Fordham Institute Review of New Science Standards: Fealty to Conservatism & Canonical Science

Fordham Institute has published their  review of the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards.  Achieve wrote the the new science standards.   Achieve also wrote the math and reading/language arts common core standards.

Unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education restricts and confines Fordham’s review to an old school view of science teaching.  Science education has rocketed past the views in two reports issued by Fordham about science education standards.

The Fordham reviewers use a strict content (canonical) view of science education and dismiss any reference to the scientific practices (science processes) and pedagogical advances such as constructivism, and inquiry teaching.  Many of the creative ideas that emerged in science teaching in the past thirty years represent interdisciplinary thinking, the learning sciences, deep understanding of how students learn science, and yes, constructivism.

These creative ideas are not reflected in Fordham’s analysis of science teaching and science curriculum.

I have also studied and reviewed the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards and have written about them here, and here.

The Framework

In 2011, the Carnegie Corporation funded the National Research Council’s project A Framework for K-12 Science Education (Framework).  The Framework was published last year, and it being used by Achieve as the basis for writing the Next Generation Science Standards (Science Standards)

These two documents, The Framework and the Science Standards, will decide the nature of science teaching for many years to come.

In this post, I’ll focus on how Fordham has responded to these two reports.

In late 2011, the Carnegie Corporation provided financial support to the Fordham Institute to review the NRC Framework.  The Fordham report was a commissioned paper (Review of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education), written by Dr. Paul Gross, Emeritus Professor of Biology. The Gross Report was not a juried review, but written by one person, who appears to have an ax to grind, especially with the science education research community, as well as those who advocate science inquiry, STS, or student-centered ideology. Indeed, the only good standard is one that is rigorous, and clearly content and discipline oriented.

I’ve read and reviewed the Fordham review of the Framework, and published my review here. Here some excerpts from my review.

Grade: B. In general, Dr. Gross, as well as Chester E. Finn, Jr. (President of the Fordham Foundation), are reluctant to give the Framework a grade of “A” instead mark the NRC’s thick report a grade of “B”.

Rigor.  Rigor is the measure of depth and level of abstraction to which chosen content is pursued, according to Gross. The Framework gets a good grade for rigor and limiting the number of science ideas identified in the Framework. The Framework identifies 44 ideas, which according to Gross is a credible core of science for the Framework.  The evaluator makes the claim that this new framework is better on science content than the NSES…how does he know that?

Practices, Crosscutting Concepts & Engineering. The Fordham evaluation has doubts about the Framework’s emphasis on Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Engineering/Technology Dimensions. For example, Gross identifies several researchers and their publications by name, and then says:

These were important in a trendy movement of the 1980s and 90s that went by such names as science studies, STS (sci-tech studies), (new) sociology or anthropology of science, cultural studies, cultural constructivism, and postmodern science.

For some reason, Gross thinks that science-related social issues and the radical idea of helping students construct their own ideas are not part of  mainstream science education, when indeed they are. Many of the creative Internet-based projects developed over the past 15 years have involved students in researching issues that have social implications.  The National Science Foundation made huge investments in creative learning projects.

Gross also claims that the NRC Framework authors “wisely demote what has long been held the essential condition of K-12 science: ‘Inquiry-based learning.’ The report does NOT demote inquiry, and in fact devotes much space to discussions of the Practices of science and engineering, which is another way of talking about inquiry. In fact, inquiry can found in 71 instances in the Framework. Gross and the Fordham Foundation make the case that Practices and Crosscutting ideas are accessories, and that only the Disciplinary Core Ideas of the Framework should be taken seriously . This will result is a set of science standards that are only based on 1/3 of the Framework’s recommendations.

Gross cherry picks his resources, and does not include a single research article from a prominent research journal in science education.  Dr. Gross  could have consulted science education journals found here, here, here or here.  If he did, he might have found this article: Inquiry-based science instruction—what is it and does it matter? Results from a research synthesis years 1984 to 2002.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST) published this article in 2010. Here is the abstract of the research study:

Various findings across 138 analyzed studies show a clear, positive trend favoring inquiry-based instructional practices, particularly instruction that emphasizes student active thinking and drawing conclusions from data. Teaching strategies that actively engage students in the learning process through scientific investigations are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, which are often necessary in the current standardized-assessment laden educational environment.

