Lessons From the New Science Curriculum of the 1950s and 1960s

Gary Yee
Oakland Unified School District Board of Education
Michael W. Kirst
Stanford University

The development of the "new science curriculum" began in 1956 with a grant from the newly formed National Science Foundation (NSF) to Jerold Zacharias at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Zacharias was asked to write a "real science" physics curriculum for high school students. By the end of the 1960s, curricula in earth sciences, physical science, biology, chemistry, and engineering concepts were developed at various universities and scien­tific institutes. Although they were an NSF-sponsored, discipline-wide effort to improve science instruction, each curriculum was developed indepen­dently with significant differences at the conceptual, developmental, and planning stages. By the mid-1970s, after spending $117 million in direct costs and an estimated three times that much in indirect costs, the adoption rates by school districts of these materials had peaked, and the momentum for developing additional curricula was largely gone. What was the context of this major reform effort? How were the curricula developed? What strategies were employed for implementation? What were the out­ comes? What lessons can be drawn from that experience that would help inform national standards setting efforts today?

This article was originally published in Education & Urban Society by SAGE Publications.

Suggested citationYee, G., & Kirst, M. W. (1994, February). Lessons from the new science curriculum of the 1950s and 1960s [Article]. Policy Analysis for California Education.