Science is a Way of Thinking: So, Why Do We Try and Standardize it?

 

Figure 1. Carl Sagan and the Universe. Copyright sillyrabbitmythsare4kids, Creative Common Figure 1. Carl Sagan and the Universe. Copyright sillyrabbitmythsare4kids, Creative Commons

Science has been prominent in the media recently.  Stories and programs including the Bill Nye-Ken Ham “debate” on origins, anti-science legislation in Wyoming banning  science standards that include climate science, a new science program on the Science Channel to be hosted by Craig Ferguson, and this weekend, the first of a 13-part series entitled Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Tyson’s series is based on the Carl Sagan’s 1980 13-part TV series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.   Dr. Tyson is an astrophysicist, and Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center of Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History.  Dr. Tyson has been called this generation’s “Carl Sagan” through his exuberance and public communication of science.

In this post I want to reminisce on science teaching, especially from what I learned from the work (film, print, teaching, research, and public presentations) of Dr. Carl Sagan.  Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University.  Throughout my career I found Sagan’s philosophy important in my work as a university science educator, and want to share some of my thoughts.

51Fn+Y-IhnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sagan was a prolific writer, and throughout his career, he not only popularized science to millions of people, he also helped us understand the nature of science, and for science teachers, how that philosophy would contribute to our professional work.  One of his books, Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (public library), became a kind of handbook on the philosophy of science teaching.  I am sure that Sagan didn’t intend it this way, but  it surely reached me in this way.

At the beginning of Broca’s Brain, Sagan says this about science:

SCIENCE IS A WAY of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. Its goal is to find out how the world works, to seek what regularities there may be, to penetrate to the connections of things—from subnuclear particles, which may be the constituents of all matter, to living organisms, the human social community, and thence to the cosmos as a whole.  Sagan, Carl (2011-07-06). Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (Kindle Locations 344-346). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sagan also wrote that science is “based on experiment, on a willingness to challenge old dogma, on an openness to see the universe as it really is.  To him, science sometimes requires courage to question the conventional wisdom.”  Questioning established ideas, or proposing a radically different hypothesis to explain data is a courageous act, according to Sagan.  Quite often people who propose such ideas are shunned, or rejected by the “establishment,” including governments and religious groups.

To what extent to encourage students to question ideas, and even to propose new ideas?

Wonder

Many years ago Rachel Carson wrote a book entitled A Sense of Wonder. It was one of my favorites, and I remember and have used one quote from the book many times: “A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.” Carson’s passionate book conveys the feelings that most science teachers have for their craft, and their goal is to instill in their students, “A Sense of Wonder.”

Enter Carl Sagan and his views on wonder.

Although Carl Sagan died in 1996, his partner in film production and writing, and his wife, Ann Druyan published a book several years ago (The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God) based on lectures he gave in Glasgow, Scotland in 1985.  Now she is the Executive Producer and writer of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, based on her husband’s original Cosmos series.

To me Sagan was one of the most influential science educators of our time, and I am very happy that Dr. Tyson is hosting a new rendition of his television series.  By making his knowledge and personal views of science accessible to the public (through his writings, speeches, TV appearances, and film production), Sagan helped many see the beauty and wonder in the cosmos. You of course remember is famous, “billions and billions.” He encouraged us to look again at the stars, at the cosmos and to imagine other worlds, beings, if you will. He worked with NASA to make sure that the first space vehicle to leave the Solar System would contain messages that could be interpreted by intelligent life so that they might know of us—Earth beings.

In Varieties of Scientific Experience, areas are explored that we all want to know about. Areas that many have been forced to separate in their experiences—that is science and religion. Sagan, as much as anyone, was well qualified to give lectures on science and religion. He understood religion. He read and could recite scripture. He could argue religion with scholars in the field, and carried on debates on subjects that many scientists resisted.

In the introduction to the book, Druyan comments that for Sagan, Darwin’s insight that life evolved over eons through natural selection was not just better science than Genesis, it afforded us with a “deeper, more spiritual experience.” I thought it was interesting that Druyan also points out that Sagan, who always comments on the vastness and grandeur of the universe, believed we know very little of this universe, and as a result very little about the spiritual, about God. Sagan used analogies to help us understand this vastness. He was famous for this statement: the total number of stars in the universe is greater than all the grains of sand in all of the Earth’s beaches! This is where billions and billions came from.

