Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?

Are the Common Core and  Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology?

A growing criticism of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards is that its way for progressives to inject their philosophies and ideology onto children and youth in American schools. Ralph Watts, a state representative from Iowa believes this, and in his mind, the evidence is clear.  Evidence of progressive philosophy can be found throughout the standards. According to Watts,

In a nutshell, after reviewing the information, I have to conclude that the Next Generation Science Standards are more about promoting an ideology than they are about science. Throughout the curriculum the topic of global warming (climate change) is taught as a fact rather than a concept. In addition, the syllabus is full of references to humans’ negative impact on our environment and what can be done about it. It suggests throughout that industry (meaning the private sector) causes irreparable harm to the environment. In addition, the study of chemistry is eliminated along with chemistry labs.

From the Right

In an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, Wayne Washington wrote that the new national standards stoke new fears.  In typical fashion, the author included comments and ideas from “both” sides of the argument.  One comment that struck me was this one:

The fight over the standards that critics call “ObamaCore” recently led the Cobb County School Board to reject new math textbooks for the district’s students.

Obamacore?   Obamacore, in the wake of Obamacare (The Affordable Healthcare Act),  was coined by the Indiana Republican Assembly (Super Pac).  I am not talking about the elected Indiana legislature, but a right-wing Indiana Super Pac, whose mission is to return to the ideology of Reaganism–small government, lower taxes for the rich, free market capitalism that will take over the schools, strong defense, gun rights, pro-life, and of course, a decent America.  According to Michelle Malkin, author and supporter of the Indiana Super Pac, the Common core is rotten to the core.  Outside of the context of this right-wing group, I’ve not seen the use of the term Obamacore.

Malkin believes that the Common Core, and I would presume, the Next Generation Science Standards are the result of “Progressive” reformers, led by President Obama, and his “mal-formers” (Malkin’s term) in cahoots with that liberal billionaire Bill Gates.  In fact, according to Malkin, President Obama’s education programs, such as Race to the Top enabled the common core.   Malkin doesn’t mention in her article that two groups, the Council of Chief State Officers and the National Governors Association established the Common Core.

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 individuals 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. According to the Colorado study:

The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s Choice, Student Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

The Common Standards was funded by the  U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and other foundations. Only one classroom teacher participated in the review of the common standards, with nearly all reviewers being university professors. There were no school administrators in the review process.

his 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. According to the Colorado study:

The work groups were staffed almost exclusively by employees of Achieve, testing companies (ACT and the College Board), and pro-accountability groups (e.g.,America’s Choice, Student Achievement Partners, the Hoover Institute). Practitioners and subject matter experts complained that they were excluded from the development process.

Funding for the common standards was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, and other foundations. Only one classroom teacher was involved in the review of the common standards, with nearly all reviewers being university professors. There were no school administrators in the review process.

According to the literature on the Common Core and the Science Standards, the underlying purpose is to prepare students to compete successfully in the global economy.    According to Achieve, students, regardless of where they live, will be afforded a “consistent, clear understanding” of what they are to learn, and what teachers are to teach.  The Common Core and science standards are state led projects managed by Achieve.  In my view, however, Achieve has done a lot more than manage, and the degree to which consultants for Achieve actually wrote standards is unclear.  Malkin, and other right-wing Republicans ought to look at the history of these projects to find out who was really behind them.  There is supporting evidence that the U.S. Department of Education did not authorize or write the standards, however, that is not to say that they haven’t influenced the adoption and implementation of the standards.  They clearly have.  States that applied for Race to the Top funds had to specify that they would adopt the common core if they wanted a chance to get some of the $4 billion in funds.

According to the radical-right the Common Core and the Science Standards are the brainchild of progressive reformers.  Because the right-wing is in denial about evolution and climate change, they have to resurrect reasons questioning this content in the standards.  Progressive educators are to blame.  The evolution, creation and intelligent design wars have not gone away.   In some states if ideas such as evolution, the Big Bang Theory, stem cell research, abortion, and climate change are part of the science curriculum, then in the spirit of academic freedom, all sides of the issue must be presented.  Of course we know that the other side of the issue is the rights insistence that evolution is flawed, and the research on climate change is “not fully settled.” The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has written model legislation entitled Academic Freedom Bills, which many of us consider to be “anti-science” bills such as the Louisiana Science Education Act.

From the Left

19thcentury classroomThere has been much criticism of the Common Core and the Science Standards in the research literature, and from bloggers, many of whom are teachers, who oppose the standards movement.

