Common Corporate Science Standards?

My choice of a title for this blog post is not a play on words, but describes the current effort to write the next generation of science standards.  The next generation of science standards is being developed by Achieve, Inc., a corporate and foundation support-type organization that was established in 1996 by governors and corporate leaders, not educators, to support standards-based reform.  According to the Achieve website, governors and corporate leaders:

formed Achieve as an independent, bipartisan, non-profit education reform organization. To this day, Achieve remains the only education reform organization led by a Board of Directors of governors and business leaders.

Where are the educators?

On their website they write that (Education Week) ranked Achieve in 2006 as one of the most influential organizations in education. Over the past years, Achieve has influenced the standards in nearly every state through it’s development of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, and English language arts. In some cases the Common Core Standards were imposed on states that applied for Race-to-the-Top funds, a reform program of the U.S. department of Education, that has not yet proven to work.

Problems with the Common Standards

There are a number of problems associated with the Common Core Standards movement. Achieve is an external, corporate driven organization without the accountability to which teachers, administrators and schools are held.  Achieve lacks the oversight that schools and universities are held to through professional and peer reviewed panels that have the authority to make recommendations for change, and in extreme cases, revoke accreditation. Achieve is responsible only to it’s donors, and board.  Many of the donor corporations and foundations are involved in educational reform that over laps with the goals of Achieve. On the surface there appears to be many conflicts of interest in this mix, and one wonders about the transparency of the system leading back to involvement of true educators.

Achieve also has stated that a single set of standards in each content discipline can work for students regardless of where they live. This makes little sense given the diversity of the United States, and the increasing rate of poverty in the country.  What is the connection between the standards being developed and students from poor families?

Standards are opinions of a subset of professors, mostly from the academic disciplines, often appearing on boards and planning and writing teams for the first time. And in some cases participants of the teams ought to be replaced with fresh faces. Are there concepts in science, for example, that every human being must know? Probably.  A set of standards for every student? We really do not have a way to determine what every student should know, and we have to wonder why we are so obsessed with this.   Why, in a nation of 50 states, and 15,000 school districts, do we insist of a single set of standards, all of which are discipline based.

Rationale for Corporate Reform

Achieve is operating on the assumption that American education is lagging the rest of the world, and it needs to be fixed. There is little evidence to make this claim. Reformers nearly always claim that the nation is at risk, and if reforms of their own designs are not put forward, students will not be able to compete with their peers, especially at the global level.  Again, the evidence to support this is not there.

What we have going on now is the corporate reform of public education with a very small group of foundational and corporate leaders leveraging the buy out of public education. Instead of professional teachers, and professional organizations leading reform, they are on the periphery of this reform. The reform is characterized as top down, with charter schools and school choice becoming the rallying cry of this reform effort.

The development of the new generation of science standards is underway at Achieve, and although 20 states, NSTA and AAAS are involved, one of the basic tenants of science is not driving the development—and that is the peer review process.  Furthermore, the research that Achieve reports on its website that it has completed is not research conducted through the peer review process.  To what extent can we accept their “research” findings?

Peer Review

It would have been in the best interests of public education if a more scholarly framework that included peer review would have guided the development of science education standards.

From the beginning there should have been a Request For Proposals (RFP) from an organization such as the National Science Foundation (NSF).   Proposals could have been accepted from any university, research and development organization, or organizations such as Achieve.   As it was, Achieve had already been selected prior to the National Research Council’s project to develop a Framework for Science Education.  The Carnegie Foundation funded this, and is providing additional funds for Achieve to carryout the writing of the science standards.

If an RFP had been announced, the process would have entered the research and development community, and it would have given more groups of researchers and developers an opportunity to participate in the creation of the new generation of science standards.  The organization that would receive funding would be accountable to the funding organization, and to the peer review process.  Furthermore, the recipient of the funds would also engage in science education research, which would be published in peer review journals.

In a democratic society, we must raise questions when one organization has a monopoly on an industry, including educational reform.  Education in the United States is best represented by diverse goals, by learning/education that is rooted in the lived experiences of students, and the by the local control of schooling.  It is not represented very well by the central command and control system that appears to rest with Achieve, Inc.

We have a problem here, and it will take reform to change this.

Achieving a New Generation of Science Standards Published!

The latest in a series of science teaching eBooks was published today and is available from The Art of Teaching Science blog.

You can download a free copy of Achieving a New Generation of Science Standards here.

New eBook: Achieving a New Generation of Common Science Standards

This week, The Art of Teaching Science will publish its third eBook on science education topics based on blog posts at this site.  The new eBook is entitled Achieving a New Generation of Common Science Standards.  The eBook will be published tomorrow, and will be free to all who visit this blog.

The following text is from the Preface of the new eBook.