So what is this musing about. Science teaching is about wonder. It is about bringing to wide-eyed kids the sense of wonder that Rachel Carson wrote about, and Carl Sagan expressed in all of his work.

Thinking Big

Figure 3. Carl Sagan. source: http://technophia.org/?p=5376
Figure 3. Carl Sagan. source:  Creative Commons

Sagan was one scientist who was willing to think big.  Lots of science teachers that I know also think big.  They bring to their students a world that is “far out” and challenging, and in this quest, pique their student’s curiosity.

Thinking Big in science teaching means we bring students in contact with interesting questions, ones that continue to pique our curiosity, and ones that are sure to interest students.  Where did we come from?  Are we alone in the Universe?  How big is the Universe?  Are we the only planet with living things?

A really good example of “thinking big” is NASA’s Carl Sagan Exoplanet Fellowship. The Sagan program supports

outstanding recent postdoctoral scientists to conduct independent research that is broadly related to the science goals of the NASA Exoplanet Exploration area. The primary goal of missions within this program is to discover and characterize planetary systems and Earth-like planets around nearby stars. Fellowship recipients receive financial support to conduct research at a host institution in the US for a period of up to three years. See NExScI at NASA.

Risk Taking

Carl Sagan was willing to take risks. Sagan took issue with two significant developments that occurred during the Reagan administration, namely the Strategic Defense Initiative (using X-ray lasers in space to shoot down enemy missiles), and the idea that nuclear war was winnable.  In the later case, Sagan developed the concept of a “nuclear winter” arguing that fires from a nuclear holocaust would create smoke and dust that would cut out the sun’s rays leading to a global cooling—perhaps threatening agriculture and leading to global famine.  He incensed the right-wing, according to Mooney & Kirshenbaum, and in particular William F. Buckley.  But Sagan held firm on his ideas, supported by other scientists, and even resisted accepting White House invitations to dinner.  Sagan’s criticism of SDI was supported by other scientists, especially Hans Bethe who authored a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The standards-based approach to science education does not encourage risk taking.  As Grant Lichtman in his book The Falconer (public library) has said, our present approach to science only encourages kids to answer question, not to question.  There is little risk taking in our approach to science teaching.   In an earlier article, I wrote this about Grant Lichtman’s philosophy of teaching:

One of the aspects of Grant’s book that I appreciate is that the central theme of his book is the importance of asking questions.  We have established a system of education based on what we know and what we expect students to know at every grade level.  The standards-based curriculum dulls the mind by it’s over reliance on a set of expectations or performances that every child should know.  In this approach, students are not encouraged to ask questions.  But, they are expected to choose the correct answer.  In Lichtman’s view, education will only change if we overtly switch our priorities from giving answers to a process of finding new questions.  This notion sounds obvious, but we have gone off the cliff because of the dual forces of standards-based curriculum and high-stakes assessments.

Lichtman writes:

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom. Each question leads to one or more new questions or answers. Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere. Questions are never dead ends. Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime.  Lichtman, Grant (2010-05-25). The Falconer (Kindle Locations 967-971). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Science and Society

Carl Sagan exemplified, just as Neil deGrasse Tyson is now doing, the important of science in a democratic society.  Science education has a responsibility for considering Sagan and Tyson’s philosophy that science should be in the service of people.  People need to understand science.  In Sagan’s view:

All inquiries carry with them some element of risk. There is no guarantee that the universe will conform to our predispositions. But I do not see how we can deal with the universe—both the outside and the inside universe—without studying it. The best way to avoid abuses is for the populace in general to be scientifically literate, to understand the implications of such investigations. In exchange for freedom of inquiry, scientists are obliged to explain their work. If science is considered a closed priesthood, too difficult and arcane for the average person to understand, the dangers of abuse are greater. But if science is a topic of general interest and concern—if both its delights and its social consequences are discussed regularly and competently in the schools, the press, and at the dinner table—we have greatly improved our prospects for learning how the world really is and for improving both it and us.  Sagan, Carl (2011-07-06). Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (Kindle Locations 331-337). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Science is a Way of Thinking: So, Why Do We Try and Standardize it?  Do you think there is mismatch between Sagan’s view of science and the standards-based approach to teaching?  

