History of Science Education


1751--Private Academies (Philadelphia)--Religious Instruction

Approx. 1751


Natural Philosophy (Physics)
Geology (Physical Geography)
Navigation, Agriculture, Surveying
Open to males and females, affluent only

Jacksonian Democracy

1820 - 1850

new funding support for public education

1870s—1890s--Second Century--Period of College Domination

1870 - 1890

Science curriculum was greatly shaped by the Industrial Revolution. This shifted education from the agrarian society to a technical or industrial society. There was a massive migration of people to the cities. Additionally there were thousands of immigrants.

Faculty at the Colleges and Universities required physics and chemistry for college admission. In 1872, Harvard required physics for admission. High School texts were abbreviated college texts.

Physics was most important
Chemistry was second
Biology was added, composed of Botany, Zoology, and Physiology
Labs were introduced, but were usually dull and stereotyped

School Reorganization


Development of the 6 – 3 – 3 System

Science Reorganization

1910 - 1930

9th grade General Science
10th grade Biology
11th grade Physics
12th grade Chemistry
General Science developed very rapidly even moving down to the 7th grade.

Committee on the place of Science in Education of the American Association for the Advancement of Science


Report stressed the importance of scientific thinking as a goal. Mastery of subject matter was still #1.

General Science added to the 7th and 8th grade curriculum.

1930 - 1945

Advanced science courses added to the 11th and 12th grade.
Biology becomes the basic 9th grade science course requirement.
World War II brings about the need for practical sciences:
National Society for the Study of Electives (1932) published a list of 38 generalizations for grades 1-12. Science was still presented as a body of facts.

The post-WWII era

1945 - 1955

In 1945, 75% of boys and girls of high school age were attending secondary schools.
Science Fairs were popular.
Earth Science, Physical Science, General Science
Biology interest is up.
Chemistry interest is down.
Physics interest is down.
Teaching information was still the most important.

Revolution in Science

1955 - 1970

Student population increases. Enrollment in science increases. Physical Science interest declines. Pressure from outside the school on science.

dogma only
lacked vigor
content oriented
lacked conceptual unity
was outdated
had no bearing on the real world
The reform came from University Science and Math Professors. Textbooks were poor, outdated and irrelevant.
*** Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 changed everything.

America was embarrassed by the Russian program. NSF and other federal programs came into existence. There was a shortage of scientists. There were few qualified people entering the field. Science was boring.

There was the development of National Science Programs
Program Program Title Subject Year Level
BSCS Biological Sciences Curriculum Study Biology 1958 HS
ESCP Earth Sciences Curriculum Project Earth Science 1963 MS
IPS Introductory Physical Science Physical Science 1965 MS
CHEM Chemical Education Materials Study Chemistry 1959 HS
ISCS Intermediate Science Curriculum Study General Science 1966 MS
PSSC Physical Science Study Committee Physical Science Study Committee at Cambridge, Mass 1956 HS

The College Board introduces college-level science courses for advanced high-school students:


AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Physics B/C (which become AP Physics B and AP Physics C in 1969).

Congress passes the National Defense Education Act


Congress passes the National Defense Education Act, which provides $887 million to boost science education, including doubling funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that supports research, teacher training and curriculum development.

Epperson v. Arkansas


Supreme Court rules in Epperson v. Arkansas that barring the teaching of evolution is unconstitutional, striking down an Arkansas state law.

National Assessment of Educational Progress

1969 - 1970

The first National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam tests what American students nationwide know about science and other subjects. NAEP begins testing science knowledge at the state level in 1996.

Apollo 11 lands on the moon

July 20, 1969

Apollo 11 lands on the moon, ending the Space Race and inspiring many to pursue careers in science.

Little innovation, and some decline.

1970 - 1980

New courses were too discipline oriented.
All dogma and theory based.
Science not connected with general education.
Too rigorous for the average student.
Courses were difficult to teach.

Physics for Poets


Physics for Poets, a college textbook that explains physics to non-science majors without using math, is published.

National Environmental Education Act

October 1970

President Nixon signs the National Environmental Education Act, which creates the Office of Environmental Education to provide grants for curriculum development and teacher training. The office is eliminated by Congress in the 1980s, but revived and relocated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1990.

