Call to Action for Science Education: How Teacher Leaders Can Help
Over the past year and half, Americans have had delivered to them a powerful message about why science is essential to the well-being of the United States. The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines has shown us firsthand why science is a powerful public good that we must preserve and prioritize. Science is a foundational part of our national infrastructure, essential to our physical health, to the nurturing of an informed citizenry that makes fact-based decisions in everyday life, and to an economy that is becoming increasingly dependent on STEM fields. Yet, science education is not the national priority it needs to be, and states and local communities are not yet delivering high quality, rigorous learning experiences in equal measure to all students from elementary school through higher education.
Recognizing the urgency of elevating the importance of science education, the Carnegie Corporation of New York commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) to develop a Call to Action for Science Education. NASEM convened a committee of 10 experts to develop the Call and solicited input from hundreds of educators across the country. The committee’s report lays out a vision for equitable access to quality science learning experiences across K-16 education that will enable all people to develop the scientific literacy they need for personal and professional success. To achieve this vision, investing in improved science learning for all must be a national priority embraced by federal and state policymakers and local communities.
The committee’s vision for K-16 science education, grounded in decades of research on effective teaching and learning, is that every student experiences the joy and wonder of science, learns how science can be used to solve local and global problems, sees the pathways they can take into science-related careers, and feels welcomed and valued in science classrooms. This vision parallels the vision of the Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC, 2012) and the Next Generation Science Standards. This means that we know what we are aiming for and we are already on the way to making the vision a reality.
Yet, many students, particularly students who live in poverty, Black, Latina/o, and Indigenous students, and students living in rural areas have lacked access to high quality science education across K-16 and have been shut out of many opportunities in STEM. This is despite the fact that 44 states have now adopted science standards that reflect the vision of the Framework. We need coordinated action at all levels of the education system and by policy and decision-makers in order to accelerate the progress we are already making and to address the persistent gaps in opportunity. The committee’s report lays out priorities for communities as they work to improve science education and identifies specific actions that policy and decision makers can take.
Teachers and teacher leaders are absolutely essential for advancing this effort. Their daily work in classrooms and schools is the lynchpin for science learning. But, they also can play a role in advocating for the funding, resources, and policies that are needed. Targeted advocacy from teachers at the local, state and federal level can help move policy makers and decision makers to implement the recommendations in the report.
In this unique moment, the nation has an opportunity to reset science education so that it is better for all Americans and more equitable for populations of students from rural communities and those who are of color or are experiencing poverty. We all need to work together to take advantage of this opportunity and make science education the national priority it should be.