 

NSTA’s Uncritical & Authoritarian Position on the Next Generation Science Standards

The National Science Teachers Association released a position statement on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The NSTA statement is  uncritical and authoritarian.  It granted outright compliance with the NGSS, even though there is a groundswell questioning the use of standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards.  Should we endorse one set of performance goals for all K-12 students in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science?

Although the position statement includes citations from the literature of science education, of the 17 references, 11 were National Research Council publications.  There were no citations from the major peer-reviewed research publications of the science education community (such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the journal Science Education, and Journal of Science Teacher Education).  This is not a dismissal of the NRC publications, but I wonder why the peer-reviewed research was ignored in the development of the position statement.

There are many years of research on the efficacy of the standards movement, and one wonders why the authors of the NSTA statement did not consult the research on standards.

In my opinion, the 3,769 word document is a reworked version of the information that you can find on Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards website.  The NSTA statement is divided into several sections including: Introduction, Conceptual shifts in the NGSS, Implementation of the NGSS, Declarations, Historical Background and References.  But these divisions are merely statements of compliance to the dictates of the Next Generation Science Standards documents found on the Achieve website.

Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?
Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?

For example, the introduction tells us that all students should have access to a high-quality science education that teaches the skills needed to get into college or get a job (College and Career Readiness).  This is the refrain that we have used for more than half a century to rationalize why science should be included in the curriculum.

The shortage of “trained” workers for the science and technology fields will reach the hundreds of thousands, maybe the millions in the near future, and we must make sure that we more graduates in STEM related fields if we are meet the shortfall.  At least that is what governments, some corporations and foundations claim.

Yet, there is statistical data that refutes the shortfall claim.  I won’t go into details here, instead you might want to read Robert N. Charette’s article, The STEM Crisis is a Myth. 

As Charette reminds us, the U.S. has had perpetual STEM anxiety, especially starting during the Cold War.  He reminds us, however of this.

What’s perhaps most perplexing about the claim of a STEM worker shortage is that many studies have directly contradicted it, including reports from Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Rand Corp. A 2004 Rand study, for example, stated that there was no evidence “that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.”

The march to standardize and uniform the curriculum is a dangerous movement in a democratic society, and especially in one that is so diverse in cultures, languages, and geography as America.  How can we really think that one set of statements of science goals can be valid for all learners, all schools, and all teachers?

The common standards movement, of which the NGSS is a part,  rests in part on the opinion that state standards are inferior and inconsistent, and the need to increase student achievement, especially in science and mathematics, to stay competitive in the global economic environment. It’s had to argue with this. However, it is not true.  America is one of the most competitive countries in the world, indeed, number 4 in the world.

The drive to develop the common standards has also been “adopted” by the U.S. Department of Education, and in its Race to the Top Fund ($4.5 billion), states that did not adopt the common standards lost 70 points on the 500 point scale for doing so.

Why do these organizations want to develop a single set of standards, and will they be any better than the standards that exist in the 50 states today?  The fact is state departments of education around the country have in one sense been coerced into accepting the common core standards to apply for very large Federal grants, and the assumption that a national set of standards will be superior to standards developed at the state or local level.

There are very weak arguments, not based on sound research, used to convince us that one set of science standards developed by an elite group of scientists will change the course of science education.

Common Core Knowledge

For the past two decades there has been a drive to create a common set of standards in math and science (and English Language Arts).  The enterprise is well-funded, and supported not only by theU.S. Department of Education, but by corporate and philanthropic America to the extent that the initiative is pushing ahead at an urgent speed.

The drive to set up common standards is part of “rightest” movement that Dr. Kristen L. Buras (2009) describes in detail in her book Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform.  She hones in on a fundamental question about curriculum, and that is “What knowledge is of most worth?.”  But Dr. Buras has us consider the question from another frame, and that is “Whose knowledge is of most worth?”

As Buras suggests, curriculum development in a democratic society must be:

the result of long-term democratic and substantive discussions, and it must also be grounded in an honest and searching appraisal of the structures of inequalities in this society. A “core” cannot be imposed from the outside and legitimately claim to be based on the “knowledge of all of us.

