National efforts under way to raise bar for science, social studies curriculums

August 13, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |

The Common Core standards, the basis for a new curriculum to be implemented in Washington County Public Schools in two years, focus on math and English-language arts.

The English-language arts portion of Common Core also addresses literacy in history and social studies, as well as science and technical subjects.

Some local science teachers attended training sessions this summer to learn about those standards and teaching strategies such as promoting science, technology and engineering in a cross-disciplinary approach, said Clyde Harrell, director for curriculum and instruction for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

But what about updating the science and social studies curriculum?

There are two other efforts nationally to raise the bar for science and social studies curriculums, school system officials said.

Several national organizations are developing core standards for science and a framework for science instruction, said Sandy Graff, supervisor of secondary science.

Those organizations are Achieve, National Science Teachers Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science and National Academies of Science's National Research Council, according to, the website for the nonprofit education organization.

It has been 15 years since science standards, on a national level, have been revised, according to The National Research Council's National Science Education Standards and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Benchmarks for Science Literacy don't account for changes such as the availability of the Internet, the emergence of biotechnology or Pluto's reclassification as a dwarf planet.

That doesn't mean students haven't been learning about such things as teachers keep abreast of changes and incorporate them into their lessons, Harrell said.

"Things are never static in education. They always have to keep moving forward," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

A few weeks ago, the organizations released the framework or outline of expectations that will be used to build science curriculum standards, like Common Core did for math and English, Graff said.

Information about that framework can be found at the National Academies' website at

Harrell said the social studies standards aren't as far along as the science standards.

There has been difficulty in coming to agreement on the social studies standards because of political views, he said.

"Social studies has always got that kind of controversy attached to it. Everybody has their own interpretation of history. That's what we try to do, find out what really happened. Different people want different things emphasized" in the standards, said Evelyn Williams, the school system's supervisor of secondary social studies.

The first draft of the national social studies standards is expected to be done in the spring of 2012, Williams said. When the standards are released, educators will review them and make comments.

"History standards have a long history of being very controversial, so we'll have to see what happens there," Williams said.

Each state will write its own curriculum based on the standards, she said.

The four areas on which the effort is focusing are history, economics, civics and geography, Williams said.

The National Council for Social Studies and the Council for State Social Studies Supervisors are leading the effort to create Common Core social studies standards, according to an email from Williams.

Similar to Common Core for math and English, the goal is for graduates to be college- and career-ready or, as Williams wrote, to be "ready for success and prepared for effective participation in our American democracy and global society."

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