implementing a new approach to science, state and district leaders need to be aware not only that the change will take time to occur but also of the need to communicate effectively with multiple audiences. Districts need to ensure that parents, teachers, and community leaders understand the goals of the new standards, the evidence for why the new approaches are an improvement, and that some struggles along the way are to be expected.
Information sessions for the public should include opportunities for dialogue in which parents and others can ask questions and express concerns: such dialogue is an important part of communication. These information sessions should occur early in the process of implementation so that they can lay the groundwork to ensure that initial “bumps in the road” do not become barriers to acceptance and ongoing public support for implementation. Enlisting key allies, for example, from local industry, to speak in support of the changes from their perspective as employers can be very helpful in building community understanding and support.
Teachers, parents, and the broader community need to understand the expected timelines for implementation, as well as the implications for the assessment system. As changes in assessment may take time, districts should identify how they will be monitoring the success of their transition to new standards and share that information with their communities. State and district accountability policies will need to take these issues into account, and the community (teachers, parents, and the general public) will need to be engaged and educated to understand the rationale for the changes.
In addition to general communication, districts will need to be prepared to support teachers to communicate with and respond to parents or others who
object to the inclusion in the curriculum of particular topics such as evolution or the human role in global climate change.2
Without a systematic examination of how policies at the state, district, and school levels support or impede implementation of new standards for science, there are likely to be policy barriers to effective implementation. This examination needs to include policies that affect state higher education. It also needs to include state requirements for certification and teacher preparation programs to ensure that they are well matched to the teaching expectations of the NGSS.
Failure to communicate to parents and the community and to enlist their understanding and support of implementation of the NGSS can lead to resistance to the new standards or unrealistic expectations of how fast it will occur. To be able to sustain change over time, it is essential that districts reach out early on to help the community engage with and embrace the vision for change and the inevitable process of continuous improvement or they will be caught being reactive when something does not initially go as smoothly as expected.
Messages should be developed to specifically reach parents, and events should be planned to engage them in dialogue about the change process. If parents and community leaders are engaged at the planning stage and are informed about the reasons for the changes and the expected timelines to implement them, they are more likely to be supportive.
Decisions and policies do not always lead to the desired outcomes, and they can have unintended effects as well as those that were intended. Leaders at every level need to monitor the NGSS implementation and be alert for unintended consequences of both existing and new policies and resource allocations. The challenge for leaders is to recognize when a policy simply needs time to achieve the intended
2Two helpful resources on these topics are the National Center for Science Education and the National Academy of Sciences: see http://www.ncse.com/ and http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=5787&page=R3 [November 2014], respectively.
effect or whether there is a need for modification or revision, or shifts in resource allocations, to counter undesired outcomes.
To achieve any change, the people charged with implementing it need not only the knowledge, skills, and leadership to pull people together for the work but also the positional authority to do the things they need to do. Science implementation leaders need to be given adequate control of the resources and decisions essential to making the NGSS implementation work. Teacher leaders expected to support learning of other teachers need work time and resources to do that work. At each level—state, district, and school—leaders need to ensure that the plan and those charged with implementing it are backed by sufficient authority and resources to do the work that they are being asked to do.