The word “core” is as it relates to knowledge is used in the two major standards’ reform efforts in the past decade: The Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language Arts, and in the Next Generation Science Standards.  In the NGSS, the content of science is referred to as Disciplinary Core Ideas.  As Michael Apple points out in the Introduction to Buras’ book, “What counts as “core knowledge” has all too often been someone’s core, not everyone’s core (Apple, 2000).

The “core” knowledge outlined in the mathematics, English language arts, and science standards has been spelled out by committees of experts largely from colleges and universities, and with very little initial comments by teachers and curriculum specialists.  The deliberations have primarily involved impersonal online reading sessions and the completion of online multiple choice evaluation surveys.  Face-to-face deliberations have been held, but behind closed doors, with little to no public record. The process to develop and “adopt” the CCSS and NGSS has not been deliberate, and has not been critically assessed by the education community.

Neoconservative Reform

The neoconservative reform movement’s goal is to create core knowledge in math, English language arts, and science, and expect that every American student be tested on the same content.  Buras thinks of this as inculcation.  She writes,

We might think here of Hirsch’s promise that the inculcation of common knowledge represents the new civil rights frontier, as formerly culturally illiterate students are given access to “literate” culture and thus the cultural capital needed to ascend the ladder of mobility and ultimately participate as “equals” in the marketplace of America.

In doing so, Core urges us, pushes us, to think about culture and democracy in specific ways—ways that tend to reinforce patterns of cultural disrespect and pressures to assimilate—and to overlook other understandings. We are being schooled to avoid the radical lanes, left and right, of the American civil rights highway, and to join the wider lane of moderation, which, we are told, promises peace and happiness. (Buras, Kristen L. (2009-01-21). Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform (Critical Social Thought) (p. 144). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition)

The core knowledge and the common standards movement is a mix of neoconservative and neoliberal advocates, who appeal to populist sensibilities of authoritarian and traditional family and religious orthodoxy.  As Michael Apple and Kristen Buras tell, the neoconservatives defend historically dominant cultural traditions and national cohesion.  Neoconservatives advocate political individualism and free markets.  For education this means, such as, core knowledge claims and standards-based reform.

Neoliberals, according to Apple and Buras, proclaim the free market and privatization (of schools, for example) at the cost of the public sector.  This of course has opened to the doors to school choice, vouchers, and charter schools.  (See Apple, M.,Editor’s Introduction to Neoconservative Multiculturalism by Buras, K., 2009.)

The standards movement is a neoconservative and neoliberal imperative that has engulfed nearly all state departments of education, and the U.S. Department of Education.  It’s well-funded, and politically secured with Republican and Democratic talking heads.

There is some glimmer of hope.  Last year, the Chicago teacher’s union went on strike and challenged the political apparatus of Chicago.  Educators, including superintendents, in Texas have gone on record as opposing standards-based high-stakes tests.  And most recently, Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle announced their refusal to administer the standardized test, Measure of Academic Progress (MAP). The Chicago and Seattle cases are grassroots, bottom-up and determined opposition to the top-down and dominant neoconservative take-over of American schooling.  And during the past six months, some states have bowed out of Core and Next Generation Science Standards adoptions.

Critical Silence

It’s imperative for professional organizations,  university professors and colleges of education to raise questions about educational reform, and join with their K-12 colleagues to oppose and overturn the neoconservative infusion of standard and basic education for a democratic nation.  The National Council of Teachers of English have written a resolution opposing high-stakes tests, and groups of professors of education in Georgia and Chicago have written letters opposing the use of high-stakes tests in the context of standards-based reform.

In science education, we have been relatively silent, especially in raising concerns about the Next Generation Science Standards. The NSTA Position Statement on the NGSS raised no questions, and did not question the authoritarian nature of the standards movement, especially when we are engulfed by the testing mania that has had resulted in unintended consequences.

What is your position on the Next Generation Science Standards?  What are your thoughts about the NSTA position.

