By Ray Huard …Vista Unified is one of eight school districts and two charter school organizations chosen for a pilot program testing out and refining new standards for teaching science in grades kindergarten through eight.
The selection comes with a grant of “at least $480,000” for taking part in the California K-8 Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative, said Cindy Anderson, founding provost of Vista Innovation & Design Academy.
“Vista will be one of the first districts statewide figuring out how to implement these science standards,” said Anderson, who is Vista’s point person for the initiative.
“It allows us to be in the forefront of what’s happening,” Anderson said.
Other districts chosen for the initiative were San Diego Unified School District, Lakeside Union School District, Galt Joint Union Elementary, School District, Kings Canyon Unified School District, Oakland Unified School District, Palm Springs Unified School District and Tracy Unified School District.
Charter school groups chosen were High Tech High and Aspire Public Schools, which has charter schools in 11 cities in California and Tennessee.
“This is a very unique opportunity,” said Vista Deputy Superintendent Jeanie Luckey. “I’m very excited about this because it’s going to bring science into the forefront.”
The initiative is a four-year demonstration project developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, a nonprofit educational research agency based in San Francisco.
The purpose, according to WestEd’s web site, is to try out instructional materials and develop a cadre of teachers trained to work with the new science teaching standards which emphasize critical thinking over rote memorization.
“It says the process of doing science is just as important as the science concepts being taught,” Anderson said. “It’s not just facts, it’s how this world works.”
In choosing school districts for the project, WestEd was seeking a mix of districts geographically, in size and in the performance of their students, said Kathy DiRanna, statewide director of the K-12 Alliance.
Vista was in the mid-range in size and academic performance and district administrators and teachers have shown an eagerness to embrace the new approach to teaching science, DiRanna said.
Their attitude was “we know this is coming and we want to be ahead of the curve,” DiRanna said.
So far, 12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new science standards, she said.
Because California is such a populous state, what happens here will play a role in determining how the new standards are implemented elsewhere.
“We will not only be influencing what California does but what is done nationally,” DiRanna said.