On this blog I’ve written many posts summarizing the work of others who take a critical look at the standards movement, and its associated high-stakes testing mania. Here are six criticisms of the standards, and their effect on student learning.

In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. 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. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • 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 in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.

In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. 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. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • 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 in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. 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. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

1. Brick Walls. In the face of teaching and learning, standards are like brick walls. 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. She makes this claim in her 2011 study, published in the journal Science Education, entitled Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience.

One of the key aspects of her study is her suggestion “that there are two characteristics of the current generation of accountability standards that pose barriers to meaningful teaching and learning in science.”

  • The tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fits the needs of their students.
  • 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 in that nearly every state has adopted the Common Core State Standards, bringing America very close to having a national set of common standards and possibly a national curriculum, at least in English language arts and mathematics, with science next in line to be adopted by each state.

An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, and not having been a part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are not participants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, first. That was done by élite groups of scientists and educators.

In the rhetoric of the standards, especially Achieve, the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing below par, and if something isn’t done, then millions of students will not be ready to compete in the global economy. Achieve cites achievement data from PISA and NAEP to make its case that American science and mathematics teaching is in horrible shape, and needs to fixed.  The solution to fix this problem to make the American dream possible for all citizens is to write new science (and mathematics) standards. According to Achieve, quality science teaching is based on content standards “that are rich in content and practice, with aligned curricula, pedagogy, assessment and teacher preparation.

The Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards are theorized to improve learning because the new standards are superior to the existing state standards. Indeed, two groups that studied the state standards did conclude the that Common Core standards were of higher quality. A second improvement to learning is that expectations will be higher than those that now exist in the Common Core and science. The claim here was that the states set their expectations too low, resulting in “inflated” results. And the third area of improvement in learning is that standardizing might lead to higher quality textbooks and other resources since they would only have to be aligned to one set of content standards.

2. The Social-Emotional Consequences.  Anxious teachers, sobbing children was the title of an opinion article published in the Atlanta newspaper.  The article, written by Stephanie Jones, professor of education at the University of Georgia, asks “What’s the low morale and crying about in education these days? Mandatory dehumanization and emotional policy-making — that’s what.”

Policy makers, acting on emotion and little to no data, have dehumanized schooling by implementing authoritarian standards in a one-size-fits-all system of education. We’ve enabled a layer of the educational system (U.S. Department of Education and the state departments of education) to carry out the NCLB act, and high-stakes tests, and use data from these tests to decide the fate of school districts, teachers and students. One of the outcomes of this policy is the debilitating effects on the mental and physical health of students, teachers and administrators.

The emotional and behavioral disorders that youth experience have only been amplified by the NCLB act.
In research by Ginicola and Saccoccio, entitled Good Intentions, Unintended Consequences: The Impact of NCLB on Children’s Mental Health, they report that NCLB is indirectly damaging children by disproportionately stressing childhood education and blatantly disregarding other areas of child development. Their research on NCLB is enlightening and disturbing.

3. Dehumanizatiion of Students and Teachers. In 2001, the U.S. Congress enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB requires that each state develop assessments in basic skills, mathematics and reading, at first, but it has now expanded to other areas. The “testing game” is an annual event making every boy and girl take part (starting at grade 3) to make sure that their state and school continue to receive federal funding. The testing games that children and youth are annually required to take part in are used to find winners and losers. Unlike the Hunger Games, children are used to decide winning schools, teachers and districts. No one dies. However, we are testing the life out of our children and youth.

Here is how the testing games work. Student scores decide whether a school has done a good or bad job. Schools which receive Federal ESEA funding must make progress (known as Adequate Yearly Progress) on test scores. Schools compare scores from one year to the next, and use the difference to decide how well or poorly the children and youth did.

Students are not televised when they take these tests. However, the results are published in the local newspapers, and using the students’ test scores, schools that didn’t make AYP are labeled and their names published in the papers. And one more thing. Policy makers are hunting for bad teachers. To do this, they have required states to begin using VAM (Value Added Modeling) to rate teachers, and to then humiliate the teachers by publishing VAM scores in the local papers. Check Los Angeles. Check New York City.

In the scenarios described above, The Hunger Games and The Testing Games, (read a fictional account of the testing games here) youth are dehumanized and used as gladiators, or in the case of The Testing Games pawns, where their moves are used to punish or reward states, districts, schools and teachers. On Valerie Strauss’ blog, there was a recent post that gets to the heart of the tragedy of The Testing Games, and how it is not only a dehumanizing event, but has nothing to do with helping students find out about their own learning.

