NRC Releases K-12 Science Education Framework and Makes Plans for SBE Sciences

July 27, 2011

by Paula Skedsvold

On July 19, 2011, the National Research Council (NRC) released its long-awaited report, A Framework for K-12 Science Education. “The overarching goal of the framework…is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science, the capacity to discuss and think critically about science-related issues, and the skills to pursue careers in science or engineering if they want to do so….” according to the press release accompanying the report.

The framework identifies seven crosscutting concepts (e.g., cause and effect), eight key science and engineering practices (e.g., asking questions and defining problems), and core ideas in four disciplinary areas (physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science). The new framework developed by the NRC Committee will be used to develop a “next-generation set of science standards for voluntary adoption by the states.” A nonprofit organization, Achieve, is responsible for engaging stakeholders at the state level in this next stage.

During the development of the report, the Committee recognized that public input would be “crucial” to the success of the framework and sought feedback on a draft report. A large number of scientific societies in the social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) sciences responded by raising concerns about the exclusion of these areas from the draft report [PDF].

In this final report, the NRC identifies the omission of SBE sciences (as well as statistics and computer science) as a “limitation” of the new framework.  Four reasons are cited for the exclusion of SBE: (1) SBE sciences were not part of the original charge; (2) SBE sciences have different methods, theories, relationships to other disciplines of science, and representation in the K-12 curriculum; (3) the Committee drew on existing science education and assessment documents that omit large or all areas of the SBE sciences; and (4) SBE sciences have typically not been included in the science curriculum, but instead are often embedded in the social studies curriculum.

In elaborating on the exclusion of SBE sciences, the NRC Committee stated: “The limited treatment of these fields in this report’s framework should not, however, be interpreted to mean that the social, behavioral, and economic sciences should be omitted from the K-12 curriculum. On the contrary, the Committee strongly believes that these important disciplines need their own framework for defining core concepts to be learned at the K-12 level and that learning (the development of understanding of content and practices) in the physical, life, earth, and space sciences and engineering should be strongly linked with parallel learning in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences.”

On November 17 and 18, 2011, the NRC’s Board on Science Education will hold a two-day planning meeting in Washington, DC on the development of a framework for the SBE sciences in K-12 education.

Download a pre-publication copy of the report »

Get more details on the SBE meeting »