The Fordham review of the Framework is not surprising, nor is their review of the first draft of the standards.  Fordham has its own set of science standards that it uses to check other organizations’ standards such as the state standards.  They used their standards as the “benchmark” to check all of the state science standards, and concluded that only 7 states earned an A.  Most of  the states earned an F.

If you download Fordham’s report here, scroll down to page 208 to read their science standards, which they call content-specific criteria.

I analyzed all the Fordham standards against Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor domains.  Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, 52% of the Fordham science standards were rated at the lowest level.   Twenty-eight percent of their standards were at the comprehension level, 10% at application, and only 10% above analysis.  No standards were found for the affective or psychomotor designs.

All I am saying here is that Fordham has its own set of science standards, and I found them inferior to most of the state science standards, the National Science Education Standards (published in 1996), as well as the NAEP science framework.  You can read my full report here.  I gave Fordham’s science standards a grade of D.

Fordham Commentary on the New Science Standards

Given this background, we now turn our attention to Fordham’s Commentary & Feedback on Draft I of the NGSS.

The Fordham reviewers, as they did when they reviewed the NRC Framework for Science, felt the standards’ writers “went overboard on scientific and engineering practices.  From their point of view, crosscutting concepts and scientific and engineering practices create challenges to those who write standards.

Fordham science standards are reminiscent of the way  learning goals were written in the 1960s and 1970s.   Writers used one of many behavioral or action verbs such as define, describe, find, diagram, classify, and so forth to construct  behavioral objectives.  The Fordham standards were written using this strategy. Here are three examples from their list of standards:

  • Describe the organization of matter in the universe into stars and galaxies.
  • Identify the sun as the major source of energy for processes on Earth’s surface.
  • Describe the greenhouse effect and how a planet’s atmosphere can affect its climate.

The Fordham experts raised concerns about the way standard statements are written.  As shown in the examples from the draft of the NGSS, the standards integrate content with process and pedagogical components.

I agree with the Fordham reviewers that the Next Generation Science Standards  are rather complex.  Shown in Figure 1 is the “system architecture that Achieve used for all of the standards.  Figure 1 shows just four performance expectations (read standards), and their connection to practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts.  Every science standard in the Achieve report is presented in this way.

Figure 1. System Architecture of the NGSS. Source:, extracted May 12, 2012

The Fordham reviewers gave careful attention to each standard statement, and indeed in their report they include many examples of how the standards’ writers got the content wrong or stated it in such a way that was unclear.

But the Fordham reviewers take the exception to the science education community’s research on constructivism.  In their terms, science educators show fealty to constructivist pedagogical theory.  To ignore constructivism, or to think that science educators have an unswerving allegiance to this well established and researched theory is quite telling.  To me it indicates that Fordham holds a traditional view of how students learn.  It tells me that these reviewers have boxed themselves into a vision of science literacy by looking inward at the canon of orthodox nature science.  Content is king.

To many science teachers and science education researchers, an alternative vision gets its meaning from the “character of situations with a scientific component, situations that students are likely to encounter as students.  Science literacy focuses on science-related situations (See Douglas Roberts’ chapter on science literacy in the Handbook of Research on Science Education).

The Fordham reviewers recommend that every standard be rewritten to cut “practices” where they are not needed.  They also want independent, highly qualified scientists who have not been involved in the standards writing attempt to check every standard.  The National Science Teachers Association, comprised of science teachers and scientists is quite qualified to do this, and indeed the NSTA sent their recommendations to Achieve last week.

I would agree with the Fordham group that the next version of the standards should be presented in a clearer way, and easily searchable.  I spent a good deal of time online with the first draft, and after a while I was able to search the document, but it was a bit overwhelming.

Finally I would add that when you check the Fordham analysis of the new standards, the word “basic” jumps out.  Near the end of their opinion report, they remind us that the science basics in the underlying NRC Framework were sound.  What they are saying is that the NGSS writers need to chisel away anything that is not solid content from the standards.

One More Thing

Organizations such as Achieve and the Fordham Institute believe the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing below par, and if something isn’t done, then millions of students will not be prepared to compete in the global economy. Achieve cites achievement data from PISA and NAEP to make its case that American science and mathematics teaching is in horrible shape, and needs to fixed.

