2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

September/October 2005

Project 2061 Turns 20
Milestones in the pursuit of science literacy for all

AAAS launched Project 2061 in 1985—the year Halley’s Comet was last visible from Earth. The next return of the Comet in 2061 inspired the initiative’s name, which signaled a long-term focus on achieving science literacy and recognized that children would need an education that prepared them for the profound scientific changes of the 21st century. Project 2061’s vision aims to improve science education nationwide so that all students graduate from high school as science literate adults—that is, having achieved at least a basic understanding of core ideas and skills in the natural and social sciences, mathematics, and technology.

Since its founding, Project 2061 has been at the forefront of the K–12 reform movement. Its work has earned the project a reputation as the “single most visible attempt at science education reform in American history” (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). Or, to quote journalist Julia Steiny in the Providence Journal, “Project 2061 is the ultimate science project.” Over the past two decades, the project has taken a long-term systemic approach to education reform. As we look ahead to the next 20 years, and beyond that, to the return of Halley’s Comet, Project 2061 keeps its vision of science literacy grounded in a commitment to clear and specific learning goals; a coherent, well-designed K–12 curriculum; teachers with the resources and skills to teach effectively; and communities committed to excellence.

Here’s a look at highlights from our efforts to define science literacy, develop K–12 benchmarks for student learning, and produce innovative, research-based tools to help educators in their reform efforts.

Project 2061 Milestones
1985: In the year Halley’s Comet was last visible from earth, AAAS establishes Project 2061 to help all Americans become literate in science, mathematics, and technology. Children starting school now will see the return of the Comet in 2061—a reminder that today’s education will shape the quality of their lives as they come of age in the 21st century amid profound scientific and technological change.

1989: Project 2061’s landmark publication, Science for All Americans, sets out recommendations for what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school.

1993: Benchmarks for Science Literacy translates the science literacy goals in Science for All Americans into learning goals or benchmarks for grades K–12. Many of today's state and national standards documents have drawn their content from Benchmarks.

1996: A study of Project 2061’s influence on reform reveals that many state curriculum documents cite the program and its publications as key resources, quote directly from the project’s publications, or organize their own recommendations to parallel the Project 2061 documents. Framework writers interviewed for the study report that Benchmarks strongly influenced their decisions on what science content to include.

1998: With funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Project 2061 begins the first in a series of four evaluative studies of middle and high school science and mathematics textbooks. The studies’ widely reported findings reveal that only a handful of textbooks are likely to help students learn the ideas and skills that are essential to science literacy.

2000: A Spanish version of the popular Project 2061 Web site debuts, showcasing the Spanish language editions of Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy.

2001: In a first-ever joint publishing arrangement, AAAS and the National Science Teachers Association produce Atlas of Science Literacy, providing educators with an innovative tool that graphically depicts connections among key learning goals for students in kindergarten through grade 12. AAAS also publishes Designs for Science Literacy, which tells science and mathematics educators how to “unburden the curriculum.” The book addresses the challenging question of how to design K–12 curricula in a way that reflects local needs and interests, while enabling all students to reach national goals of literacy in science, mathematics, and technology. Science for All Americans, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and Blueprints for Reform are published in Chinese.

2002: AAAS announces that transforming K–12 science textbooks—which so often cause student anxiety, parental criticism, and teacher migraines—will be the focus of a new Center for Curriculum Materials in Science. With funding from a $9.9 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Project 2061 is now well-positioned to have its recommendations guide science curriculum development and teaching and, as a result, to help all students gain essential science knowledge and skills.

2003: With funding from NSF, Project 2061 begins a $4.1 million, five-year initiative to develop an online collection of more than 300 high-quality, middle and early high school science and mathematics assessment items that will be electronically linked to state and national science content standards. The prestigious Journal of Research in Science Teaching honors the work of Project 2061 authors Jo Ellen Roseman and Sofia Kesidou with its Distinguished Paper Award for their article “How Well Do Middle School Science Programs Measure Up? Findings from Project 2061’s Curriculum Review” (read article).

2005: The Chinese language edition of Designs for Science Literacy is published. Project 2061, having influenced the way states across the country develop and use K–12 science content standards, celebrates its 20th anniversary and focuses its efforts to ensure that textbooks, instruction, and assessment are meaningfully tied to those standards.


In October, AAAS will host events in Washington, DC, to mark Project 2061’s 20th anniversary. Educators from across the nation will gather with past and present Project 2061 staff, science education reform leaders, and other friends and supporters of Project 2061 to discuss what “science literacy for all” means today and to consider the most promising directions for future work. 2061 Connections will report on these anniversary events in a future issue.

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