On January 29, the Thomas Fordham Institute published a report, “Commentary & Feedback on the Next Generation Science Standards (Commentary). Nine people wrote the report, none of whom are “experts” in the field of science education. Yes, most of them have Ph.D’s in science, but they lack the experiential and content knowledge of science education, science curriculum development, and classroom K – 12 science teaching experience. The lead author of Commentary is Dr. Paul Gross, professor emeritus of life sciences at the University of Virginia.
Amazingly, news and media outlets will quote and not question the Fordham report as if they have the last answer on the Next Generation Science Standards in particular and science education in general. They do not have the final answer. In my opinion their answers and comments are flawed.
Erik Robelen wrote an article today in Curriculum Matters entitled In Science Draft, Big Problems ‘Abound,’ Think Tank Says. The Think Tank is the Fordham Institute. Robelen reviewed the report (70 pages) identifying the criticisms that the Fordham reviewers had about the NGSS. The Fordham group claimed that the authors of the NGSS omitted a lot of what they call “essential content.” They also insist that the practices of science and engineering dominate the NGSS, and claim that basic science knowledge–the goal of science education (again, according to the Fordham group), becomes secondary. The goal of science education is to create a curriculum that is steeped primarily in science content, with little regards to practices, inquiry, and connection to other disciplines.
Fordham Science Standards—-Return to the Past
The Fordham review used a set of science standards (called criteria) created by their science experts. They use this list of content goals to judge the worthiness of the NGSS & they used it two years ago when they reported on the state of state science standards.
They also use grades to summarize their opinion of science standards. When they reported on the state science standards, many states failed, that is they received grades of D and F. They didn’t grade the NGSS standards, but I am sure they will.
I’ve reviewed their standards and analyzed them using Bloom’s taxonomies, and reported them here. In my analysis, only 10% of the Fordham standards were above the analysis level; 52% were classified at the lowest level in Bloom. There were no mention of the affective or psychomotor domains.
One of the areas that is completely missing in the lists of science content are standards for science inquiry. What is amusing here is that the Fordham authors criticized the states for “poor integration of scientific inquiry.” If any group showed poor integration of inquiry into the standards, it’s the Fordham group. They do not mention one inquiry science outcome or goal, yet they slam the states for not integrating science inquiry into the content of science. They need to get their own house in order before they go around the country laying it on the states, and now the NGSS.
Their standards are quite simply a list of content goals with little regard to the process of science & engineering (practices in the NGSS–inquiry in the 1995 NSES) or connections across disciplines. They are a real embarrassment to science educators in the context of the research and development in science education over the past 20 years. I gave their standards a grade of D.
Let me explain. The Fordham wrote their “science standards” using the same format that was used in the earlier part of the last century. For example, here are a few of the Fordham science standards:
- Know some of the evidence that electricity and magnetism are closely related (physical science)
- Trace major events in the history of life on earth, and understand that the diversity of life (including human life) results from biological evolution (life science)
- Recognize Earth as one planet among its solar system neighbors (earth science)
- Be able to use Lewis dot structures to predict the shapes and polarities of simple molecules (chemistry)
- Know the basic structures of chromosomes and genes down to the molecular level (biology)
These are simplistic statements that are juvenile compared to the 1995 National Science Education Standards, and the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards. Here are some example standard statements from the NGSS:
- Construct an argument using evidence about the relationship between the change in motion and the change in energy of an object.
- Collect, analyze, and use data to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.
- Analyze and interpret data from fossils to describe the types of organisms that lived long ago and the environments in which they lived and compare them with organisms and environments today.
- Use Earth system models to support explanations of how Earth’s internal and surface processes operate concurrently at different spatial and temporal scales to form landscapes and sea floor features.
The Fordham report is an extensive description of their own content specific and narrow view of what science for children and youth should be. It was written by people who have little experience in science education, and there is some evidence in their reporting that they have little knowledge of science education research. Their report is not juried, and there has never been an attempt by Fordham to solicit the opinions of science education researchers or curriculum developers. It is an in-house report, and that is as far as it should go.
One More Thing
I have written several blog posts that are critical of the standards movement, including the Next Generation Science Standards. You can link to them here, here, here and here. I am not defending the NGSS, but the criteria that Fordham uses to “analyse” the NGSS is not a valid research tool, and lacks reliability and validity, two criteria that would make their report believable. As it standards, I can not agree with their ideas, nor should the NGSS consider them in their next stage. Fordham has been pulling the wool over the eyes of policy makers and the media. Its time to call them out.
There is much to disagree with in their report. What are your opinions about the Fordham report on the NGSS?