Science understanding and ability also will enhance the capability of all students to hold meaningful and productive jobs in the future. The business community needs entry-level workers with the ability to learn, reason, think creatively, make decisions, and solve problems. In addition, concerns regarding economic competitiveness stress the central importance of science and mathematics education that will allow us to keep pace with our global competitors.
The term ''standard" has multiple meanings. Science education standards are criteria to judge quality: the quality of what students know and are able to do; the quality of the science programs that provide the opportunity for students to learn science; the quality of science teaching; the quality of the system that supports science teachers and programs; and the quality of assessment practices and policies. Science education standards provide criteria to judge progress toward a national vision of learning and teaching science in a system that promotes excellence, providing a banner around which reformers can rally.
A hallmark of American education is local control, where boards of education and teachers make decisions about what students will learn. National standards present criteria by which judgments can be made by state and local school personnel and communities, helping them to decide which curriculum, staff development activity, or assessment program is appropriate. National standards encourage policies that will bring coordination, consistency, and coherence to the improvement of science education: They allow everyone to move in the same direction, with the assurance that the risks they take in the name of improving science education will be supported by policies and practices throughout the system.
Some outstanding things happen in science classrooms today, even without national standards. But they happen because extraordinary teachers do what needs to be done despite conventional practice. Many generous teachers spend their own money on science supplies, knowing that students learn best by investigation. These teachers ignore the vocabulary-dense textbooks and encourage student inquiry. They also make their science courses relevant to students' lives, instead of simply being preparation for another school science course.
Implementation of the National Science Education Standards will highlight and promote the best practices of those extraordinary teachers and give them the recognition and support they deserve. School principals who find money in their budgets for field trips, parents whose bake-sale proceeds purchase science equipment, and publishers who are pioneering authentic assessments despite the market for multiple-choice tests will also be recognized and encouraged.
The Standards help to chart the course into the future. By building on the best of current practice, they aim to take us beyond the constraints of present structures of schooling toward a shared vision of excellence.