4. The Research Evidence Is Not Supportive for the Standards.  According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality or the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards in 2003.

For example in the Brown Center study, it was reported (in a separate 2009 study by Whitehurst), that there was no correlation of NAEP scores with the quality ratings of state standards. Whitehurst studied scores from 2000 to 2007, and found that NAEP scores did not depend upon the “quality of the standards,” and he reported that this was true for both white and black students (The Brown Center Report on American Education, p.9). The correlation coefficients ranged from -0.6 to 0.08.

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

5. Injustice.  The authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing movement conjure up for me the use of power and privilege to create injustices for not only schools and teachers, but for students and their parents. Using invalid test scores, the government has cast a net around schools that have high poverty rates resulting in many of them being labeled as failures with teachers and administrators fired, and replaced by teachers, many of whom are un-certified, and lack the teaching experience needed for these schools.

And all of this is done with data that is not only invalid, but is not reliable. As Dr. Michael Marder says, “the masses of nationwide data do point to the primary cause of school failure, but it is poverty, not teacher quality.” So what do we do? We create a system in which life changing decisions are made about teachers and students based on data that is not examined in the context of power, privilege, and income. This leads to a corrupt system in which we predicate schools’ and teachers’ performance on false data, and use these results to embarrass and destroy careers of highly educated teachers, and bring havoc to families. Why are we doing this?

6.  Testing.  Many bloggers have added to the conversation about standards, and especially its companion, high-stakes testing.  One of the important voices in this discussion is that of Anthony Cody, a former science educator and curriculum developer who blogs over on Living in Dialog on Education Week.  Anthony has written extensively on standardized tests, and you can see all of his posts on this topic here.

Anthony brings to the table a strong knowledge base on current educational reform, perhaps more than any other blogger.  In one post, he explored some of the ideas of Governor Jerry Brown of California.  Brown strongly takes issue with a system of education that depends on experts from afar who impart their opinions about what should be taught and when, and who should decide what students are learning.  He is more concerned with how we teach our children, as he is with what.  In his view, education is about the “early fashioning of character and the formation of conscience.”

But more importantly his ideas are considered in the context of the state of California which has six million students and 300,000 teachers.  And three million of California’s school age students speak a language at home that is different from English, and there are more than 2 million students living in poverty.

He’s very clear on his place on testing.  Here is one comment he made in the State of the State speech:

The laws that are in fashion demand tightly constrained curricula and reams of accountability data. All the better if it requires quiz-bits of information, regurgitated at regular intervals and stored in vast computers. Performance metrics, of course, are invoked like talismans. Distant authorities crack the whip, demanding quantitative measures and a stark, single number to encapsulate the precise achievement level of every child.

In stark contrast to the place that poverty, violence, joblessness, home environment have little effect on academic performance,  he suggested the following for the coming year:

My 2013 Budget Summary lays out the case for cutting categorical programs and putting maximum authority and discretion back at the local level–with school boards. I am asking you to approve a brand new Local Control Funding Formula which would distribute supplemental funds — over an extended period of time — to school districts based on the real world problems they face. This formula recognizes the fact that a child in a family making $20,000 a year or speaking a language different from English or living in a foster home requires more help. Equal treatment for children in unequal situations is not justice.

Progressive ideology

I want to explore progressive ideology, and try to show that neither the Common Core, nor the Next Generation of Science Standards are based on progressive ideology.

Progressive thinking had its origins in the U.S. in the 19th century.  Historical accounts of the progressive movement echo the protests of the 99% who see massive wealth and power in the hands of the 1%.  Today as the wealth of the 1% has risen 18% over the last decade, those in the middle class have seen their incomes fall.  Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than 15% of the population lived in poverty, including almost 20% of American children.  Because of the Great Recession, more than 15 million Americans were unemployed at the height of the recession.  Because of a very slow recovery, the opportunity for people to lead productive and happy lives is shrinking.  Joseph E. Stiglitz, in a Vanity Fair article, entitled Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% that the income divide in the U.S. has resulted lagging growth for most people, but upward growth for the 1%.  Stiglitz suggests that the economic pie is divided unequally, but the real problem is the size of the pie.  He writes about the reasons for this:

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

Occupy Wallstreet was a direct outcome of the income inequality that Stiglitz talks about.  It was this type of economic,  political, and social inequality that led to the progressive protests and later movement in the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century.  In the present day, the rise of protests such as Occupy Wallstreet and Save Our Schools (SOS) are grass-roots organizations of citizens who are progressives questioning things as they are, and demanding changes that those in power are determined to reject.

