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National Academy of Sciences - National Academy of Sciences History, Behavioral and Social Sciences, Education, Notable Studies

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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is one of three honorific societies which, with the National Research Council, are grouped together under the umbrella organization called the National Academies. The other organizations include the National Academy of Engineering (established in 1964) and the Institute of Medicine (1970). Together, the National Academies institutions marshal the talent, expertise, and public spiritedness of roughly 10,000 volunteers and 1,000 staff who work together in more than 500 committees and issue about one report every working day (230 in 2001).

National Academy of Sciences History

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was established in 1863 by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. This act of incorporation, or charter, created an academy of fifty specified members, with the authority to fill membership vacancies and to create its own laws and organization. Most important, in the words of its charter, the new organization would, "whenever called upon by any department of the government, investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art, the actual expense of such investigations, examinations, experiments, and reports to be paid from appropriations which may be made for the purpose, but the academy shall receive no compensation whatever for any services to the government of the United States."

The academy had several historical and national antecedents. In Europe, honorific scientific organizations such as Great Britain's Royal Society and the French Academy of Sciences had been founded as far back as the 1660s. In America, the academy's fore-runners included the American Philosophical Society, formed in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, established by the Massachusetts legislature in 1780; the Columbian Institution for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, formed in 1816; and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in 1848. But with the founding of the NAS a new type of organization was created, one that combined an American equivalent to the venerable academies of sciences of Europe with a mission of providing scientific and technological advice to the government. The high honor of election to the academy was thus accompanied by an expectation of public service.

By 1916 the demand for scientific and technical advice exceeded the capacity of the small academy as the United States would soon find itself embroiled in a war and as it faced both domestic and world issues that warranted careful attention to empirical evidence, scientific knowledge, and technological know-how. President Woodrow Wilson therefore called upon the NAS to establish the National Research Council (NRC). Through this body the institution could broaden the participation of scientists, engineers, and other experts who were not elected members of the Academy; perhaps most important, it could engage the expertise of scientists and engineers in industry as well as in academic institutions, again with the principal ethos of voluntary public service.

President Wilson recognized the value of the NRC's wartime service by asking the NAS to continue the NRC as part of its peacetime organization. Accordingly, it was made permanent by Wilson's Executive Order No. 2859 of May 11, 1918, which cited the NRC's capacity for larger service. This larger service was reflected in the NRC's postwar organizational structure, which encompassed fields outside of the traditional physical and natural sciences. Although important work in psychology had been accomplished by the NRC during World War I, this work was placed under other divisions, such as Medical Sciences, or was classified as Special Projects. By contrast, the peacetime organization provided for a Division of Anthropology and Psychology, as well as a Division of Educational Relations. The role of the latter division was to maintain relationships with university and college research activities, "and to study the conditions attending the progress of research in these institutions."

Behavioral and Social Sciences

From its creation in 1863 the academy provided a place for the behavioral and social sciences in its section of Ethnology and Philology; later its reorganization provided for a standing committee of anthropology in 1899, later renamed Anthropology and Psychology. Members included William James and John Dewey.

Among the early forays of the NRC into the behavioral and social sciences was its involvement in the famous Army Alpha testing program, during World War I, which ultimately led to the application of intelligence tests to thousands of new recruits to the armed services. Other efforts included studies of human biological and sexual function; a study of the feasibility of developing an international auxiliary language (such as Esperanto) in 1919; and studies on human migration from 1922 to 1927. As part of the work of the Committee on Industrial Lighting (1926–1936), the famous Hawthorne experiments on productivity and motivation were initially designed and carried out, as described by Rexmond C. Cochrane in The National Academy of Sciences: The First Hundred Years 1863–1963 (1978).

In the early twenty-first century the NRC's Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education produces approximately forty reports per year, in the diverse fields of economics, population, child health and development, law and justice, statistics, cognitive sciences, human factors, testing, and education.

Education

Educational issues were embedded in the Alpha testing program and work studies of the 1920s and 1930s. Other early attention to education in the academy and NRC was focused on problems of education in science–mainly at the postsecondary, graduate, and postdoctoral level. Following the founding of the NRC, the academy's concern in this area had two principal aspects: advanced training in science through a wide variety of fellowship programs, and the maintenance and publication of comprehensive data on the production of Ph.D.'s in the United States.

More recently, however, attention to education has broadened from science education to a concern for the science of education. Amid the cacophony of data and proposed innovations for the nation's educational system, the general public as well as policy makers at all levels of government thirst for the disciplined, honest, and dispassionate rationality of science. The federal government's major elementary and secondary education bill, known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, uses the phrase "scientifically based research" more than 100 times. Growing public concern with the quality of the entire American educational enterprise, in particular with the apparent weaknesses in the elementary and secondary systems–coupled with persistent faith in Lincoln's notion of decision-making informed by rational empirical inquiry–has vastly increased the demand for science-based evidence generally, as well as for the specific consensus-seeking processes of the NRC.

