Challenges of standards-based reform: The example of California's science content standards and textbook adoption process



In this paper, we debate the strengths and limitations of standards-based science education reform in the United States. Our purpose is to raise questions and encourage conversations about the mis/uses of standards to shape science curriculum and instructional practices at both state and national levels. We begin by examining the case of California: California recently developed science content standards and used these standards to guide the development, assessment, and adoption of K-8 science instructional materials, a process in which we participated. We offer substantive critique of the California standards themselves and the ways such standards narrowly frame science education for the state's teachers and students. We then move to more general challenges posed by fashioning standards as instruments of reform: the proliferation of increasingly unwieldy instructional materials and the muting of teachers' voices in local decision-making processes. While we do not call for the elimination of standards, we argue for greater awareness of the challenges in using standards to achieve science education reform and for renewed effort to include teachers in the translation of standards into local, responsive practice. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed87:378–389, 2003; Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI 10.1002/sce.10064