What happens in science classrooms is shaped by many factors, and all of them are part of the complex system of science education from kindergarten through high school (K-12). To improve science education to reach all students in all classrooms, plans for implementing the new vision of science education need to be designed with that complex system in mind. Different components of the system—instruction, curriculum, assessment, professional learning—all need to be designed around the goals for science learning described in 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). The vision and the goals also need to drive policies and practices at the state, district, and school levels and across grade levels. Consistent attention to coherence is essential to successful implementation of the NGSS or any other set of standards for education.
To maintain such coherence, leadership is paramount. Leadership is critical both in science and in districts and schools: everyone needs to understand the vision of the NGSS and actively work to support it. Cultivating teacher leaders who have expertise in science and science pedagogy and can help to mentor their colleagues is also important for supporting the necessary classroom-level changes that will result in better learning opportunities for students.
The work of implementation will be challenging and will take time. Plans for implementation should allow sufficient time for teachers and administrators to become familiar with the new standards and for teachers to become adept at new approaches to instruction. Appropriately sequencing and setting priorities for
the many steps in implementation will be essential. For example, small changes in instruction to incorporate scientific and engineering practices are likely to be implemented more quickly than major redesign of an entire assessment system.
Collaboration, networks, and partnerships are powerful mechanisms for tackling the challenges of implementation and for sharing successful strategies. Forming alliances with higher education, business, and other community partners can bring expertise and resources that may not be present in the K-12 system. In building these partnerships and in all aspects of planning and implementation, the unique needs for science have to be kept in the center.
Although there are opportunities to learn from efforts to implement standards in other subjects, such as English language arts and mathematics, science is unique in three aspects. First, in science, the emphasis is on generating and interpreting empirical evidence. Second, there is relatively limited time and attention devoted to the subject, especially in elementary school. Third, there is a relative lack of deep expertise in science and science pedagogy among administrators in the education system.
To plan and implement the NGSS, ongoing communication throughout the process will be critical. Numerous stakeholders—including educators, parents, businesses, higher education institutions, and community organizations—have a vested interest in the well-being and success of children and youth. They care deeply about whether students are being well served: their ideas and concerns about science education and how best to move forward with improving it need to inform the implementation process.
The changes catalyzed by the Framework and the NGSS that are just beginning to take hold in districts and schools across the United States promise to provide all children with exciting and challenging opportunities to learn science. Working to ensure that some children are not left out and that educators have the supports and resources they need to make the vision a reality requires long-term, coordinated investments by everyone who cares about science, science education, and the future of the nation’s children and youth.