The NRC's current portfolio in education–more than 150 reports since 1993 alone–has been shaped by the confluence of several powerful forces: the advent of the standards-based education movement, which involves focused attention by the science, mathematics, and other academic communities on the content appropriate and necessary for K–12 schooling; significant findings from cognitive, behavioral, and organizational research on how people learn; and increased pressure to find solutions to real-world education problems that are grounded in scientific evidence. As part of a broad reorganization undertaken in 2000, the NRC consolidated most of its education activities in the Center for Education, a unit of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.

Although the gap between research and practice is still formidable, there is no question that the twin goals of improved education research quality and improved use of the results of that research are prominent in the education policy agenda of the early twenty-first century. This theme–making scientific research accessible by and useful to educators at all levels–pervades much of the academies' current portfolio.

Notable Studies

Notable education studies conducted by NRC committees and boards in the decade 1992–2001 include the following, organized by major topic area.

Standards-based reform. National Science Education Standards, published in 1996, offers a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate and describes what all students must understand and be able to do as a result of their cumulative learning experiences. The document integrates content, teaching, assessment, program, and system standards that are key to improving science education.

Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning (2000) is a practical guide to teaching inquiry and teaching through inquiry, as recommended in the National Science Education Standards (the Standards) by explaining and illustrating how inquiry helps students to learn science content; mastering how to do science; understanding the nature of science; exploring the dimensions of teaching; and learning science as inquiry for K–12 students across a range of science topics. This volume also examines ways that educators can offer students the opportunities to develop not only an understanding of scientific concepts, but also the ability to solve science problems through experiential learning.

Science and mathematics education. Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards (2001) focuses on a key kind of assessment: the evaluation that occurs regularly in the classroom by the teacher and his or her students as interacting participants. Focusing on the teacher as the primary player in assessment, the book offers assessment guidelines and explores how they can be adapted to the individual classroom. It features examples, definitions, illustrative vignettes, and practical suggestions to help teachers obtain the greatest benefit from this daily evaluation and tailoring process. The volume discusses how classroom assessment differs from conventional testing and grading–and how it fits into the larger, comprehensive assessment system.

Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics (2001) examines mathematics education in the United States from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, discusses the ways that children learn mathematics, and characterizes effective instruction. The report also recommends ways to improve teaching, learning, and teacher education in the subject.

Teacher professional development. As a framework for addressing this task, Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for a New Millennium, published in 2001, advocates partnerships among school districts, colleges, and universities, with contributions from scientists, mathematicians, teacher educators, and teachers. It then looks carefully at the status of the education reform movement and explores the motives for raising the bar for how well teachers teach and how well students learn. Also examined are important issues in teacher professionalism: what teachers should be taught about their subjects, the utility of in-service education, the challenge of program funding, and the merits of credentialing. Professional Development Schools are reviewed and vignettes presented that describe exemplary teacher development practices.

The 1997 Science Teacher Preparation in an Era of Standards-Based Reform is a report that offers a vision of what science teacher preparation will look like in a standards-based program, and then recommends ways in which the National Science Foundation can mobilize the postsecondary education community to achieve these goals.

Reading. Large numbers of American schoolchildren have difficulty learning to read well enough to meet the growing demands of a technological society. Failure to read adequately is especially acute among poor children, minorities, and those whose native language is not English. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children is a 1998 report that examines effective methods used to teach young children to read. It reviews relevant research on preventing reading difficulties, highlighting ways to build a learning environment that is conducive to good instruction, to proper diagnosis of problems, and to effective interventions for children at risk. The report recommends key research findings that should be integrated into reading programs for children in preschool and early elementary school, and discusses the policy implications raised by these findings.

Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success (1999), a guidebook for parents, teachers, and child-care providers, builds on recommendations from the 1998 report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. The guide offers the key elements all children need in order to become good readers; activities that parents and others can do with children so they are prepared for reading instruction by the time they reach school; concepts about language and literacy that should be included in beginning reading instruction; and ways to prevent reading difficulties in early childhood and the early grades.

Early childhood education. Eager to Learn: Educating Our Preschoolers is a book about the education of children age two to five, focusing on programs outside the home, such as preschool, Head Start, and child-care centers. This report from 2000 argues that promoting young children's growth calls for early childhood settings that support the development of the full range of capacities that will serve as a foundation for school learning.