Are the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards the kind of movements that would attract the kind of freethinker that I am talking about here?  Well, of course not.  The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.

Freethinkers, Progressives & Secularism

According to Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, “the period from 1875 – 1914 was the “highwater” mark of freethought as an influential movement in American society.”

However, as Jacoby explains, we need to go back to the revolutionary days of America and recognize that it was the freethinking of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who worked with others to set up a secular government that would not enable theological views to rule.  The government that Adams and Jefferson envisioned would be build on the rights of the individual.

Freethinkers believed that public education for all people was essential for a secular  vision of society and education.  Jacoby writes that it was freethinkers who were dedicated to the improvement of free education for “pragmatic” as well as philosophical reasons.  She puts it this way:

Free public education for the many rather than the few was essential to the secularist vision of a society in which every individual, unhampered by gatekeepers who sought to control the spread of dangerous knowledge, could go as far as his or her intellect would permit. In the view of freethinkers, the most pernicious gatekeepers were religious authorities; thus, education must be both secular and publicly financed. Indeed, by the 1870s the word secularist was used not only as a general philosophical term but as a specific definition, in either the affirmative or the pejorative sense, of those who advocated public schooling free of religious content.  (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 155). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)

During the rise of the freethought period, there was no Internet, but there was the lecture circuit, which turned out to be the way progressive and secular ideas spread across the country.  Citizens of many religious beliefs and views flocked to the most famous of these lecturers, Robert Ingersoll.  Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Stanton along with Ingersoll were the most important freethought speakers of the day.

Ingersoll’s thinking is important in my argument that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards have nothing to do with progressive thought.  Susan Jacoby writes that without Ingersoll there would not have been a golden age of American freethought.  Because of his style of speaking he reached out to millions of American citizens who normally would not have considered listening to criticism of conventional religion.  Jacoby explains why he was so important:

While he was hardly the first person to make the connection between authoritarian religion and authoritarian social values, Ingersoll was the first American to lay out a coherent secular humanist alternative, touching on everyday matters like marriage and parenthood, to life as defined by traditional religious faith— and to present the case for freethought to a broad public. Like Paine’s written polemics, Ingersoll’s speeches were delivered in vivid, down-to-earth language, intended for the many rather than the few, and understandable to all. With his immense passion and physical energy, he spoke in hundreds of towns each year at the height of his career in the eighties and nineties, and his influence reached far beyond nests of infidel intellectuals in the cultural centers of the northeast. The breadth of Ingersoll’s influence was attested to by the depth of antagonism he aroused. He is a critical figure in the struggle for true freedom of conscience in America— (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 158). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.)

Although the makers of the standards will tell you that the Common Core and Science Standards are state led, in reality they were established by an élite group of governors and chief state officers, and corporate CEO’s or their representatives.  Large foundations funded the effort to write the preliminary documents and the standards.

For many educators and freethinkers, John Dewey’s progressive philosophy was the alternative to the traditional approach that dominated schools in America.  Dewey said more than 100 years ago that education is a process of living, not a preparation for the future.

Dewey believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interact with the environment, which is when humans work to deal with the tensions between themselves and their surroundings. Dewey believed that learning is natural, not process limited. He would say that humans are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently. To Dewey, the learner is active, and within science education they would be experimenting, analyzing an environment and using tools like telescopes and hand lens to glimpse the world they are exploring.

As such, freethinkers were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160).  Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.

Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life.  Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:

One may safely assume, I suppose, that one thing which has recommended the progressive movement is that it seems more in accord with the democratic ideal to which our people is committed than do the procedures of the traditional school, since the latter have so much of the autocratic about them. Another thing which has contributed to its favorable reception is that its methods are humane in comparison with the harshness so often attending the policies of the traditional school.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit.  Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards.  Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boxed In: How the NGSS Impedes Science Teaching

The major journals of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have published articles featuring and explaining to science teachers the nature of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  The journals include The Science Teacher, Science Scope and Science and Children.  For the past several issues, each journal has published articles that deal with different aspects of the NGSS, including what students should know about earth science, life science, and physical science, when they should know it, and why these standards will “help all learners in the nation develop the science and engineering understanding they need to live successful, informed, and productive lives, and that will help them create a sustainable planet for future generations.” (Krajcik 2013, p. ).