 

 

Fordham Institute’s Evaluation of Next Generation Science Standards Rated as Junk Science

Fordham Institute’s Final Evaluation of Next Generation Science Standards (Fordham Evaluation) Rated as Junk Science.
In this post I am going to provide evidence that the Fordham Evaluation of Next Generation Science Standards is junk science, and does not meet the basic standards of scientific research.  Figure 1 is the Junk Science Evaluation and Index Form that I designed to assess the Fordham Evaluation.  The ten categories are definitions of junk science that emerged from a study by Michael Carolan (2012).  He  assessed ten years (1995 – 2005) of newspaper articles that included the words junk science in the title by systematically analyzing and coding the articles according to how the term was used.  I’ve used the ten definitions as the categories as shown in Figure 1.

Disclaimer: I have major concerns about using national science standards for every school student, K-12.  I also do not subscribe to the rationale or policy upon which the standards movement is based.  The rationale for science described in the NGSS is not related to the conception or philosophy of a sustainable planet, but is instead science in the service of the economic growth of the nation, job training, and economic competitiveness in a global society. The science standards were designed by scientists and engineers, and so there is a heavy emphasis on scientific process and content instead of thinking about science curriculum that would be in the service of children and adolescents.  I have written extensively about this on this blog.  Never-the-less, I have major concerns about the Thomas Fordham’s biased assessment of science education, and write this blog post in this context.  In no way do I endorse the NGSS.

Each category is an indicator that the study under review might be considered junk science.   When partisan or advocacy organizations issue reports, they are often done outside the normal context of scientific research.  In many cases, the reports are written by in-house organizational employees who indeed may have advanced degrees, but who isolate themselves from the research community at large.  Often the reports are not peer-reviewed.  One of the most obvious defects in these reports is that they tend to use methods that are not reproducible or are so murky that the results are clearly suspicious.

I’ve left the form in Figure 1 blank if you would like to reproduce it.

Strongly Disagree (1) Disagree (2) Neutral (3) Agree (4) Strongly Agree (5)
1. Based upon bad policy
2. Experts with agendas
3. False Data
4. No data or unsubstantiated claims
5. Failure to cite references
6. Uses non-certified experts
7. Poor methodology
8. Too much uncertainty to arrive at conclusions
9. Reveals only that data that supports conclusions
10. Non-peer reviewed

Figure 1. Junk Science Evaluation & Index Form

How Does the Fordham Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards Stack Up?

Image 7-7-13 at 9.38 PMThe Fordham Institute evaluation of the NGSS is a flawed report based on my assessment of their published document using the Junk Science Evaluation & Index Form.  After reading and reviewing the Fordham report I rated each criteria using a 5 point scale. For each item, I’ve included brief comments explaining my decisions.  As you can see, the overall assessment of the Fordham report was 4.7, which meant that this reviewer strongly agreed with the ten definitions that show that the report is an example of junk science.