The solution to fix this problem to make the American dream possible for all citizens is to write new science (and mathematics) standards.  One could argue that quality science teaching is not based on authoritarian content standards, but much richer standards of teaching that form the foundation of professional teaching.

What ever standards are agreed upon, they ought to be based on a set of values that are rooted in democratic thinking, including empathy and responsibility. Professional teachers above all else are empathic in the sense that teachers have the capacity to connect with their students, to feel what others feel, and to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others. Professional teachers are responsible in the sense that they act on empathy, and that they are not only responsible for others (their students, parents, colleagues), but themselves as well.

The dual forces of authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing has taken hold of K-12 education through a top-down, corporate led enterprise. This is very big business, and it is having an effect of thwarting teaching and learning in American schools. A recent study by Pioneer Institute estimated that states will spend at least $15 billion over the next few years to replace their current standards with the common core.  What will it cost to implement new science standards?

In research that I have reported here, standards are barriers to teaching and learning.  In this research, the tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fit the needs of their students.  And the standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning provesses needed to achieve them.  Combine this with high-stakes tests, and you have a recipe for disaster.

According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality or the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards in 2003.

The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use it too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will reduce this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed.

As the Brown report suggests, we should not depend on the common core or the Next Generation Science Standards having any effect on students’ achievement.

What do you think?  Is Fordham’s view of science education consistent with your ideas about science teaching?


NSTA Has Serious & Extensive Concerns About Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards

Standards development, such as in science, is a big enterprise, and one that will result in huge profits for corporations, and will cost school districts billions to carry out over the next few years.  For the past two years, Achieve and the Carnegie Corporation have teamed up to write a framework, and a set of science standards for K-12 schools.  The science standards were recently flashed on the screens of our computers for about three weeks so that we could give Achieve feedback that they no doubt will embrace in their next draft which will be published in the fall.

In the meantime, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has provided feedback to Achieve on the first public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). You can read the full report here.

NSTA, the largest organization of science teachers in the U.S., issued their reaction this week, and has concerns about the new science standards as shown by this author statement:

we continue to have serious and extensive concerns about the current content and architecture of the NGSS. These issues are similar to the ones we voiced in our review in November 2011 and January 2012 and are outlined below. The level of our concern has intensified considerably as a result of an increased number of individuals who have seen and commented on the draft.  As we inch closer to a final draft of the standards, the NSTA leadership is concerned that some of the issues we have raised have yet to be addressed and strongly recommends that these issues be addressed now so that they are reflected in the next draft.

After reading the report, I can not help reading between the lines of NSTA’s feedback to Achieve that NSTA is still an outsider in this enterprise, and “welcomes the opportunity to work together with Achieve and its writers to address the issues contained in their report.”  Welcomes the opportunity?  If you read Achieve’s website, it claims that NSTA is a partner.  If NSTA were a true partner, why does an official reply have to be written.  NSTA should be able to walk in the door of Achieve’s headquarters, and talk directly to the writers.  Its reputed that Achieve works behind closed doors, and my view of their current project further supports this contention.

Here are NSTA’s recommendations followed by further critique of the science standards.


Nevertheless, NSTA made critical recommendations about Achieve’s science standards, and their report outlines them.

  1. NSTA Recommendation 1: The NGSS should include a section on Connections to the Nature and History of Science in a manner similar to the Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science.
  2. NSTA Recommendation 2: The front matter of the NGSS should contain an overarching essay that explains the architecture of the standards, including the relationship between the individual performance expectations in a set and how each performance expectation relates to the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts within the foundation box. The essay should also make clear how the performance expectations, practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts should be used in planning instruction and provide some examples for various topics and grade levels.
  3. NSTA Recommendation 3: Each set of performance expectations in the NGSS should include an opening statement that explains why this set of performance expectations has been grouped together.
  4. NSTA Recommendation 4: Every core idea should have at least two performance expectations that probe it. The first performance expectation should combine the core idea with the practice of modeling, explanation, or argumentation, and the second performance expectation should combine the core idea with one of the other five practices. The connection between these performance expectations and the core idea should be explicit.
  5. NSTA Recommendation 5: The appropriate grade level for students to learn a particular science concept in the NGSS should not differ from the recommendations in the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy unless there is published research that provides evidence in favor of the move.
  6. NSTA Recommendation 6: Any assumptions about the resources, time, and teacher expertise needed for students to achieve particular standards should be made explicit (Note: This is identical to Recommendation 11 on p. 305 of A Framework for K–12 Science Education.)
  7. NSTA Recommendation 7: The survey mechanism used for the next public draft of the NGSS should be more user friendly than the mechanism that was used for this first public draft, and the timing of the release should be sensitive to the schedules of all educators, but particularly the schedules of classroom teachers.

Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards were available for public review for a few weeks in May, 2012 and we had until June 1 to complete their online review, and this reviewer agrees with NSTA when it said in its 7th recommendation that the next review needs to be more user-friendly.

But There is More to Criticize

The NSTA feedback is critical of the details of Achieve’s effort to write a new set of science standards for K-12 schooling.  But it is not critical of the way the standards are being created, nor do they dispute the value of standards-based reform.  We still continue to fracture the world of science into the traditional disciplines of science, and to make matters worse, the authors of an earlier report, The Framework for K-12 Science Education, added another discipline to science, and that was Engineering, Technology & Applications.

The NGSS has created a set of standards that do not get us to “think outside the box” of the traditional science disciplines. And even after adding engineering, technology and applications, they have treated this new domain as a separate, and new set of standards that students must learn and science teachers must teach.

There is very little evidence of supporting interdisciplinary teaching in the NGSS. The science standards are too confined to the traditional disciplines, and there is meager attention to “applications” in the new Engineering standards. There seems to a lack of science-related social issues being embedded in the new standards. The long history of science, technology, society and environment (STSE) education has largely been ignored in the new standards. This is as expected. When the teams are organized by content disciplines, the need or desire to give up some of limited space for your list of standards to write interdisciplinary standards is low on the priority list.

It is disappointing that the writers stayed in the traditional box and created one more set of standards that in the end will make very little difference in student learning. We’ve shown over and over by citing research studies that the authoritarian standards model of teaching presents a barrier to teaching and learning.

Why have we invested millions of dollars in creating a new set of traditional standards at a time when education dollars are scarce? A new study by the Pioneer Institute estimates that it will cost states $15.8 billion to align their state standards to the common core. What will it cost the states to align its science standards to the NGSS?

It’s probably because the education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and a cash cow for corporations that sell products and services for the education market. Since we’ve been convinced that American schools are failing, raising the bar and writing more rigorous standards is just the ticket to pushing those test scores up. And along the way, it will mean more millions in new text books that will have to be written, new online courses and resources, new assessments and monitoring systems, staff development training to explain the new standards, and on and on.

Related Blog Posts on the Next Generation Science Standards

What do you think about the Next Generation Science Standards?




Should All Students Be Held to a Single Set of K-12 Education Standards?

Should all U.S. students meet a single set of K-12 education standards?  In a democracy should all students be held to the same standards?

This was the question that Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute  and  Jay Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas  debated in recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, says Finn; no claims Greene.

First I’ll describe the positions of Dr. Finn and Dr. Green, and then make comments on each to show that one represents a conservative world-view and the other a progressive world-view.

Yes, We Should: The Fordham View

Chester E. Finn Jr. believes that America should adopt a single set of standards for all students, regardless of where they live, and schools (teachers & principals) should be held accountable by using student achievement scores as the metric.  Finn’s Fordham Institute has been in the business of writing non- peer reviewed analyses of state standards for more than 15 years.  They’ve analyzed standards in reading, math, and  most recently science.  He states that their findings of the state science standards are “grim”.

For example, in their 2012 report, The State of the State Science Standards, he tells us In science, just 12 states and the District of Columbia earned A’s or B’s. More than twice that number have standards that deserve grades of D or F.  Finn also believes that not involving the government in Washington in developing standards is a good thing.  He explains that the common core (reading and math) was developed be a group of governors (government?) and state level school administrators.

The proponents of the common core, such as the Fordham Institute, lead us to believe that because these standards were not developed by the government in Washington, but by state government consortia, they must be better.  Finn uses the argument that we need to follow other successful nations who’ve established national standards because they seem to do so much better than those countries that don’t have a national curriculum.  Our economic competitiveness is in dire straights because we don’t have a rigorous set of national standards.  And students are on the move.  We need a single set of standards, and a uniformed and structured curriculum just in case a new child moves into the neighborhood.  Plus, well be able to compare education state to state, city to city.

