The following letter was sent on 02/01/29 to Mr. Reed Hastings, and later to other members of the California State Board of Education, to urge adoption of California's new Science Framework. The framework was adopted in a meeting in early February. The CA Science Framework is a fine document that can serve as a model for similar documents nationwide. It provides a much needed counterweight to the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and the AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks.
Of related interest: my letter to the Committee on Education of the American Physical Society concerning the National Science Education Standards (NSES).
See the Education Page of Bas Braams - Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education - for related matter.
Mr. Reed Hastings, President
California State Board of Education
721 Capitol Mall, 5th Floor
Sacramento, CA 94244--2720
Dear Mr. Hastings,
Please allow me to congratulate you and the State of California on the superb draft Science Framework now ready for adoption. I sincerely hope that you will adopt this Framework and I am confident that scientists across the country will admire your leadership and that of the State of California in your affirmation and strengthening of high standards in science education. My perspective is that of a physical and mathematical scientist who has paid attention to mathematics and science curricula in the local schools and to national standards in mathematics and science education, and also of a citizen concerned about the enterprise of science and technology in this country.
I anticipate that the adoption debate over your draft Science Framework may involve comparison with the ``Benchmarks for Science Literacy'' and ``Science for All Americans'' developed by Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the ``National Science Education Standards'' (NSES) of the National Research Council. I have read those documents very carefully, and have come to the assessment that California has made all the correct choices where its science standards and framework contrast with those earlier documents --- indeed, I believe that Project 2061 and the NSES represent an educational romanticism that is not healthy for science or for the country, whereas by contrast the California documents represent an enlightened view of the importance of excellence in science education.
The California Science Standards and draft Framework display a fine balance between content knowledge on one hand and Investigation and Experimentation on the other; this in marked and favorable contrast with Project 2061 and NSES, which have far too much emphasis on hands-on ``explorations'' at the expense of content knowledge. The California draft Science Framework provides an excellent guide for teachers and for curriculum developers. The Framework is concrete and admirably detailed in its treatment of the knowledge and skills that students should acquire in the course of their studies. I have paid most attention to the physical science components, and am genuinely impressed by the level of detail and the thorough guidance that the Framework provides at each grade level.
The California Science Standards and draft Framework have a firm focus on the three main science strands (physical science, life science, earth science) plus the Investigation and Experimentation strand; this too is in marked and favorable contrast with NSES, which organizes the content standards in eight somewhat fuzzy strands without clear prioritization other than that Inquiry reigns supreme. Project 2061 is worse than NSES in so many ways, including its explicit rejection of so much science content teaching per se, that I won't even try any more to contrast your standards and framework with that document.
The California draft Science Framework contains very sensible comments in the early chapters (esp. chapter 2) about the subsidiary role of strands on technology and societal issues within science education, again contrasting favorably with the prominent role that these additional strands receive in NSES. I strongly agree with your choice to assign certain societal and philosophical issues of science and technology to the History and Social Science curriculum, and with your affirmation that the primary way in which Science Education teaches about the scientific method, the nature of science, and scientific standards and ethics is through the teaching of science itself.
The California Standards and draft Framework are written in a no-nonsense precise style that any scientist should appreciate. I also appreciate the two-level nature of the California standards and framework for grades 9-12, having one set of content standards that all students are expected to achieve in the course of their studies and an additional set that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Here I have paid most attention to the Physics standard. The Framework emphasizes correctly the strong curricular interrelation between Physics and Mathematics and the dependence of good Physics education upon high standards in Mathematics education. Mastery of the starred Sections of the Standards and Framework will provide a good basis for college science courses. My assessment is that the content of these starred sections in the Physics framework approaches, but does not yet match, the level of science education that one associates with a traditional European education for college-bound students. There is some distance to go still, and this will become possible as the higher Mathematics standards that have been introduced in California make their influence felt up the grade levels.
In conclusion I repeat my admiration for the draft Science Framework and urge that it be adopted. The scientific community in the country will have every reason to look to this California document and the associated Standards document for guidance and leadership in K-12 science education. There will be no ground for complacency, but adoption and implementation of this Science Framework, following California's earlier ground-breaking work on the Mathematics standards and framework, will represent a major step for the State of California towards establishing a world-class K-12 system of education.
Research Associate Professor
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University
251 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012-1185
The opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by New York University.