 Junk Science Definitions Strongly Disagree (1) Disagree (2) Neutral (3) Agree (4) Strongly Agree (5)
1. Based upon bad policy  X
The policy upon which the Fordham Evaluation of the NGSS is underscored by a strict adherence to their traditional view of science content.  Their own set of standards, against which they evaluated the NGSS and the state science standards, is a list of low-level science goals.  In short the policy of the Fordham Institute and the authors of the report is an unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education.
2. Experts with agendas  X
 The experts of the Fordham Institute seem to have an agenda which dismisses any inclusion of inquiry (practices in the NGSS), and pedagogical advances such as constructivism and inquiry teaching.
3. False Data  X
 There is no attempt to include false data.
4. No data or unsubstantiated claims  X
 Although the authors include written analyses of each content area, (physical, earth and life science), they go out of their way to knit pic standards written by others (NGSS and the states) and fail to realize that their standards which they use to judge others’ is inferior.
5. Failure to cite references  X
There were 17 footnotes identifying the references the authors cited in their analysis of a national set of science standards.  There are no referenced citations of any refereed journals or books.  Most footnotes were notes about the report, or citations of earlier Fordham Institute reports.  The only four citations were outside Fordham Institute such as by Ohio Department of Education, and ACT.
6. Uses non-certified experts  X
 There were no teachers, or science education experts.  Although all the authors hold advanced degrees in science, mathematics and engineering, they do not seem qualified to rate or judge science education standards, curriculum or pedagogy.
7. Poor methodology  X
 The authors claimed to check the quality, content, and rigor of the final draft of NGSS.  They used this method to rate the state science standards two years ago.  The grading metric uses two components; 7 points are possible for content and rigor; 3 points for clarity and specificity.  Content and rigor is evaluated against their content standards, which I have assessed using Bloom’s Taxonomy.  72% of Fordham’s science standards were at the lowest levels of Bloom, while only 10% were at the highest levels on Bloom.  In order to score high on the content and rigor part of the Fordham assessment, the NGSS would have to meet their standards–which I have judged to be mediocre.  The NGSS earned 3.7 (out of 7) on content and rigor, and 1.5 (out of 3) for clarity and specificity, for a total of 5.2 (out of 10).  Using these scores, the Fordham Institute used their earlier report on the State of the State Science Standards, and classified the states as clearly superior, too close to call or clearly inferior compared to the NGSS. According to Fordham, only 16 states had science standards superior to the NGSS.  The problem in my view,is  that the criteria Fordham uses to judge the NGSS and the state science standards is flawed.
8. Too much uncertainty to arrive at conclusions  X
 The Fordham report was written by people who seem to have an axe to grind against the work of the science education community.  The fact they failed to involve teachers and science educators in their review shows a disregard for the research community.  And this is surprising, given their credentials as scientists.
9. Reveals only that data that supports conclusions  X
 The conclusions that the Fordham group reports boil down to a number and then is translated into a grade.  In this case, the NGSS scored 5.2 out of 10 which converts to a grade of C.  This is what the media pick up on, and the Fordham Institute uses its numbers to create maps classifying states as inferior, superior or too close to call.
10. Non-peer reviewed  X
 This report is a conservative document that was never shared with the research community.  It’s conclusions should be suspect.

Figure 2. Junk Science Evaluation & Index Form of Fordham Institutes Final Evaluation of the NGSS

Even though the Fordham review is junk science, the media, including bloggers on Education Week, have printed stories that largely support the Fordham reports. The National Science Teachers Association, which had a hand in developing the NGSS, wrote a very weak response to Fordham’s criticism of NGSS.

The Thomas Fordham Institute perpetuates untruths about science education primarily to endorse it conservative agenda. It’s time call foul.  In this writer’s analysis, the Fordham Institute report on the NGSS earns an F.

If you have a chance or the time, please use the form in Figure 1 to rate the Fordham Institute report on the NGSS. What was your rating?

Why We Should Reject The Fordham Institute’s Opinion of the Next Generation Science Standards

In this post I am going to give evidence that the Fordham Institute’s evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards should be rejected.

The Thomas Fordham Institute is a conservative advocacy think tank which issues opinion reports written by “experts” on science education (other education issues as well).  I have reviewed earlier reports released by Fordham, and have critiqued their reports on the basis of their obvious bias against science education, especially against professors of science education who advocate an inquiry approach to teaching science.

Fordham Review of State Science Standards

letterDIn 2012, the Fordham Institute published a report, State of the State Standards, which was a rating of the science standards written by the states.  They graded  the state science standards using A – F rankings, and according to their criteria, most states earned a D or F.  You need to understand that they, like many of the other conservative think tanks, believe that American science education “needs a radical upgrade.”  Their review of the state science standards was flawed, yet the media reported the results as if they were factual, and they are not.

When I first reviewed Fordham’s evaluation of the state science standards, I was shocked when I read the criteria that they used to analyze science education. In the Fordham report there is a section of Methods, Criteria and Grading Metric in which the authors report that they devised content-specific criteria against which the science standards in each state were evaluated. The authors divided the science content into learning expectations through grade eight (lists of statements divided into Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, and Life Science) , and learning expectations for grades nine through 12 (lists of statements for physics, chemistry, Earth and Space science, and life science).

The Fordham list of science content is a sham, and for states to be held to their standards is not only unprofessional, but a disgrace.

