In this post I am going to claim that evolution is a law, no different from the accepted laws of gravitation or motion. However, as science teachers, we know that students can be helped to build their own meaning and understanding of evolution, or gravity, or motion if we connect with their prior-experiences, their community understandings, and their personal beliefs. Not to do so, flies in the face of what we know about human learning.
If you are a legislator or a citizen who thinks that if we teach evolution, then students should be exposed to an alternative explanations of evolution, please do not misunderstand me. In the scientific sense, there now is no alternative explanation of evolution that science teachers would accept and make part of the science curriculum. If you do think so, then what are the alternative explanations for gravity, motion, or plate tectonics?
Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
But the Evolution Debate Rages On
Yet, in the year 2014, the debate about teaching evolution is still front and center, especially in the minds of legislators who think that students should be exposed to alternative explanations of evolution. Their favorite choices include creation science, creationism, and intelligent design. In some state legislatures, science standards are coming under scrutiny, especially the sections that mention words or phrases such as evolution or natural selection. In South Carolina, Sen. Mike Fair thought that the language about evolution and natural selection in state’s new science standards should be altered and replaced with intelligent design. He dropped his opposition this week.
But perhaps the most newsworthy example of the teaching of evolution controversy was the Great Debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, the Creation Story guy. The debate still goes on, and one wonders what effect such a nationalized debate really had on classroom teaching. Personally, I believe Nye and Ham missed the point, and showed little regard for what science teachers know about student learning. For teaching to be successful with children and teenagers, it should not be dogmatic. Student learning needs to take place in an environment of openness in which student ideas are freely released into the conversation, and buttressed with scientific knowledge, experiences, and thoughtful discussion.
The mistake made is trying to use dogma to decide the nature of science curriculum. We know that some politicians and concerned citizens spend a great deal of time and money trying to convince everyone that evolution is a controversial idea–so much so that they insist that if their children learn about evolution then the other side should be presented. Governors, former Presidents, some school board members try to influence the science curriculum by saying that both sides of an issue should be presented. Well, of course multiple sides of an issue ought to be part of teaching, but what I am claiming is that there is not an alternative scientific explanation to evolution. It’s simply not there.
A Lesson from the Field
Science teachers need support from administrators and curriculum directors to apply their professional knowledge of pedagogy and student learning. The academic freedom that teachers should have would enable them to work in such a way that they actually travel back and forth between the world of science on the one hand, and the world of their students on the other. Teachers are virtuosos at coordinating scientific ideas and student world-views.
Terrill L. Nickerson, who commented on a post in which I discussed the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate on evolution, deepens our understanding of teaching science. Terrill provides a powerful example of how he handled “clashes” that occurred when the scientific paradigm and the Native American paradigm entered his classroom at the same time. Here he talks about how he embraced the Native culture while teaching ideas about the Big Bang and/or evolution.
I knew that there would be times when I would encounter a clash between the scientific paradigm, and the Native paradigm. Among the problem areas that arose (as I anticipated), were the theories of cosmology (Big Bang) and evolution.
I handled these events by offering the students a choice. I assured my Native students that I was not there to tell them how, or what to believe, and I was definitely not their to get them to abandon their traditional culture and traditions. Instead, I was there solely to explain what mainstream science believed, based on the principles prescribed by the scientific method. They were welcome to take away whatever was comfortable to them: none of it, some of it, or all of it. It was their choice to make.
However, there was a caveat involved. At the end of the unit, they had to demonstrate a mastery of what the scientific explanation was, and why, on an assessment. They did not have to believe in it, just be able to explain the concept and explain why scientists derived their understanding. The sharing of Native explanations were welcomed and encouraged during the unit, as long as they realized that ultimately they would be assessed on the scientific explanations.
This approached reduced the fear that I was there to replace the traditions and beliefs of their culture and elders. Surprisingly, the majority chose to believe the scientific explanations I offered, and still found a way to rectify them with their own belief systems. I spent 15 years teaching science in the Native community and used this approach the entire time. In fact, many of my students went on to get BS’s, MS’s, and PhD’s in some field related to science. I have also used it throughout the last eleven years teaching in the Hispanic community with success.
The only time that I found any resistance to this approach was two years that I spent teaching in an affluent, upper middle class, predominantly Anglo, highly religiously fundamental, Christian community (and I’m Anglo). Parents and students were intractable and intransigent regarding evolution and cosmological theories. (Terrill L. Nickerson on The Art of Teaching Science blog post, What Would the Russian Scientist, V.I. Vernadsky Say to Deepen the Debate Between Bill Nye and Ken Ham?)
Science teachers need great flexibility in determining the nature of the experiences that they design to help students learn. We know that some politicians and concerned citizens spend a great deal of time and money trying to convince everyone that evolution is a controversial idea–so much so that they insist that their students learn about the other side. We don’t need Governors, former Presidents, philanthropists, and extremists telling educators how and what to teach in the science classroom. Professional science educators are able to do that among themselves.
Let us not beat about the bush—-the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a “theory” in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong.
But, as teachers, we know it’s not as simple as that. In fact, one might argue that Watson might be a bit dogmatic about this. Terrill L. Nickerson provides convincing evidence that science teachers who take a holistic and interdisciplinary view of science learning will create an atmosphere that is accepting of student ideas, and provides a pathway to understanding science.
What is your view on the teaching of evolution and other so-called controversial ideas in the curriculum?
Sixth Article in the Series on The Artistry of Teaching
Does neoliberal education reform consider the nature of adolescence and the advances in our understanding of how humans learn? Is it necessary for every American human adolescent to learn the same content, in the same order, and at the same time? Why should every student be held accountable to policies and plans that don’t consider their needs and their interests?