Most of these arguments are not supported in juried research.  However, organizations such as the Fordham Institute commission “research” that is completed either in-house, or by hired consultants.

Comments on the Fordham View

The Fordham Institute’s view of  national standards presented by Chester E. Finn is consistent with the conservative  world-view of educational reform.  According to research by George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, the moral world-view of conservatives (or progressives) can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family.

Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here).  In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”.  It makes sense to have a single set of standards in the conservative world-view.  The flow of authority and decision-making would flow downward from head to the classroom teacher.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control (therefore it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The public schools in the U.S. reflect the core values of authority and discipline, and many of the laws and acts (especially the NCLB Act of 2001) was written by the authority of the government, and set in motion an image that suggests that students, teachers and administrators are siblings in the Family of Education, and are beholden to the Authority of Federal and State departments of education. It’s a top-down system, and conceptual metaphor of the “Strict Father Family” mirrors the way public schools are conceptualized.

When institutions like Fordham, and individuals such as Dr. Finn suggest that the nation needs “clear standards about what schools should teach and students should learn—and make these standards uniform across the land,” they base this on the conservative core value of authority at the top or the head.  In this case, the authority rests in Achieve, Inc., created by the National Governors Association.  Achieve wrote, and is now disseminating the Common Core Standards in math and reading/language arts.  Nearly all of the states have accepted the authority given to Achieve to create a single set of standards.  Coming soon, will be another authoritative set of standards in K-12 science.

The reports issued by the Fordham Institute are typically not juried.  Their research methodology is flawed, yet because of their influence, Fordham, and other think tanks use their own non juried papers as scientific research.  Their public release of these papers is normally cited by the media as the cold, hard facts.

For example, Finn mentions that his Institute recently published a report that graded each state’s science standards, and found the results grim.  The report is written in the context of Fordham Institute’s bias about the state of science education in the nation, especially in terms of achievement test results on PISA, TIMSS, and NAEP. It is very similar to the Broad Foundation’s view of American youth which I wrote about here.  The Broad Foundation has low expectations for American students, and they go on to support their claim with distorted statistics, and use them to paint negative pictures of American youth.

The Fordham Institute’s view is embedded in the “crisis mentality” that began with “Sputnik” and has carried forward through today. According to the Fordham report, American youth do not show strong science achievement, and show “woeful” results on international tests. And yet during the time that American youth showed such dismal scores on science tests, American science and technology innovations and creative development flourished, and still does. We thought our nation was at risk because of technological advances, and global economic growth of Russia (then, the USSR), Japan, Germany, and China. Now we have to worry about Finland, South Korea, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia. Their scores are higher on these tests than ours. They must be doing something different to educate their students in math and science. The race is on!  Let’s find out and import it.

Although the Fordham  report is being disseminated, the results are flawed, and biased, and should be viewed with suspicion. Access to data for reanalysis, replication and opportunity to build on findings are non-existent.  Because the “data” reported are based on opinions, it is difficult to reanalyze the study. Perhaps if the authors subjected their criteria to an outside panel, and applied the same methods, we might get more valid and reliable results.

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards. The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting. Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups. The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one but their board of directors.

If you follow the money, you would discover that there is actually a core group of foundations and businesses that are providing the financial support for institutes (like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and non-profits (like Achieve, Inc.—a group largely responsible for writing the math, reading/language arts, and science standards). If you go to any of these organizations, and click on the link that lists the organization’s financial contributors, you will probably not be surprised to learn that many of same contributors form the financial foundation for the entire standards movement.

Think tank “research” and subsequent views, whether from conservative or progressive organizations need to be examined with caution, and with the full knowledge of the organization’s ideology.  The Fordham Institute is a conservative group that supports a centralized educational system.  Rather odd, don’t you think?

No, We Shouldn’t: The University of Arkansas View

Jay Green suggests that to hold all students to a single metric is basically creating a national curriculum.  He thinks (as many do) that standards drive testing, which in turn will affect what content is covered, as well as how and when.  Green argues that having a national set of standards only makes sense if there was a single way for all students to learn, and when.  He points out that here is no consensus on what all students should learn.  Professor Green is concerned that a national curriculum of learning might be more like nationalized “church” of education.  What could be inspiring these groups to do so?  And finally, Green suggests we should be wary of central planning, and instead reinvigorate choice and competition.

