The Carnegie Corporation of New York, which funded the National Research Council’s project A Framework for K-12 Science Education, also provided the financial support for the Fordham Foundation’s review of NRC Framework. Although not a conflict of interest for the Fordham Foundation, it does raise questions about the Carnegie Foundation’s desire to fund an evaluation of its own funded project. I doubt that Carnegie sent out an RFP to universities and organizations to write a proposal to evaluate the new Framework.
But I think this is a minor distraction, especially after you read the Fordham report and compare it to the NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education.
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 individual, 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.
The essence of the Framework is depicted in the chart below. The Committee that designed the Framework built around three dimensions: scientific and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas.
In general, Dr. Gross, as well as Chester E. Finn, Jr. (President of the Fordham Foundation), are reticent to give the Framework a grade of “A” instead mark the NRC’s thick report a grade of “B”. Here are some points Gross makes in his review of the Framework.
- Content: The Fordham Report stated that the writers of the Framework did a good job with the content of science “by including all of the content critical to a rigorous K-12 science curriculum—real content. If you look at the chart above, Dr. Gross is referring to the content outlined in the Disciplinary Core Ideas Dimension of the Framework. Although stating the content was adequately outlined, Gross said that there was “undue emphasis on engineering and technology.
- Inquiry: Gross also observes that, to their credit, the authors “wisely dismiss what has long been held indispensable for K-12 science: “inquiry-based education.” I am not sure where Gross gets this idea that the NRC report dismisses inquiry-based education because inquiry is prominently identified in the NRC report and in fact the authors of the Framework state that in “all inquiry-based approaches to science teaching, our expectation is that students will themselves engage in the practices and not merely learn about them secondhand.” The Fordham report is totally off-base here. The Framework does support inquiry-based learning, and indeed devotes an entire Dimension of its report to inquiry in its section on practices.
- Raising the Bar: The Fordham report also states that the standards are the first step toward raising—and harmonizing—our expectations of what students should know and be able to do.
The Fordham report organizes its assessment or review into two areas, Content and Rigor I, and Content and Rigor II.
Content and Rigor I: How Much?
Firstly, 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?
The evaluator says, the choice of core ideas from the main K-12 science disciplines is thoughtful.
Content and Rigor II: Emphases
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. (emphasis mine)
For some reason, Gross thinks that science-related social issues and constructivism are not part of the mainstream of science education, when indeed they are. Many of the innovative Internet-based projects developed over the past 15 years have involved students in researching issues that have social implications.
Inquiry-Based Learning. 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 considerable 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. It seems to me that Gross and the Fordham Foundation is trying to make the case that Practices and Crosscutting ideas are accessories, and that the part of the Framework that should be taken seriously is the Disciplinary Core Ideas, or Dimension 3. 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. 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. This was published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), and was the most accessed article in JRST in 2010. Here is the abstract of the research study:
Various findings across 138 analyzed studies indicate 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 report also questions the justification for elevating Engineering and Technology to the same level as the three science content areas that define K-12 science education.
Crosscutting concepts also give the author of the Fordham report a problem. Crosscutting concepts (there are seven) are bridges that provide students with a framework to connect knowledge from the various science disciplines. Gross feels that that these concepts are too abstract, and only the very able students will be able to grasp them.
The Fordham report defines “accessories” as the “broader, less science-substantive” issues mentioned in the Framework. A prominent accessory is equity and diversity. Gross appears to be concerned that not only might science teachers use different pedagogical styles to help learners, but teachers might also choose different subject matter. He is concerned that the science education community might stray from the one optimum set of science standards that should be used with all students.
Common Grading Metric
Gross reviewed the Framework for K-12 Science Education using a Common Grading Metric developed by Fordham which rates the Content and Rigor of the Framework using a 0 -7 scale, and Clarity and Specificity on a 0 – 3 scale. The Framework scored a 7 on Content and Rigor, and a 1 on Clarity and Specificity, giving it an overall score of 8, which translates into a B+ on the Fordham scale.