These are some of the questions that many educators ask themselves every day as they open their doors to their students who come from homes where there might be not enough food on the table, their father is un-employed, their mother is fearful that she might be deported, or their neighborhood school was closed during the summer and now they are in a different school.
Five articles were recently published on The Artistry of Teaching. Teachers know, but apparently policy makers don’t know, that teaching is not tidy. It involves a willingness to try multiple approaches, to collaborate with professional colleagues, and students to work through the realities of teaching and learning. It requires a deep understanding of the nature of human learning, the needs and aspirations of children and youth, and a recognition that these students are living a life that is real and not-imagined, and school should be experiential, providing activities and projects that are meaningful, risky, and collaborative.
Teachers who do this practice a form of artistry. Furthermore, artistry in teaching is practiced by educators who know how to mingle theory with practice. Teaching isn’t only the application of strategies or techniques, it’s an art form that involves high level thinking, on-the-spot decision-making, and creativity. As we have suggested on this blog, the magnum principiumof teaching is inquiry, which is a democratic and humane approach to teaching and learning.
For more than thirty years I worked with teachers and students who wanted to teach at the middle school and high school levels in science, mathematics and other fields, but principally science.
This is a “slideshare” program based on one of the multimedia presentations designed for the TEEMS interns and that I want to share here. I’ve included it in this sixth article on the Artistry of Teaching to show that teacher education students need not only backgrounds in science or mathematics, or history, or literature, but they need to embrace the content of the learning sciences. The Learning Sciences (public library), which is an interdisciplinary field, involving among others cognitive science, educational psychology, anthropology and linguistics, is the kind of knowledge that teachers use to do the art of teaching.
Adolescence and Middle School Curriculum
This particular slide show, which I titled Adolescence and Middle School Science, is a critique of the middle school science curriculum in the context of the nature of adolescence. There is a lot of content here, and when I used this in my course, the TEEMS interns had already spent a semester in clinical practice. During the presentation, interns were organized into small cooperative teams, and throughout the slideshare, we would stop and explore the implications of and our knowledge of, the “content of adolescence” and application to science curriculum.
In this slideshare, we looked at the middle school science curriculum in the context of adolescent students. In grades six through eight, no matter where you travel in the USA, kids are going to take a course each year in earth science, life science, or physical science. I spent several years (in the 20th Century) teaching earth science at the ninth grade level in Lexington, MA. The curriculum used then is not very different from the earth science curriculum of the 21st Century.
Is there a problem here? I think there is.
Curriculum tends to start with the content of science math, English/language arts or social studies, and not content of the lived experiences of students in class. This is not a new dilemma. It’s been around for a century. But there have been educators, starting with people like John Dewey or Maria Montessori who believed that learning should not only be experiential, but that it should engage students in real problems and issues in their own lives. Content should be in the service of students, not the other way round.
So, in the presentation, we face this conundrum, and suggest some ways that curriculum should be:
Structured more in terms of student interests
Science should be for people, and in that light, we suggest these directions:
Select those concepts and principles in science relevant to students’ daily life and adaptive needs
Do not based curriculum on preparing more scientists
Science must be put into the service for people and society
Connect students with today’s world
Develop life skills that improve the quality of living
Enjoy the presentation. Teaching certainly isn’t tidy or easy. But it is an art form practiced by lots of educators.
I want to focus on Senator Grassley’s initiative to defund the Common Core State Standards, and compare this effort to the defunding of National Science Foundation science projects in the 1970s. The effort to defund the Common Core is a “back to the future” moment for me, as it feels like I am being sent back to the 1970s when Congress defunded NSF science education programs, resulting in serious reprimands, and fundamental changes in the way NSF developed curriculum.
The underlying reasons for each defunding actions are similar, and it is interesting to note how some things haven’t changed. Senator Grassley wrote a letter on April 26 to Tom Harkin and Jerry Moran, ranking members of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Senate Appropriations Committee. The gist of his proposal as stated in his letter to Harkin and Moran is to “restore state decision-making and accountability with respect to state academic content standards.” In particular, Grassley does not want funds used by the Department of Education to develop, carry out or evaluate content standards, to adopt multi-state (read Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards) standards, or to enforce any provision of the ESEA Flexibility waivers that states are seeking in exchange for more flexibility in carrying out No Child Left Behind. Harkin, a Democrat responded and said he supports the common core initiative.
What’s behind the effort to defund the Common Core? And what caused the Congress to defund and cut funding for NSF science education programing in the 1970’s? We’ll see that emotions, attitudes, and family values form the fundamental angst that led to actions 40 years ago, and now.
Please read on…
Back to the Future
Unlike the Common Core State Standards, most NSF science programs were developed at American universities or educational development centers, and enlisted the work of scientists, science education professors and K-12 science teachers. For example, the first NSF program, PSSC Physics was developed at MIT in the late 1950’s. Other universities wrote grants to fund programs in elementary, middle and high school science over the next three decades. NSF proposals are peer-reviewed, unlike any of the work done to develop the Common Core or the Next Generation Science Standards. NSF projects were field-tested in schools across the country, and then revised based on the feedback received through test centers. For a brief history of the NSF, please follow this link.
The Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have not been field-tested, although they have been available for online review.
The NSF spent about $1.6 billion on science and mathematics education from 1958 – 1978. Part of this funding was used to develop curriculum project materials (59 projects were developed) in the amount of $189 million or 12% of the full education budget. Most of this was spent on developing the materials, but $82 million was used to implement the projects. (Disclaimer: I received an NSF Academic Year Institute Fellowship to attend The Ohio State University in 1966, and was a writer for two NSF curriculum projects at Florida State University (ISCS and ISIS), directed the ISIS NSF Test Center at Georgia State University (GSU), and received grants from the NSF while at GSU).