Comments on the University View

Jay Greene, head of the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas, has presented arguments that tend to be rooted in juried research.  The position taken by Greene aligns itself with a more progressive outlook on learning  and curriculum.  Experimentation and inquiry are values that should drive curriculum, and the focus should be on student learning.  If this is so, it begins to get difficult to tailor teaching to student interests and needs when single set of national standards is seen as the goal for all.  Dr. Green questions the uniformity that would be put in place with a single set of standards.  He suggests that:

Such uniformity would only make sense if: 1) there was a single best way for all students to learn; 2) we knew what it was; 3) we could be sure the people running this nationalized education system would adopt that correct approach; and 4) they would remain in charge far into the future. But that isn’t how things are. There is no consensus on what all students need to know. Different students can best be taught and assessed in different ways.

The Department of Education Reform headed by Dr. Greene, is comprised of six endowed chairs and one faculty member.  Standards-based reform, school vouchers, charter schools, and school choice appear to be research interests of this distinguished group of professors.

Because of their research interests and political experiences, Dr. Greene may not agree that his views reflect a progressive world view.  Nevertheless, his views open the door to the following discussion.

Using Lakoff’s conceptual metaphor theory, the position taken by Greene reflects a progressive world view.  In Lakoff’s view, the progressive world-view is based on the nurturant parent family. He suggests that nurturing has two key aspects: empathy and responsibility. Lakoff explains that nurturant parents or teachers are authoritative but with out being authoritarian.

If we apply the nurturant parent model to politics or education, Lakoff suggests that what we get is a “progressive moral and political philosophy. The progressive world-view then is based on these two ideas:

  • Empathy: the capacity to connect with other people, to feel what others feel, to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others.
  • Responsibility: acting on that empathy—responsibility for yourself and for others. (Lakoff, George (2006-10-03). Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Kindle Locations 827-830). Macmillan. Kindle Edition)

In research by Carl Rogers many decades ago in his person or client centered theory, empathy was considered one of core conditions for facilitative (counseling and teaching) practice. Realness of the teacher, and prizing, accepting, and trust were two additional core conditions.

Green’s opposition to a set of national standards imposed on local schools makes sense from the progressive world-view.  In this view teachers would inquirers and would ask lots of questions such as:

  • Why is our state and district willing to accept a top-down authoritarian set of standards that weren’t developed with our students’ interests or aspirations in mind?
  • Do you know what the research tells us about the ineffectiveness of using high-stakes tests on students achievement?
  • Why does the state department of education have so much authoritative power over the inner workings of every school district in the state?
  • Why aren’t educators involved in the development of curriculum that is based on the lived experiences of students, and the interests that students might have for getting involved in real work?

One More Thing

The move to centralize education in the United States is one that has gained momentum over the past ten years. Americans are being convinced that its school system is broken, old, and in crisis. Professor Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education at the University of Oregon puts it this way in one of his blog posts:

in short, the argument goes, to save America, to retain America’s preeminence in the world, to ensure America’s global competitiveness, we must dismantle America’s education system and import policies and practices from other countries.

The core group of “reformers” who want to create a single test-based curriculum have oddly suggested that we ought to import educational ideas from other countries since their economies are improving or better than ours, and their students do so well on PISA and TIMSS international tests. As Zhoa writes in his blog post entitled The Grass is Greener: Learning from Other Countries:

The belief that education in certain other countries is superior has mostly started with and reinforced by a myopic perspective of what constitutes high quality education. This perspective easily leads to the tendency to quickly jump to the conclusion that when a country rises economically (in the case of Japan and China) or militarily (in the case of the Soviet Union), it must have an excellent education system. The same perspective also leads to the conclusion that high test scores indicate educational excellence. As a result, observers rushed to Russia, Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, and Korea to search for their secrets to educational excellence and of course found what they wanted to find: standardized curriculum, focus on academic subjects that “matter,” teachers prepared and incentivized to deliver the prescribed subjects efficiently, and well-disciplined students devoted to mastering the prescribed content, with parental support.

The mistake we are making in educational reform is taking away from local educators and local systems the ability to make the policy decisions that will affect the students they know best, and of course they are the students in their own schools. We need to stop enabling the “think-tank mentality” as evidenced so well by the Fordham Foundation, and Achieve, Inc. and their view that all kids should learn the same stuff, at the same time, and in the way that are defined by a collection of central common core standards.