Why is it that the perception of science education in the U.S. (and other countries as well) is
driven by rankings of students on international test score comparisons? The perception is that
U.S. students are not competitive in the global market place, and critics use the results on international tests to support their position.

At the same time, there has been a movement to create a common core curriculum in the United States, and to use these standards to develop national assessments to test the performance of students, and use these achievement results to evaluate the performance of teachers, administrators and schools.  Under the rubric of the Common Core State Standards, a single organization is developing the standards that will be used in the states as the basis for their curriculum.  Thus far, common standards have been developed in mathematics, and reading/language arts.

Based on The Framework for K-12 Science Education published by the National Research Council, a new generation of science standards is under development and will be published next year.  The new science standards will become part of the trend of common core standards, and it is expected that new science assessments will follow.

Twenty states will collaborate with Achieve, a standards writing organization that uses donated funds from large corporations and foundations to carry out its tasks. There is a lot of excitement, especially for the twenty state departments of education that will be selected to participate.

These two trends, comparing U.S. students’ test scores to students in other countries, and the race
to develop common core standards, followed by common academic assessments are dominant forces affecting education in 2011.

In this eBook, we will explore these trends by presenting posts on these topics:

• The Race to the Top
• Frameworks and Standards
• Using Tests to Assess Performance
• Reform

Questions will be raised about why common standards, and misconceptions surrounding the use of international and high-stakes tests continue to be connected with the reform education in the United
States.

We will look at the Framework for K-12 Science Education, and discuss some of the issues
surrounding the underlying purpose of using common standards in American schools.  We will also examine the results of international tests such as PISA and TIMSS and question the interpretation of critics that these results show that the “sky is falling” or that we have on our hands another “Sputnik moment.”

Finally, in a letter to the President, I integrate the President’s personal views of education with the humanistic science paradigm as a way to reform education.

100 Best Education Blogs

Who are the top education bloggers?  I am not sure it that is the most important question being asked given the current state of education, but it has been asked, and the results are in.

Based on the work of Will Roby, a compilation of his favorite blogs to read was recently posted on this website.

You will find blogs written by teachers, students, about college, graduate school, library and research, technology, online education, learning theory, specialty blogs (artofteachingscience.org is ranked here, #90), and a miscellaneous grouping of blogs.

I am not sure if these really are the 100 best education blogs, but the author of the list has reviewed each one, and given his insight into why he put it on the list.

The Race To Write The Next Generation of Science Standards

There is another “race to the top” in education, but this time it’s the race to develop a new generation of science standards.

Twenty states will collaborate with Achieve, a standards writing organization that uses donated funds from large corporations and foundations to carry out its tasks.

There is a lot of excitement, especially for the twenty state departments of education that will be selected to participate. Selections are to be announced soon.  Maine and Kansas have been mentioned in the national media.

The new standards will be based a recent publication of the National Research Council entitled, Framework for K-12 Science Education.

It’s true that the current science standards are 15 years old, and it indeed might be good to write new ones, but not under the present environment. The underlying premise of the standards movement is to centralize and create a common set of standards within each content discipline.

Following the development of common science standards, national achievement tests will be developed and used to test the daylights out of kids.

By writing new standards, and writing rigorous tests we will ensure that our students will be competetive in the global market place, thereby making for a stronger economy. This sounds really good, but it’s not supported in the research literature.

For example, the factors that determine a nation’s economic competitiveness are multifaceted and complex.  Rankings on achievement test Scores (even on international tests) are minuscule compared to the real forces that the impact the robustness of any economy. It’s time to stop holding teachers and students hostage to the claim that their test scores have an effect on the economy.

The U.S. Economy, which is ranked number four out of 139 nation, is influenced by corporate ethics, the failure of the U.S. Congress to get it’s financial house in order, the incentives to businesses to take risks and be innovative, not by achievement test scores.  The World Economic Forum assessed the economic competitiveness of 139 nations based on 12 major factors including basic requirements (institutions, infrastructure, etc.), efficiency enhancers (higher education, good market, labor market, financial market, etc.) and innovation and sophistication factors (business sophistication, innovation). A state’s economy is not tied to the academic performance of students based on bubble test scores, especially when curriculum innovation is held back by the testing culture that controls schooling today.

New standards will have little effect on helping students understand science if we do not deal with poverty which effects more than 46 million Americans.  The government released new statistics that show that poverty is growing, and the present state of the economy will only make it worse.

The single most influential factor effecting student success in school is their socioeconomic status. Research in science education has repeatedly shown that the present science curriculum is a failure for many students. The new framework does not offer content much different than the work done 15 years ago.

Reform is needed, but in not in the form of raising the bar, creating rigorous standards, or creating standards that so far removed from the real lives of students and teachers.

Will this be race to nowhere?