In contrast, the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $4 billion in Race to the Top Funds (RTT) to between 2010 -2012, but they mandated that states must adopt the Common Core to be considered for RTT funding.
ISIS. From 1974 – 1977, I was writer and test-center director (in the Atlanta area) for the NSF curriculum project at Florida State University called the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS). The goal of the project was to develop and field-test about 100 science mini-courses for grades 9 – 12. Professor Emeritus George Dawson of Florida State University assembled the entire collection of ISIS materials, including the pre-publication versions, NSF proposal details, and all related research papers ascribed to the ISIS program. The idea was to develop a large number of mini-courses that could be used by school districts that they could use to assemble their own curriculum. Mini-course titles included, Kitchen Chemistry, Let’s Eat, The Physics of Sport, Tomorrows Weather, Salt of the Earth, Cells and Cancer, Birth and Growth, Human Reproduction. When we field tested Birth and Growth, and Human Reproduction in high school biology classes, a number of parents complained, and insisted that their children not be exposed to these mini-courses.
During the first two years of the ISIS project, more than thirty mini-courses were developed and field tested in centers around the country, including Atlanta. But in 1977, the ISIS Project Director, Dr. Ernest Burkman of FSU, was informed that the ISIS project funding would be reduced, and that no funds could be used to prepare teachers and districts to carry out ISIS. Why did this happen?
The MACOS Controversy. Enter Man: A Course of Study (MACOS), or better known to the education community as “The MACOS Controversy.” Man: A Course of Study is an elementary science and social studies curriculum project funded by NSF and developed the Educational Development Center (EDC), Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jerome Bruner took leave from Harvard to lead this fifth grade curriculum which examined the commonalities between human behavior and that of several animal species, and culminated with a series of short films documenting the lives of the Netsilik Eskimo people.
MACOS, between 1963 – 1975 received about $7.1 million to develop, carry out and test the MACOS curriculum. MACOS, like ISIS, developed curriculum materials (follow this link to an online archive of MACOS that is free for noncommercial use) that departed from the usual NSF curriculum project which consisted of a text-book, laboratory activities (often integrated in the text), and hands-on teaching materials specific to the project. ISIS not only developed a curriculum with specialized hands-on materials, but its goal was to produce 100 mini-texts. MACOS did not have a text-book, instead it created a curriculum that consisted of a variety of media, including films, and required extensive teaching preparation because of the course’s teaching strategies, and potential of the subject.
When MACOS went looking for a publisher, 43 American publishers indicated interest, but none of them was willing to sign a contract that had such implementation requirements. As a result, the developer, EDC, in collaboration with NSF, agreed to lower the royalty rate to attract publishers. Curriculum Development Associates of DC signed up, and began publishing the curriculum in 1970. Forty-seven states and over 1,700 school districts used the MACOS program. However, MACOS, as we will see, was a controversial curriculum project.
Publishers were aware that the content and pedagogy of the MACOS program was controversial, so it should have been no surprise that conservative politicians would discover MACOS, and go berserk. Here is a brief overview the MACOS curriculum written by Peter B. Dow, the director of the project, as cited in Karen Wiley’s 1976 research report The NSF Science Education Controversy: Issues, Events and Decisions.
The eventual defunding of MACOS and cutting of funds for other projects, including ISIS, had its origins in Phoenix, Arizona, the home of Congressman John Conlan. Some parents in Phoenix were upset that their schools were going to implement MACOS, and as a result Conlan’s staff investigated MACOS, which resulted in Conlan moving in Congress that:
No funds authorized shall be available directly or indirectly for further development or implementation of “Man: A Course of Study,” MACOS. Karen Wiley reported that Conlan raised specific complaints against MACOS, including:
The content of the course is unfit for American children; the course advocates un-American values.
The instructional methods of the course are manipulative.
The implementation activities of the developer (EDC) go beyond the Congressional mandate; they constitute unfair competition with private publishers (recall that 47 publishers turned EDC down); and they exert undue influence on local decision makers (this is an odd one, because local schools make the final decision on the selection of curriculum and texts).
Conlan’s investigation expanded from MACOS to all of NSF’s curriculum development projects. As Wiley wrote in her research report, the controversy expanded to professional societies and the media.
If you have the time, the video, Through These Eyes looks back at the MACOS project, and explores the social and educational implications of the controversy that was critical of national curriculum projects, especially MACOS which not only suggested that “man” was an animal, but that studying cultures different from our own could be an important teaching tool of discovery and experimentation. This idea did not bode well with conservatives.
Through These Eyes looks back at the high stakes of this controversial curriculum. Decades later, as American influence continues to affect cultures worldwide, the story of MACOS resonates strongly. The implications for today’s conservative agenda is relevant.
In the case of the Common Core State Standards, there is great similarity with MACOS. The Common Core has been adopted by most states (47) and it is in the process of being implemented in many states. But, long before Sen. Grassley wrote his “Common Core” letter, there was discontent with the Common Core by left and right leaning organizations and people.
MACOS content also raised the shackles of conservatives who thought that the curriculum was too progressive, and in their mind did not reflect the values of American families. In their text, The Art of Teaching Science, the authors discussed the MACOS controversy, and wrote this:
Indeed, conservatives viewed progressive schools as ‘anti-intellectual playhouses’ and ‘crime breeders,’ run by a ‘liberal establishment.” The MACOS curriculum was seen as a progressive Trojan horse. Conlan’s staff investigated complaints and eventually, Conlan took steps to stop appropriations for MACOS “on the grounds of its ‘abhorrent, repugnant, vulgar, morally sick content.” Nelkin claims that the Council for Basic Education objected to MACOS for its emphasis on cultural relativism, and its lack of emphasis on skills and facts. Even liberal congressmen got on the anti-MACOS bandwagon because of their desire to limit the executive bureaucracies, such as NSF, and for “their resentment of scientists, who often tended to disdain congressional politics; and above all, the concern with secrecy and confidentiality that followed the Watergate affair.”