I found that the Fordham standards are low-level, mediocre at best, and do not include affective or psycho-motor goals. I analyzed each Fordham statement using the Bloom categories in the Cognitive, Affective and Psycho-motor Domain.  Ninety percent of all the Fordham science criteria fall into the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the cognitive domain. Indeed, 52% of the statements are at the lowest level (Knowledge) which includes primarily the recall of data or information. Twenty-eight percent of the Fordham science statements were written at the Comprehension level, and only 10% at the Application level. What this means is that the authors wrote their own science standards at a very low-level. In fact of the 100 statements only 10% were at the higher levels. No statements were identified at the synthesis level, which in science is awful. Only one science standard was found at the highest level of evaluation.

I also compared the method that Fordham used in their “study,” to the standards for educational research established by the American Education Research Association (AERA).  The Fordham report is a type of evaluation research, but does not meet the standard criteria for a research study.  In fact they only met two of the eight AERA principles.

When you assess the Fordham evaluation of the state standards, their report barely gets a grade of “D,” and perhaps should be graded “F.

They’re At It Again: Evaluation of the NGSS

The Fordham Foundation’s science Gang of Seven has released it’s “Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards.”  The same gang that evaluated the state science standards is at it again.  This time they have applied their flawed research method to evaluate the Next Generation Science Standards.

Image 7-5-13 at 5.50 PMThe Gang of Seven does not seem to have 20/20 vision when it comes to research.  Instead they have an unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education which restricts and confines them to an old school view of science teaching. Science education has rocketed past the views in two earlier reports issued by Fordham about science education standards, as well as the NGSS.

Cognitively, the Fordham standards are not much to write home about. And it is amazing, given the low-level of the Fordham standards that any state would score lower than their own standards.

You can read my earlier reviews of Fordham’s lack of knowledge about science education here and here.  For Fordham to continue its effort to promote an honest discussion of science education is a sham.  According to this final report, the Gang of Seven used the same criteria used to evaluate the state science standards.

The Gang of Seven has consistently kept to this mantra, and in this final report of the NGSS, they find that science education is in peril.  They grade the NGSS gets a grade of C+.  What this means is that most of the state standards are inferior to the NGSS, and of course to the Fordham science standards.  Using a color coded map of the U.S., Fordham reports that:

  • 13 States are Clearly Superior
  • 22 States are Too Close to Call
  • 16 States are Clearly Inferior

First of all, you need to realize that Fordham has their own set of science content standards (General expectations for learning).  Follow this link to Fordham’s Final Evaluation of the NGSS, and then scroll down through the document to page 55, and you will find their standards listed on pages 55 – 61. .  Then they used the same criteria to check the final version of the NGSS.  In my earlier analysis I gave the Fordham science standards a grade of D. For them to use these criteria to judge the NGSS is absurd.

Yet, they keep saying that science education is inferior, and after a while, people begin to believe them.  For me, the gang of seven is not qualified to evaluate science education.  Yes, the Gang of Seven have credentials in science and engineering, but they are woefully inadequate in their understanding of science curriculum development, or the current research on science 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.

The Fordham group appears to have had their eyes closed during this period.  Anything they have to say about the NGSS should be rejected.

Is the Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards by the Thomas Fordham Institute junk science?  I’ll offer an answer in the next post on this blog.

In the meantime, what is your opinion of the Fordham methods used to evaluate the Next Generation Science Standards?

 

 

Warning: If You Believe the Fordham Foundation on Their View of Science or NCTQ’s View on Teacher Education, You Should Check Your Eyesight. Really.

Warning: If You Believe the Fordham Foundation on Their View of Science or NCTQ’s View on Teacher Education, You Should Check Your Eyesight.  Really.

On this blog, I have reviewed earlier reports put out by these two oxymoronic organizations, the Thomas Fordham Institute: Advancing Education Excellence (Fordham), and The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ).  You need to know that these are ultra conservative organizations, and that the National Council on Teacher Quality was formed by the Thomas Fordham Institute.

In this blog post I want to argue that the reports issued by these organizations on the science standards and on teacher preparation are nothing short of conservative propaganda put out by organizations with ties to each other.

Fordham Foundation Report on Next Generation Science Standards.

Here we go again.  The Fordham Foundation’s gang of seven has released it “Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards.”  The same group evaluated the NGSS when they were first published in June 2012.  The gang of seven does not seem to have 20/20 vision when it comes to research.  Instead they have an unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education which restricts and confines them to an old school view of science teaching. Science education has rocketed past the views in two earlier reports issued by Fordham about science education standards, as well as the NGSS.  You can read my earlier reviews of Fordham’s lack of knowledge about science education here and here.

