The challenges facing science education in our state today are alarming: massive budget cuts to public education and educational agencies, a fragile economy that makes us fearful for our jobs, and a host of pressing challenges to our educational communities. Yet the current crisis also provides a rare opportunity to advocate for, and to build consensus around a vision of science education that goes beyond the twentieth century to benefit our children’s futures. During this period of crisis and opportunity, NCSLA is taking new steps to deepen our connections with the policy community, ensure that our objective, high-quality information addresses critical challenges facing education in the state, and encourage consensus building on tough issues among our membership and partners.
As our board reviewed our strategic plan in August, we determined to focus our energy this year on three particular strands of our plan. Advocating with our state department and state and national legislators to build understanding about investigative and problem-based science is one. Another is supporting our membership through our website which will continuously have articles and other resources needed by our teachers. Networking with other state organizations, universities and businesses to build membership and sponsorships is the third. If we share our vision and actively seek the backing of like-minded educators and businessmen, we will increase our membership and have a resounding voice.
In our Quantum Leap position paper published two years ago, NCSLA states that our students need “early, motivating science experiences leading to rigorous engagement of all students” which requires attention to accountability, time to teach using project based learning and authentic investigative science, development of teachers’ content knowledge through professional development, and procurement of materials for inquiry investigations and labs.
Last fall about 1000 North Carolina elementary, middle, and high school teachers of science responded in the NCSLA Inquiry Survey to questions about factors that relate to their implementation of inquiry, as defined by the National Science Education Standards. Their responses confirm that the same requirements, if missing, are barriers to their implementation of inquiry-based instruction. In our survey the factor found most likely to predict the use of inquiry is comfort with its use, which implies that professional development is critical to promote the use of inquiry or investigative science.
Other countries are scoring better than the US on international science tests. North Carolina is scoring below the average of states in the US on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for science in both 4th and 8th grades. In the current accountability system in ESEA/NCLB, only English/Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics are included in the formula. As a result, time spent on science has been greatly reduced in schools nationwide. A Center for Education Policy report (*Instructional Time in Elementary Schools: A Closer Look at Changes for Specific Subjects, February 2008*) found that a majority of the nation's school districts increased time for ELA or math and reduced time by at least 75 minutes per week in science.
In July, I was fortunate to attend the K-12 Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) Education Policy Conference in Washington, DC. As part of the conference, participants visited Capitol Hill to talk with their state’s congressmen and senators. We asked our legislators to include science as part of the formula for accountability in the reauthorization of ESEA. We stressed the importance of putting science on an equal playing field with ELA and mathematics. Part of our rationale included information in a July 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce report that found: “The STEM workforce has an outsized impact on a nation’s competitiveness, economic growth, and overall standard of living. STEM jobs are the jobs of the future.” Therefore we must have a very rigorous science curriculum in our nation and our state so students are prepared for jobs in our state, nation and internationally.
In Washington, DC I learned that when talking to legislators one needs to develop three “Asks” about what you want to tell them or have from them. I have three “Asks” that I want you to consider as you determine how you might participate as a member or potential member of NCSLA this year.
- Advocate for science accountability nationally and for a rigorous science curriculum in our state. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. If you haven’t ever written your US Congressman, now is the time. Here is a simple process for writing a letter to your congressman asking them to add science to the accountability formula in the ESEA Reauthorization. Another issue relates to The Next Generation of National Science Standards that are on schedule to be released in 2012. Wouldn’t it be sensible to wait for the National Standards and postpone the implementation of the Essential Standards in 2012?
- Network with partners in science and increase our membership and sponsorship to have a stronger voice throughout the state. Promote the extensive NCSLA membership benefits to K-12 educators, scientific community, higher education, and the business community. Information acquisition which is both one-way and two-way, from the website and the meetings is support that members receive. Advocacy is made easier with links to legislation, contact information for your local legislators and listservs to keep you informed about how policy decisions and current bills could affect you. Another benefit is being a part of the larger scientific community, which gives members a sense of “belonging”. Our members now have access to an online membership directory to facilitate connection with other NCSLA members.
- Use our website to be informed about relevant issues. Our membership has access via an amazing easily searchable website to find resources that you may not have in your school or district at this time. Receive support through professional development at our fall and spring meetings. Our fall meeting will have a workshop led by Dr. Gail Jones and team about nanoscience. NCSLA will present at the NCSTA conference about the Inquiry Survey to share our findings and to get your reaction and comments. Our spring meeting will have a panel of experts to share their definitions and strategies around STEM. Additionally at each meeting we will have job-alike break out groups for opportunities for discussion about the meeting topics.