The MACOS controversy brought the issue of censorship into the public arena. However, to avoid the claim of censorship, which probably would not have been acceptable to many in Congress, Conlan focused on the federal government’s role in implementing MACOS, as well as all other NSF funded curriculum projects. One issue that surfaced was “the marketing issue – the concern that the NSF used taxpayers’ money to interfere with private enterprise.”Along with this was the place that conservative writers such as James Kilpatrick, who attacked NSF science programs as “an ominous echo of the Soviet Union’s promulgation of official scientific theory.” The temper of the times was quite clear: “resentment of the ‘elitism’ of science reinforced concern that NSF was naïvely promulgating the liberal values of the scientific community to a reluctant public.” The result: on April 9, 1975, the Congress terminated funds for MACOS, and further support of science curriculum projects was suspended, and the entire NSF educational program came under review.
At the core of MACOS was The Netsilik Film Series, an anthropology program from the National Film Board that featured a year in the life of an Inuit family, and its relationship with the outside world. It was the graphic images of the Netsilik people who clashed with the values of some individuals, such as in Phoenix, Arizona.
Peter Dow, Director of MACOS, explored the implications of MACOS in a paper written many years ago. Dow points out that as Pablo Freire wrote that there is no such thing as a neutral educational process. For Freire, education either leads the student to conform with the present system, or it becomes “the practice of freedom” which means that teaching will focus on creativity and discovery. This fundamental concept is at odds with the conservative world view that has been discussed on this blog. It runs counter to the authoritarian mode of living and education.
Finally, Dow comments made more than 40 years ago are relevant to the present “faux reform” that is being forced on schools today. He said this about educational reform:
There is clearly a conflict between the pedagogy Freire espouses and curriculum building on a national scale if curriculum decisions continue to be made by state adoption boards to be imposed with no recourse on a powerless population of students and teachers.
Until curriculum decisions rest where they belong, in the hands of the users, curriculum reform movements will continue to be used as instruments of oppression. A liberating education must perforce originate from the aspirations of the participants.
Lastly, curriculum makers must become increasingly sensitive to the social and political implications of curriculum building. In designing curricula, we cannot escape the fact that we make choices and impose values on the constituency of students and teachers we serve. If no schooling is neutral, and we believe in freedom of choice, then we must increase curriculum options and be explicit about the social goals of our curriculum materials. And in our continuing search to understand the central purposes of curriculum, we would do well to have our ears tuned to the increasingly liberated voices of the young, and to keep the writings of Bruner, Erikson, and Freire close at hand. (“Man: A Course of Study” in Retrospect: A Primer for Curriculum in the 70’s, Peter B. Dow Theory into Practice , Vol. 10, No. 3, A Regeneration of the Humanities (Jun., 1971), pp. 168-177)
There is a groundswell to defund efforts to carry out the Common Core State Standards. The defunding efforts have gained traction in states dominated by Republican legislatures, such as Alabama, Texas and Michigan. The present effort is a bit of a dilemma for progressives (like myself) in that we see ourselves in agreement with our conservative colleagues. I‘ve written extensively on this blog that standards actually impede learning, and are like brick walls, preventing real learning from happening. My concern has more to do with the implication of having single sets of content standards that people actually believe are important to the welfare of schooling. There is little evidence to support the idea that standards, whether rigorous or not, make any difference in student learning.
Opposition to the standards comes from the left and the right. If the opposition comes from the left, its typically a resistance to a one-size-fits all conception of curriculum, and a rejection of a single set of standards for all children and youth, and evidence that standards will do little to improve education, especially for children living in poverty. If the opposition comes from the right, the right to choose comes to the surface. Folks on the right tend to think that élite scientists or mathematicians are trying to impose an ideology that rejects conservative values. To conservatives, teaching and learning should focus on basic facts (of science, for example), and we should test students every year to make sure that they are getting the facts straight.
Grassley’s letter, and the legislative actions around the country to defund the common core show how dysfunctional our elected officials are in matters of educational reform. Instead of facilitating educational reform, Federal and state government policy has resulted in partisan bickering, and the serious impediment to improving life for students and their teachers.
In the 1970s, the Congress saw fit to dissolve a very creative and thought-provoking curriculum (MACOS). Abandoning the Common Core might be the right decision, but what are we left to when Congress and state legislatures impose their values on local school districts, who really have the legal right and responsibility to education our children and youth.
What do you think about the movement to defund the Common Core? Do you think this is a good idea? Tell us what you think.
The Next Generation Science Standards are on the web for all of us to view and critique until January 29th. According to Achieve, the developers of the standards, they will use the feedback to revise last version of the science standards, to be published in March, 2013.
The new science standards are the scientific and science education community’s latest document spelling out the performances that students must show in the science curriculum.
Science education has a long history of being valued and important in the school curriculum. Since the beginning of the Cold War, the teaching of science (and mathematics and technology) in America’s schools has been considered crucial to America’s economic, scientific and technological competitiveness.
In a paper published this week in the journal Science Education, Stephanie Claussen and Jonathan Osborne use Frenchman Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital to critique the science curriculum. To Bourdieu, cultural capital acts as a social relation within a system of exchange that includes the accumulated cultural knowledge (of science) that confers power and status on those that have it. Claussen and Osborne critique the science curriculum by suggesting that the science education community has missed the boat in areas emphasized in Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital. For example, Claussen and Osborne show that science education does not help students understand the “embodied” value of science.