The Hip-Hop Generation: Implications for Teacher Preparation

The current wave of reform in science education, including teacher preparation, is not in the best interests of the diverse cultures that make up the population of the United States. The reform is standards- and test-based, and seeks to create schooling that ignores differences in people, and instead creates an outline (read that “standards”) of what is to learned for all students regardless of where they live.

While doing research for The Art of Teaching Science, I became aware of Dr. Christopher Emdin’s research on science education in urban classroom.

The first publication I read was entitled Exploring the context of urban science classrooms and in this research, Emdin studied the concepts of corporate and communal classroom organizations and how these paradigms affected student learning in high school chemistry.

His work has implications for the way we prepare teachers.  Let’s take a look.

Corporate vs Communal Teaching

Corporate classroom organization occurs when students and teachers are involved with subject matter and functioning that follow a factory or production mode of social interaction. The primary goal in corporate classes is to maintain order and to achieve specific results, such as scores on achievement tests.

Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group.

Recently Dr. Emdin published a ground-breaking book entitled Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation. The book provides essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher, according to the publisher. But it is much more than that.

Christopher Emdin say this about the philosophy that under-girds his book:

In urban classroom, the culture of the school is generally different from the culture of the students. In addition, a majority of students are either African American or Latino/a while their teachers are mostly White. Culturally, urban youth are mostly immersed in a generally communal and distinctly hip-hop based way of knowing and being. By this, I mean that the shared realities that come with being socioeconomically deprived areas brings urban youth together in ways that transcend race/ethnicity and embraces their collective connections to hip-hop. Concurrently, hip-hop is falsely interpreted as being counter to the objectives of school, or seen as “outside of” school culture.

In the current conversation about educational reform, and in particular, science education reform, the thinking reflected in Emdin’s book should be fundamental reading for science teachers and teacher educators, as well the corporate types that are aggressively pushing the corporate take over of schooling which relies on a very traditional model of teaching.

Hip-Hop and Reform of Education

As I pointed out at the beginning of this piece, my interest was piqued after reading Emdin’s research comparing and contrasting the corporate vs the communal organization of classrooms. I would expand this to include whole school systems.

The danger we face is that American education is being led to adopt and solidify, through common standards and common assessments, a corporate management style of classrooms and schools. Teachers and students are together in the service of reaching the goals and objectives (standards) set by outside groups.  To meet these standards, the same organizations have developed bubble type achievement tests, and mandated that all students should reach the same level of proficiency regardless of where they live.

Emdin’s approach is to encourage classrooms that are organized as communal systems in which teachers and students work with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community, and the collective betterment of the group.

It is obvious that the corporate approach would see hip-hop as something outside of schooling, and reject it as a legitimate form of communication inside education. Of course, this is a huge mistake. One of the biggest problems that beginning teachers have who are hired to teach in urban classrooms is their lack of knowledge of their students’ culture, and how to work with students in a culture very different than their own.

The school board in Cobb County, Georgia recently turned down the superintendent’s request to hire 50 Teach for America (TFA) teachers and place them in south Cobb schools, which reflect the urban culture described above, especially since most of the students in these schools are Latino/a. The decision needless to say was a controversial one. The TFA is a large corporate entity that places “teachers” in full time teaching positions in urban schools. However the TFA teachers have no prior training in teaching other than a four week summer program prior to employment. TFA will tell you that their teachers help urban students learn more (on achievement tests) than other beginning teachers. There is little to no evidence to support this. But because TFA teachers are from prestigious schools and are bright and smart, the common sense notion is that they are the kind of teachers needed for urban schools, like the schools in South Cobb.

Not so according to many teachers in Cobb County and its school board. Not only is there is a budget shortage in Cobb (as in most other districts), but by hiring 50 TFA teachers would mean that 50 experienced teachers would have to go. Those who embrace the TFA mantra tell us that they will deliver the best and the brightest, and the most inexperienced professionals for America’s urban schools. Its not solving the problem, and the teachers and school board in Cobb made the right decision.

Communal Teaching and Reform

The kind of teaching environment that Emdin suggests for urban schools is a communal one. Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group. This type of teaching requires not only an understanding of the student’s culture, but the courage and willingness to create classrooms that are based on relationships, empathy, and understanding, and there is substantial evidence that in order to do this the best and most experienced teachers are needed.