U.S. Metric Board

1975 - 1982

Congress creates the U.S. Metric Board to promote voluntary adoption of the metric system of measurement, used in science classrooms but not in daily American life. The public resists, and an opportunity to demystify science slips away when the board disbands in 1982.

“321 Contact”


“321 Contact,” the first science television show for kids funded by the federal government, airs on PBS, featuring a disco theme song and cameo appearances by a young Sarah Jessica Parker.

President Reagan’s fiscal year 1982 budget


President Reagan’s fiscal year 1982 budget slashes funding for the National Science Foundation by 70 percent, eliminating all NSF support for K-12 science initiatives, including teacher institutes and curriculum development.

“A Nation at Risk


This was the main part of a report by the National Commission on Excellent in Education. Read it yourself at US Department of Education website.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education issues a wake-up call to the American public with its Nation at Risk report, charging that U.S. schools are failing to prepare students to compete globally.

Florida passes a law


lorida passes a law allowing students to opt out of dissecting animals in science class. Fourteen more states have since passed similar laws, board of education policies or state resolutions, spawning a cottage industry in virtual dissection technology.

American Association for the Advancement of Science - Project 2061

1985 - March 20, 2017

The American Association for the Advancement of Science launches Project 2061, a math and science reform group that defines scientific literacy in its reports “Science for All Americans” and “Benchmarks for Science Literacy.”

“Teacher in Space”


NASA suspends its “Teacher in Space” program after high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, a crewmember on the Space Shuttle Challenger, dies when the craft explodes shortly after launch. The program is never revived, although McAuliffe’s backup, Barbara Morgan, leaves elementary teaching and becomes an astronaut, flying on a mission in 2007.

Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP)


The Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP), based at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California-Berkeley, starts developing hands-on, inquiry-based curricula that explore societal issues like food safety and water pollution to make science more engaging.

Where do we go from here?


Times had changed and the curriculum is shaped to reflect the changes of social and personal needs of science. The current thinking in the instruction of science includes

Standards and Benchmarks


“Physics First”


The “Physics First” movement begins to grow, as teachers and scientists push to teach physics rather than biology in ninth grade to allow more advanced study of biology and chemistry in subsequent years.

National Research Council produces the National Science Education Standards


The National Research Council produces the National Science Education Standards, a set of goals for teaching, student knowledge and assessment.

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley creates the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century


U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley creates the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, led by former U.S. Senator and astronaut John Glenn, to look into strategies to improve mathematics and science teaching. The Commission’s 2000 report, “Before It’s Too Late,” says bonuses and higher salaries are needed to attract more science teachers.

“CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”


CBS television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” sparks interest in forensic science careers and DNA testing.

No Child Left Behind Act


The No Child Left Behind Act takes the focus off science education as teachers scramble to boost scores on math and reading tests.



All American schools have access to
the Internet, according to the National
Center for Education Statistics.

federal district court rules that the Dover, Pa.


A federal district court rules that the Dover, Pa., school board cannot require teachers to present “intelligent design” as an alternative to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in high school biology classes because the school district’s promotion of intelligent design violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

America COMPETES Act


Congress responds to the National Academies’ report with the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes funding for a variety of new programs to improve K-12 science and math education. However, many of the programs go unfunded, in whole or in part.

“Rising Above the Gathering Storm”


The National Academies’ report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” argues that strengthening science and math education is essential if the U.S. is to remain prosperous in the 21st century.



President Barack Obama’s Race to
the Top program ushers in a wave of
education reforms as states compete
for federal grants in the midst of a

Developing Next Generation Science Standards

2013 - 2017

In a process managed by Achieve, states led the development of K–12 science standards that are rich in content and practice and arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally-benchmarked science education. The NGSS are based on the Framework and will prepare students for college and careers. The NGSS were developed collaboratively with states and other stakeholders in science, science education, higher education, and industry. Additional review and guidance were provided by advisory committees composed of nationally-recognized leaders in science and science education as well as business and industry. As part of the development process, the standards underwent multiple reviews from many stakeholders including two public drafts, allowing all who have a stake in science education an opportunity to inform the development of the standards. This process produced a set of high quality, college- and career-ready K–12 Next Generation Science Standards ready for state adoption. The standards were published on this website when they were completed in April 2013.