Standards in science or math are typically written and promoted by élite groups or committees of professionals, e.g. mathematic professors, linguists, or scientists. For Bourdieu, the value of science (its cultural capital) results from its long history, and the implications it has for society. As he suggests, it becomes entrenched , and those who possess the capital go all out to defend it. It’s not surprising that it was an élite group of scientists who wrote the science framework upon which the Next Generation Science Standards are based. But, this is not a new idea.
The American curriculum was first standardized 1893 by the Committee of Ten, a group composed of 5 university presidents, one professor, two school principals, and a commissioner of education. All were men, and none were teachers. This élite group organized nine content conferences (Latin, Greek, English, Physics-Astronomy-Chemistry, Natural history, history-civil government-political economy). Meeting in different parts of the country, the conferences attendees hammered out the content and wrote summaries published in 1893 as a report of the Committee on Secondary School Studies.
The science standards in the Committee of Ten report includes topics on physics, chemistry, and astronomy, experiments, natural history, nature study for elementary grades, botany for common schools, zoology for high school, and physiology, and geography. You can read the original report that was published in 1893 here. I think you will be surprised to read how the science standards written more than 100 years ago are not so different from the ones written in 2013.
From 1955 – 1975, the National Science Foundation funded more than 50 elementary and secondary science projects that in sum represented the science standards of the era. These projects, starting with physics (PSSC Physics), affected the science curriculum in American schools for the next 20 years. Many of the programs, often in the form of textbooks and laboratory manuals are still published today. These NSF projects became the default science standards for American science education, and had a powerful effect on the National Science Education Standards published in 1996. It was known as the Golden Age of Science Education. The Golden Age came to a screeching halt in the mid-1970s when some members of Congress objected to some of the NSF pr0jects (Man: A Course of Study), throwing a wedge into the curriculum development era.
In the 1980s, the U.S. was at risk educationally, according to the report, Nation at Risk, and as a result a back-to-basics mantra took over, and science education went into a “courses and competency” era. During this era, basic education was re-established in the sense of making high school graduation requirements across the states more standardized (4 years of English, 3 years of math, 3 years of science, 3 years of social studies, and one-half year of computer science.
In spite of “back to basics” movement of the 1980 – 1990s, a new genre of science curriculum projects emerged from the confluence of Internet and telecommunications technologies, and the desire of some science educators to engage students in environmental and inquiry-based research projects. Much of this work was done by researchers at TERC and the Concord Consortium in the Boston area, Georgia State University, and the University of Colorado.
The National Science Education Standards was the result of work by the AAAS’s Project 2061, and the National Science Teachers Association. The NSES influenced the development of state science standards.
For the most part, the historical science standards were developed by professional groups such as the National Association for Education, the National Society for the Study of Education, the Progressive Education Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association.
Contemporary Standards: CCSS and NGSS
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) combined with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English language Arts are efforts to nationalize standards. This triumvirate of standards has changed the face of American education by providing three content or discipline oriented standards that will take center stage in the school curriculum. Although the developers of the standards claim that they are voluntary, states who do not adopt them will run into difficulty in securing federal money. At the center of these standards is Achieve, a not-for-profit Washington-based organization that partnered with the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to first develop the Common Core State Standards.
The movement to impose a common set of standards on U.S. schools began in 2009 at a Chicago meeting held by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and people from the states, and Achieve, Inc. This group charged Achieve to develop and write common standards in mathematics and English/language arts. According to research report on the common standards by researchers at the University of Colorado, the development of the common core took a path that undermined one of the tenets of research, and that is openness and transparency. The writing was done in private, and there was only one K-12 educator involved in the process.
A lot of money has been spent on these two projects, and it will take billions of dollars to carry out the three sets of standards into American schools. But there is more to it. The standards in these three areas will lead to a range of teaching materials, including texts, online e-books, software, DVDs. But more significantly is that there are separate projects that have been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to design technology-based assessments correlated to the three sets of standards. Under the current rules of the American school game, students will be relentlessly tested throughout their careers, benefits a small group of test companies. And one more thing here. There is an enormous stream of private and corporate financial support that flowed into not only Achieve, but many organizations, such as Teach for America, that are convincing the American public that to teach the new standards, it only takes five – six weeks of boot camp style training to do this.
The contemporary standards are based on the premise that American education needs to be reformed to make sure that future workers are skilled to compete in a global competitive environment. The standards documents make it very clear that moving the U.S. into the number one place in economic competitiveness can only be done by more rigorous and unified standards in math, English language arts, and science. Even though the evidence does not support this assumption, the standards movement, combined with the testing industry have now taken over education in the United States.
Standards as Capital
Standards represent the intellectual capital that society places on various domains of knowledge, including mathematics, literature and science. We are not arguing against this fundamental concept. We will argue that the way this capital is translated into the school curriculum has serious problems, and that as a result, we have put the emphasis in science education, for example, in the wrong place. In Western nations, students simply do not like school science. In fact, the longer students are in school, the more they dislike science. But if students are asked if science is important in society, students typically say yes. However, they are not interested in persuing careers in science. But if students in less developed nations are asked how they feel about science as a career, they are eager to say they would like to pursue careers in science and technology. This research has been uncovered by researchers at the University of Oslo, in The Relevance of Science Education (ROSE Project).
Claussen and Osborne ask us to reflect on science in the school curriculum as cultural capital that people can meet. However, they point out, that many students come to school with sufficient cultural capital (because of their family) making it easier for them to gain more of this cultural capital. Students who come to school who have very little of this cultural capital will be at a disadvantage.