Putting unlicensed and inexperienced teachers in urban classrooms is more of an experiment being carried out by TFA rather than a solution to urban schooling.  It fosters a corporate classroom.

Emdin provides insight for us as to go about being a teacher in urban classrooms. Because Emdin places great emphasis encouraging teachers to understand their urban students and he says this:

it is necessary to understand how students know, feel, and experience the world by becoming familiar with where students come from and consciously immersing oneself in their culture. This immersion in student culture, even for teachers who may perceive themselves to be outsiders to hip-hop, simply requires taking the time to visit, observe, and study student culture.

Dr. Emdin suggests that classrooms should be viewed as a “space with its own reality.” In particular he urges us to focus on the “experiences of hip-hop participants as a conduit through which they can connect to science.” Using the concept “reality pedagogy,” teaching in the urban classroom means creating a new dialogue in which the student’s beliefs and behaviors are considered normal, and that the experiences within the hip-hop culture can actually be the way to learning science.

Emdin’s work suggests that clinical teacher preparation programs should engage teacher education students with urban students to appreciate differences, and learn how to teach (science) in context.  Communal urban classrooms, which emphasize interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group, would provide the environment for teacher education students to cross borders, and learn from the inside-out.

You might want to follow this link to a review of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation by Jose M. Rios in Democracy & Education.

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Why Teacher Education is Important and How to Make It Better

Teacher education is more important today than it has been in half a century.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is evident by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the desire to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Apple, 2008).

Robertson (2008) argues that teacher education institutions need to be sustained as autonomous from social and political centers, which would turn teacher preparation toward their own interests.  The social and political context that we find ourselves in today has implications for science teacher educators, and especially if the focus of teaching is on experiential learning.   As teacher educators, we need to think about how these realities influence our work: the polarized political climate, the educational assessment and accountability movements, and challenges to schools of education (Robertson, 2008, Cody, 2012, Hassard, 2012).

Anthony Cody, a science educator and educational policy writer, recently talked about the place of teacher education in American society:

Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of “obsession over data” is what our education “reformers” apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.

There is a new cohort group of teacher educators in the USA and other countries that approach teacher education based on clinical and experiential theories of learning.  Although the idea is not really new, there is a new and growing number of teacher educators who now have a strong research base upon which to design teacher education programs.

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy, 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, implement, reflect on, and evaluate learner-centered curriculum and practice.

Although Dewey’s ideas did not convert policy makers and education decision makers, it did have a strong impact on the Progressive Education movement which advocated active and problem based learning.  Although historians of education would agree that Thorndike’s educational and psychological ideas won out in the advancing the direction of American education, Dewey’s ideas maintained a hold on a cadre of teachers and teacher educators.  Many of the successful teacher education programs identified by Darling-Hammond (2006) are substantially Deweyan in nature.

I fell in love with teaching and being a science teacher educator when I was very young.  I arrived at Georgia State University  at the age of 29, and was embraced by my colleagues in science education who had arrived at GSU at the same time, but they were “seasoned” science educators, having had professorships at other universities.  I was a rookie fresh out of graduate school.  Even though I taught middle and high school science, and had graduated with a Ph.D. in science education and geology, many of you would agree that I couldn’t possibly be prepared for all the challenges I would face in my new position.  There is no question in my mind that the collaboration with colleagues over the years helped cultivate my identify and self-confidence in being and thinking like a teacher educator.

Over the years, I collaborated with colleagues in K-12 schools and universities and research organizations in the U.S. and other countries, especially Russia, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic.  We used humanistic, progressive, and experiential frames of reference in designing teacher education, and curriculum.  We closed the distance between theory and practice by co-creating programs, curriculum, experiences in teaching and teacher education.

I will explore teacher education from these experiences, and the research that intwined over the next few posts.

Do you think teacher education is important?  In what ways?  


Apple, M.W. (2008), Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 105 – 110).  New York, USA: Routledge.

Fishman, S.M. and McCarthy, L. (1998). John Dewey and the challenge of classroom practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Robertson, E. (2008), Teacher education in a democratic society in M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, D. John McIntyre, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd Edition, pp. 27 – 44).  New York, USA: Routledge.