Testing and assessment. High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation (1999) reviews the legal, educational, and psychometric foundations of testing, and recommends policies and practices to promote appropriate use of tests. This book sorts out the controversies that emerge when a test score can open or close gates on a student's educational pathway. The expert panel proposes how to judge the appropriateness of a test; explores how to make tests reliable, valid, and fair; puts forward strategies and practices to promote proper test use; and recommends how decision makers in education should–and should not–use test results. The book discusses common misuses of testing, their political and social context, what happens when test issues are taken to court, special student populations, social promotion, and more.

The movement to improve schools by setting high standards for all students poses new challenges for students with disabilities, whose education is rooted in individual goals and instruction. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform (1997) is a congressionally requested report that examines how the seemingly contradictory goals of special education and standards-based reform can be reconciled.

Education research. The 2001 report Scientific Inquiry in Education examines the nature of scientific research and considers the implications for a federal education research agency.

Education in the United States does not rest on a strong research base. The 1999 report Improving Student Learning: A Strategic Plan for Education Research and Its Utilization proposes a long-term, highly focused program of research that involves the collaboration of researchers, educators, and policy experts. The plan is designed to increase the usefulness of research to educational practice.

International studies. Video technology can help education researchers examine teaching strategies in countries around the world and create a record of classroom practices for future studies. The Power of Video Technology in International Comparative Research in Education (2001) discusses how such technology can best be used.

U.S. students' mathematics and science achievement often lags behind that of their peers in other developed nations, but root causes of the disparity are not always clear. Based on a comprehensive analysis of results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the 1999 report Global Perspectives for Local Action: Using TIMSS to Improve U.S. Mathematics and Science Education points out how the achievement gap between U.S. students and those in several other industrialized countries can be traced to differences in teaching methods, curriculum content, and school-support systems. The report also contains practical information that American schools can use to improve local programs and student learning. In addition, a supplementary professional development guide offers materials and strategies to help educators lead workshops and planning sessions aimed at enhancing mathematics and science education in the nation's classrooms.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) has provided a remarkable volume of intriguing data about the educational performance of students around the world. However, there is a great deal of important follow-up analysis still to be done. The report, Next Steps for TIMSS: Directions for Secondary Analysis (1999), based in part on a workshop, summarizes recommendations regarding research strategies that could yield the understanding of student learning that TIMSS was intended to make possible.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

AMBROSE, STEPHEN E. 1996. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon and Schuster.

ATKIN, J. MYRON; BLACK, PAUL; and COFFEY, JANET, eds. 2001. Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

BEATTY, ALEXANDRA; PAINE, LYNN W.; and RAMIREZ, FRANCISCO O., eds. 1999. Next Steps for TIMSS: Directions for Secondary Analysis. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

BEATTY, ALEXANDRA, et al., eds. 2001. Understanding Dropouts: Statistics, Strategies, and High-Stakes Testing. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

BOWMAN, BARBARA T.; DONOVAN, SUZANNE; and BURNS, M. SUSAN, eds. 2000. Eager to Learn: Educating our Preschoolers. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

COCHRANE, REXMOND C. 1978. The National Academy of Sciences: The First Hundred Years 1863–1963. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

HEUBERT, JAY PHILIP, and HAUSER, ROBERT MASON, eds. 1999. High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

KILPATRICK, JEREMY; SWAFFORD, JANE; and FINDELL, BRADFORD, eds. 2001. Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

MCDONNELL, LORRAINE M.; MCLAUGHLIN, MARGARET J.; and MORISON, PATRICIA, eds. 1997. Educating One and All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL. 1997. Science Teacher Preparation in an Era of Standards-Based Reform. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL. 1999a. Global Perspectives for Local Action: Using TIMSS to Improve U.S. Mathematics and Science Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL. 1999b. Improving Student Learning: A Strategic Plan for Education Research and Its Utilization. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL. 2000. Educating Teachers of Science, Mathematics, and Technology: New Practices for a New Millennium. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

OLSON, STEVE, and LOUCKS-HORSLEY, SUSAN. 2000. Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

SHAVELSON, RICHARD J., and TOWNE, LISA, eds. 2001. Scientific Inquiry in Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

SNOW, CATHERINE M.; BURNS, M. SUSAN; and GRIFFIN, PEG. 1998. Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

SNOW, CATHERINE M.; BURNS, M. SUSAN; and GRIFFIN, PEG, eds. 1999. Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children's Reading Success. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

ULEWICZ, MONICA, and BEATTY, ALEXANDRA, eds. 2001. The Power of Video Technology in International Comparative Research in Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

WIGDOR, ALEXANDRA K. and GARNER, WENDELL R., eds. 1982. Ability Testing: Uses, Consequences, and Controversies. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

BRUCE ALBERTS

MICHAEL FEUER

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