In this view, the NGSS is the cultural capital of science in very precise terms and at each grade level. The NGSS is a product of the values and decisions of an elite group of scientists and university professors. Claussen and Osborne very convincingly argue that the science curriculum is “the imposition of a cultural arbitrary by an arbitrary power.” By involving elite groups in the decisions about what knowledge is worth knowing, it enables the “reproduction” of existing structures of power. Or put another way, it enables the elite group to put their values and politics on the school culture in order to preserve their domain of knowledge. In a way these are abritary decisions. They write:
In the case of science, the cultural arbitrary is exerted in two ways. First, the dominant scientific élite has ensured that the form of science taught in most schools in most countries is one which is best suited to educating the future scientist (a small minority) and not the needs of the future citizen (the overwhelming majority). This is achieved by the choices that are made about what science has to offer: academic science versus science for citizenship (S. A. Brown, 1977; Young, 1971), the exclusion of any history of science (Haywood, 1927; Matthews, 1994), the underemphasis on applications and implications of science (Solomon & Aikenhead, 1994; Zeidler, Sadler, Simmons, & Howes, 2005), and the omission of any treatment about how science works (Millar & Osborne, 1998)—all choices which do not harm the education of the future scientist. The cumulative effect is to deny the validity of any other cultural perspective on science—in particular one which might have more relevance to women and students from other cultures. Granted such forms of science also alienate those within the dominant élite who have little interest in becoming scientists, but such students have a body of cultural capital that ensures access to alternative forms of institutionalized capital.
The dominant élite for the NGSS was selected by the National Research Council, which received funds from the Carnegie Institute. A committee of 18 professional scientists and educators (16 of whom were college professor of science) was assembled to create a “Foundation” to write new science standards. The committee spent more than a year working with other professionals, two-thirds of whom are not involved in K-12 teaching. A Foundation for K-12 Science Education was published in the summer of 2011 outlining the essentials for a framework gor new science standards.
The framework for the new science standards is built around three dimensions: practices (such as asking questions) , cross-cutting ideas (cause & effect, scale, etc.) & disciplinary core ideas (in earth, life & physical science).
The cultural capital implicit in the NGSS can be viewed from one page on the NGSS’s site. You’ll have to dig, but the capital is all there. You can link to all aspects of the new science standards, including the structure of the standards (a video will show how they are arranged), how to give feedback, a glossary of terms (a new set of acronyms to learn), 11 appendices (articles detailing various components of the standards–look at Figure 1 for the topics), two search tools (one by disciplinary core idea, and other by topics of teaching), and links to download these as PDFs.
In the Next Generation Science Standards website, the authors of the new standards claim that science education is taught as a set of disjointed and isolated facts. This can be debated. Most science teaching is organized around major topics, concepts or ideas. They are typically not taught in a disjointed fashion as the authors of the new standards claim. Look at any science textbook, and you will find that chapters are organized as unified units of content.
Of course it is in the interest of the new reformers to claim that science is taught as isolated facts.
Here is what we need to say. Science is tested as a set of disjointed and isolated facts. Even with the claim that there are fewer ideas in the new standards, they will be used to design tests that in the end will be nothing but question after question of isolated facts.
Claussen and Osbourne explain that Bourdieu conceives of “habitus” as a set of social and cultural practices, values, and dispositions that are characterized by the ways social groups interact with their members; whereas “cultural capital” is the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are transmitted to an individual within their sociocultural context through pedagogic action1 (Bourdieu, 1986), in particular by the family.
Claussen and Osbourne suggest that formal education is important because it can be viewed as an academic market for the distribution of cultural capital. they write:
Those who enter the classroom with sufficient cultural capital of the appropriate, dominant type—capital that fits well with the discourse and values of schools—are well positioned to increase their cultural capital further. In addition, research shows that the habitus of such students enables them to acquire substantial additional capital in informal contexts (Alexander, Entwisle, & Olson, 2007; Tavernise, 2012). In contrast, students who possess cultural capital of a form that is incongruent with the culture of the school, or who lack it altogether, are at a distinct disadvantage. One of the challenges of education in general, and science education in particular, is how to increase a student’s stock of the dominant cultural capital, regardless of the nature of any prior capital they may, or may not, already have acquired.
The authors, using the concept of cultural capital, argue how school science could better contribute to the remediation of social inequalities.
We’ll explore how the institutionalized form of science, which in its current form will be determined by common assessments built upon common standards.
In what ways do you critique the Next Generation Science Standards?
Note: This is the second in a series of posts on the Next Generation Science Standards. You can read the first one here.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are the latest iteration of writing science objectives for the eventual purpose of testing students’ knowledge of science. The objectives are developed by teams of experts, and rely on either their own domain analysis chart of science, or in this case the Framework for K-12 Science Education developed by another prestigious group of educators and scientists.
The NGSS, although they are presented in an overwhelming and distinctly powerful way on Achieve’s website, when you drill down to the actual standards, you find content statements that are not very different than standards that we’ve seen in the past.
The roots of science education as it has developed in the United States, and many countries throughout the world, has its origins in the science of the Greeks. The works of Archimedes, Eratosthenes, and Pythagoras have been carried forward and are a part of what we call modern Western science. The roots of what we might call modern science education can be traced to the 19th Century in Europe and especially Britain. At that time, what we know as science was natural philosophy, which emerged from the Greek term philosophy, the love of wisdom. Glen Aikenhead writes
This Greek philosophy radically advanced in Western Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries (after the Renaissance period) with the establishment of natural philosophy, a new knowledge system based on the authority of empirical evidence and imbued with the value of gaining power and dominion over nature. This historical advance is known as the Scientific Revolution
This is where modern science began, and where we find the roots of science education as well.