For Fordham to have the audacity to continue its effort to promote an honest discussion of science education is a sham.  According to this final report, the gang of seven used the same criteria is used to evaluate the science standards in the states.  They grades the states using A – F rankings, and according to their criteria, most states earned a D or F.

You need to understand that they, like many of the other conservative think tanks, believe that American science education “needs a radical upgrade.”  The gang of seven has consistently kept to this mantra, and in this final report of the NGSS, they find that we are in the same state, and that the NGSS gets a grade of C+.

First of all, you need to realize that Fordham has their own set of science content standards (General expectations for learning).  Follow this link and then scroll down through the document to page 55, and you will find their standards listed on pages 55 – 61.  When I first reviewed Fordham’s evaluation of the state science standards and the NGSS, I was shocked when I read the criteria that they used to analyze science education.

I found that the Fordham standards are low level, mediocre at best, and do not include affective or psycho-motor goals. I analyzed each Fordham statement using the Bloom categories in the Cognitive, Affective and Psycho-motor Domain.

Ninety percent of all the Fordham science criteria fall into the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the cognitive domain. Indeed, 52% of the statements are at the lowest level (Knowledge) which includes primarily the recall of data or information. Twenty-eight percent of the Fordham science statements were written at the Comprehension level, and only 10% at the Application level. What this means is that the authors wrote their own science standards at a very low-level. In fact of the 100 statements only 10% were at the higher levels. No statements were identified at the synthesis level, which in science is awful. Only one science standard was found at the highest level of evaluation. Cognitively, the Fordham standards are not much to write home about. And it is amazing, given the low-level of the Fordham standards that any state would score lower than their own standards.

Then they used the same criteria to check the final version of the NGSS.

In my analysis I gave the Fordham science standards a grade of D. For them to use these criteria to judge the NGSS is absurd.

Yet, they keep saying that science education is inferior, and after a while, people begin to believe them.  For me, the gang of seven is not qualified to evaluate science education.  Yes, they have credentials in science and engineering, but they are woefully inadequate in their understanding of science curriculum development, or the current research on science 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.  The Fordham group appears to have had their eyes closed during this period.  Don’t believe their report.

NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep

The National Council on Teacher Quality report on Teacher Prep is more of an assault on teacher education and not an honest and ethical evaluation of teacher education programs.  Like the Fordham Foundation, they are research challenged, and cherry pick statements out of context from educational research.  Their research methods are not only challenged, but avoid the most important aspect of research in any field, and that is peer review.  The only peers that review their reports are in-house employees.

In this report on teacher preparation, the NCTQ is an “exhaustive and unprecedented” overall rating of 608 institutions.  Don’t be fooled by the extensive use of graphs and tables.   The methodology used to generate these is essentially flawed.   Its standards are lumped into four buckets (their term): Selection, Content Preparation, Professional Skills and Outcomes.

But here’s a big problem.  Instead of working with its subjects of study, the universities that have teacher education programs, the NCTQ relied only on a paper trail discovered online or in catalogues.  It did not visit these campuses to find out about teacher education on the ground.  In fact, many of the schools simply did not want to cooperate with the NCTQ.  As a result NCTQ had to used the open records law to get much of their information.  And as the report indicates, most institutions did not supply the “necessary syllabi” to do an adequate job assessing the institutions.  They also had trouble getting the institutions to give information on student teaching and student teaching policies.

The entire NCTQ report is based on “document requests.”  They even resorted to legal action to get forms from colleges and universities.  Can you imagine social science researchers taking legal action against students because they wouldn’t answer any of their interview questions?

The NCTQ has taken the liberty of evaluating the nation’s teacher preparation institutions without making site visitations, interviewing professors, students, and administrators.

Yet, the NCTQ claims to have done an independent review of teacher education in America.  Nonsense.  The report overwhelms in terms of charts and diagrams.  The problem is that the research method is limited in terms of making valid and honest evaluations of teacher education.

 What do you think about these two conservative think tank reports?  Do you accept the grade of C for the NGSS, and think that most of teacher education in America is anemic?