Committee of Ten. For science education, however, the standards that we use today were initially created to make sure that students would be ready for college (sound familiar). But the standards I am speaking about were written by The Committee of Ten in 1895! Of the nine committees that were formed, three dealt with the science curriculum: (1) physics, astronomy, and chemistry; (2) natural history; and (3) geography. Each committee formulated goals for elementary and secondary science, and described what students should know and learn, and suggested methods of teaching. Here is what the natural history committee had to say about elementary science:
In the elementary grades, the Natural History Committee recommended and worked out the details for nature study not less than two periods per week for all grades up to high school. The first purpose of nature study is not knowledge of plants and animals, but to interest children in nature. The second purpose was to develop students’ ability to observe, compare, and express ideas (in contemporary terms, the processes of science); to cause children to form habits (habits of mind in today’s language) of careful investigation and of making clear statements of their observations. Acquisition of knowledge was the third purpose. So interest, science process and content acquisition formed the goals of nature study. Interestingly, the committee recommended that no book be used in nature study. Students should be observing and discussing plants and animals in the classroom or out in nature.
In 1972 I was invited to Florida State University to be a writer for the NSF project, the Intermediate Science Curriculum Project (ISCP), and to work on the Florida Assessment Project, a research and development project.
The task of the Florida Assessment was to write standards and assessment items for middle and high school science for Florida’s initial attempt to develop state-wide standards in science. When I returned to Georgia State University, a team of colleagues and I submitted a proposal to the Florida Department of Education to write the K-6 Elementary Science standards (we called them objectives way back then), and test items.
We used Robert Gagne’s cognitive theory of learning which modeled a 7 stage hierarchy of learning. We used it to categorize the standards into the 7 levels of learning. Working with high school and middle school science teachers, and doctoral students in science education, our team created a domain chart of the disciplines of science: Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, and Life Science. The domain chart and the Gagne categories guided our work. For each standard or objective we wrote two assessment items.
Individualized Science Instructional System
From 1974 – 1978, I was a writer, and field test coordinator of the NSF project entitled the Individualized Science Instructional System (ISIS), which was a high school science program designed to develop nearly 60 modules of science teaching for grades 9 – 12. In this project, objectives for the entire project were written and field tested (parents, school administrators and teachers were involved). Objectives were grouped by content, and were assigned to an author (high school teachers and university professors) to write one ISIS Module, or a mini-course.
The Global Thinking Project
In the 1990s I worked with science teachers in the U.S. and Russia, and together we wrote and field-tested the Global Thinking Project, which was an environmental science curriculum designed for middle and high school students. We created a telecommunications network by bringing Macintosh computers, printers and models to Russia and set them up in schools around the country. The curriculum included objectives or standards, and each of the “projects” was designed for students to investigate an important local environmental problem, use scientific tools to collect data, as needed, and the GTP network to upload data and collaborate with peers in other countries (Spain, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Scotland, Brazil joined the project soon after it was up and running.
NSES and State-Wide Science Standards
In 1996, the National Science Education Standards were published ushering in a new era in standards-based education and then a few years later, high-stakes testing. The NSES were developed in the same manner as the NGSS, and countless state-wide standards and assessments around the country.
But one can also make the argument that American students actually perform consistently and very well on these tests and have actually improved over the years. In fact the results from the 2011 NAEP Science Assessment show that:
The average eighth-grade science score increased from 150 in 2009 to 152 in 2011. The percentages of students performing at or above the Basic and Proficient levels were higher in 2011 than in 2009. There was no significant change from 2009 to 2011 in the percentage of students at the Advanced level.
Achieve, Inc., the organization that will stand to benefit financially from the standards movement, makes it very clear that we need new standards to help improve America’s competitive edge, to boost the lagging achievement of U.S. students, to make sure students have the essential education for all careers in the modern workforce, to improve the literacy of Americans. They fail to cite data that shows that a nation’s competitive edge is too complicated to even claim that student test scores have anything to do with; that NAEP data shows that American students have improved in science for a long time.
In whose interests is it to develop these new standards? Try: Achieve, publishers, especially of online courses and texts, testing companies.
Who Wrote the NGSS?
According to Achieve, Inc., the writing team consisted of 41 members from 26 states. To make sure that there is a connection between NRC’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and the NGSS, chairs of the NRC’s design teams were selected as chairs of the NGSS writing team committees. Here is the breakdown of the writing team by field of expertise. There are 14 teachers on the writing team, representing one-third of the writing team. There are 12 curriculum & instruction specialists (29%), and 15 Non-K-12 educators (35%). The panel is a distinguished group with links to their bios. But I found that one of the member identified as a high school teacher, is not teaching. There certainly were many teachers in U.S. who would have been qualified to replace this team member. I also note that the science education professors on the writing team do not represent a new cadre of science education professors that might bring fresh and novel ideas to the panel. Is having these individuals as chairs of the writing committees a good idea? I don’t really know. Just thinking.
I would like to know more about the process of actually writing the standards that appear online. How were the teachers involved? Did they participate directly in writing drafts, or did they review drafts written by others? How did Achieve, Inc., interface with the writing team? Did Achieve provide it own human resources to to the effort, and in what ways?
Writing Team Fields of Expertise
Number of Members
Science Education Consultants
Curriculum Directors – Instructional Specialists
K – 12 Teachers
Middle School Teachers
High School Teachers
Table 1. NGSS Writing Team Members by Expertise Area
The Nature of the Standards
The NGSS are organized like standards from the past, into content domains including: (if you click on any of these links it will bring to the NGSS for that content area.)
As you can see the standards are organized into four distinct disciplines or core areas. If you click on any of the categories within the main content areas, you will then be at the level where you can read the standards, and also the information from the Framework for K-12 Science Education that was used to write the performance expectations. Three columns of information are arranged to highlight these ideas: science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts.
Middle School Earth Space Science Performance Expectations
I’ve chosen the Middle School Earth Space Science (ESS) performance objectives as representative of the NGSS to evaluate. There are Earth Space Science performance expectations at each grade level (K-HS). Here is the complete list of Earth Space Sciences major categories extracted from the NGSS website here:
Table 2. NGSS Earth Space Science Performance Expectation Categories for the Earth Space Sciences Domain. Note: The links are live.
All of the topics that included in this list have been included in the previous standards iterations, including the NSES, our work on the Florida Assessment Project, the NAEP Science. What strikes me is the linearity of the structure of the NGSS. We have a list of topics, but there is attempt to show the content schematically perhaps using a tool such as Mindmeister where webs can be created to show how ideas interconnect and relate to one another.
Writing a set of texts for Earth and Space Science would be quite straight forward. Give each writer a subset of the performance expectations, and assign them the task of writing a unit or mini-book of activities, projects, content, interactions that are true to the four or five standards for the topic. When authors for the NSF curriculum project ISIS were assigned to write a content module, they were given a set of performance expectations, and told, turn these into interacting activities and content.
But in my own view, one of the major uses of the NGSS will be to create assessments that will be used to continue the madness of high-stages testing. By writing the standards as behavioral statements, it will be very easy for test construction engineers to push out lots of pineapple type questions.
Each standard is written in the form of a behavioral objective. A good behavioral objective ought to be a statement of what students are expected to do, learn or know. The NGSS uses the term performance expectation to define its standards, and it seems to me that this is the definition of a behavioral objective, an ideas that was at its height in the 1970s.
Construct explanationsfor patterns in geologic evidence to determine the relative ages of a sequence of events that have occurred in Earth’s past
Use modelsof the geologic time scale in order to organize major events in Earth’s history.
Each standard included the three dimensions that NRC and Achieve describe as a vision of what it means to be proficient in science. The blue part of the standard are meant to be the science and engineering practices—-what scientists and engineers do—construct explanations, use models, use empirical evidence, etc. This is the “action” part of the standard, and it is designed to make assessment of the standard straight forward. The orange part of the standard is the disciplinary core idea (the content), and the underlined part of the standard is the crosscutting concept, ideas that have application across content area such as patterns, similarity, and diversity, cause and effect, scale, and so forth.
So the Earth Space Science domain of the NGSS has 17 categories or topics as shown in Table 2. Generally speaking there are four objectives per topic, so in all the NGSS has about 103 Earth Space Sciences standards. We might estimate that there are slightly more than 400 science standards in the NGSS.
One can be fooled by the way content is presented on the Web. The organizers of the NGSS did a very good job of creating a Website that can be navigated fairly easily, and also provide supporting materials.
But, in my own analysis of the standard statements, the scope and sequence of the Earth Space Science section is not new, nor does it appear to based on any structural components that would lead us to think that this concept should be introduced at the elementary level, and this concept at the middle level.
I am also concerned that there are no graphics showing how ideas relate to each other. Science educators, of all people, should have included graphic organizers and used them to get out of their linear mode of thinking. There are certainly many examples, and conceptual approaches to do this. The AAAS Atlas of Literacy would be good bet.
What Can We Expect?
There is no doubt that Achieve, Inc., and its long list of partners and financial supports will charge ahead and ready the draft documents for final presentation and publication next year (at least that’s their plan). Their long term goal is to have all of the states adopt the NGSS. There are 26 states that are ‘lead’ partners in this effort, and although they did not have to commit to the standards, there will be great pressure for these states to do.
However there is a serious push-back occurring in the States right now over the Common Core Standards. School districts across the country are signing petitions refusing to participate in high-stakes tests, which of course are part of standards-based reform effort.
In previous blog posts I have argued using research in the field of science education that science standards present barriers to learning. According to research published by Dr. Carolyn S. Wallace, a professor at the Center for Science Education, Indiana State University, science standards are barriers to teaching and learning in science. In her research, Wallace uncovers evidence that the use of standards by practicing science teachers pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning. She cites two aspects of authoritarian standards that cause this barrier:
1. The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
2. The standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning processes needed to achieve them.
And then she adds that these two barriers are reinforced by the use of high-stakes testing in the present accountability model of education. Dr. Wallace’s suggestions are significant with the release of the public draft of the NGSS, and the fact that most likely the 26 states that working as partners with Achieve will adopt the NGSS as their state standards. If most of the states did this, as was done with the Common Core State Standards in math and English/language arts, we move the country closer to a national curriculum. But what is worse yet, there are national assessments coming in math and English/language arts, and science. These will be used to hold all teachers hostage to a set of standards developed by very few practicing teachers.
I agree with Chemtchr’s guest post over at Anthony Cody’s blog, Living in Dialog. Chemtchr, a high school science teacher and she explains that the NGSS is using reverse engineering to produce a product that will be used for assessment purposes, with very little teacher education.
Then she says this, and we need to take heed to her insights:
I’m not willing to pretend this is a genteel dispute among contrary theorists of education progress. The “partners” in the Common Core development include many of our largest and most powerful corporations, several with long histories of fierce monopolistic battles. Pearson Education is one partner, and the Gates Foundation is functioning as a tax-exempt advocacy arm for Microsoft itself.
Through ignorance, arrogance, or the narrowness of their self-interest, politically connected corporatists are about to perpetrate a massive for-profit take-over of science education that will do long-term damage to the very foundation of our scientific and technical infrastructure, while they devour our local and state education tax money.
If you advocate or support the development of a vibrant information technology industry, and a scientifically capable people who can actually contribute to the health and welfare of society as a whole, join us educators in our struggle to stop this huge, backwards-engineered insider deal.
What is your take on the Next Generation Science Standards? Are they going to impact science teaching so that we’ll be more competitive, and students achievement scores will soar?