These are laudable goals, but the roll out of the NGSS later this year won’t necessarily change or lead to more “productive” lives or help students understand sustainable living or “deep ecology.”  The standards do include some environmental and ecology content, but the kind of interdisciplinary thinking that is at the heart of deep ecology simply is not part of the NGSS.  In a search of the NGSS draft document, the word ecology does not appear, sustainability was found in only six instances, while 61 instances of the term environmental were found, but most often in the context of environmental impacts or economics.  Concepts such as interdependence do occur, but only in relationship to connecting science, engineering and technology.  No connection to the biosphere.  Then, when the standards that do relate to sustainability are examined, students learn that sustainability is for humans and the biodiversity that supports them.  In a deep ecology context, sustainability would refer to all species of living things, and their importance would not be hierarchical.

The rationale for science described in the NGSS is not related to 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.

Boxed In

In another article in this month’s The Science Teacher, there is a chart that shows the architecture of the Next Generation Science Standards.  Think of the chart as a box–a science standards box. Its full of the multiple standard attributes including performance expectations, kind of on-deck behaviors ready to be morphed into assessments. The box is teeming with science & engineering practices, comments about disciplinary core ideas,and cross cutting content, and connections to the nature of science. Symbolically, the box is dense, perhaps so much that one has wonder what is really important. Is this atomistic breakdown of science what will help American education progressives lead schools into a more humanistic world? I don’t know.

Figure 1 shows the same box that appeared in The Science Teacher, but without the explanations of each part of the science box.  Notice that there are four sub-boxes, one shaded white (the performance expectations), blue (practices or process of science and engineering), orange (content) and green (connections).

Every set of performance expectations in the NGSS is presented using this box-like structure.  The NGSS is 105 pages long on the online pdf draft of the standards.  As you scroll through the standards, hundreds of performance expectations are grouped into the content or disciplinary core ideas.  The standards will be released this year, and will unfortunately, adopted by most states.

ngss3-ps2
Figure 1. Science Standards Box including performance expectations, processes, content and connections

 

Let’s take a look at an example of an NGSS Box that appeared in NSTA’s March 2013 edition of The Science Teacher. The NGSS conceptual design is an oversized rectangular box in two dimensions. The box has all the elements that pertain to a grouping of content for 3rd graders in physical science.  At first glance theses NGSS boxes make you feel overwhelmed and boxed in.  Take a look.  First, the standards writers designed the whole shebang by writing the performance expectations in such as way that they can easily be converted to assessments.  In this case, this is what every 3rd grader is expected to master for this standard.  Below the expectations/assessment box, are 3 foundation boxes which include core disciplinary ideas (orange-earth, life, or physical science), cross cutting concepts (green), and scientific and engineering practices (blue). At the bottom, you will find a connection box which informs science teachers how this standard might be related to the common core, or to state standards.  You also find other items tagged on to this complicated scenario including connections to the nature of science, connections to engineering, codes and all of that.

NSTA ngss chart
Figure 2. What inside the NGSS Box: Source, NSTA journal, The Science Teacher, March 2013

 

What’s Next?

In research I’ve reported on here, the standards should be viewed as authoritarian documents that teachers had little to no part in policy decisions.  Indeed, in separate research studies reported here, the standards are impediments or barriers to learning not bridges to help children and youth understand their connection to science.  In the standards culture, students are pawns in an educational system that is in the interests of the nation’s economy and prosperousness of business and industry.

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

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

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

The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.

Teachers will be in a bind when they are told to carry out the new science standards.  Wading through the boxes of performance expectations, and foundation components will give any science educator a headache, not to mention the near impossibility of thinking that every student should be exposed to the same set of content goals.

The rationale for the science standards is achievement-based. One way to look at the standards is that they use backwards engineering to define the field of science that teachers should cover in their science courses. A teacher writing on Anthony Cody’s blog explained backward engineered standards. Backward engineering means starting with an assessment, and then working backwards from it to write standards. She explains that “the goal of the Next Generation Science Standards is create a document that can market both teaching and assessment products to a captive education system, not offer a framework for good teaching of science.”

The new standards will not lead on a path that will improve learning.  It will however provide documentation for test development companies and consortia to design online assessments that will be used by bureaucrats to foster “data driven” educational reform.

What do you expect will be the affect of the Next Generation Science Standards on science teaching in American schools?

 

 

References

Krajcik, Joe (2013). The next generation science standards: A focus on physical science. The Science Teacher, 80 (3), 29 – 35.

Whose Next Generation of Science Standards?

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 EducationStephanie 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.

We’ll look at the standards movement, and raise questions about the Next Generation Science Standards.

Historical Science Standards, 1893 – 1996

Committee of Ten Report: This book outlines the standards for the school curriculum in American schools in 1892.
Committee of Ten Report: This book outlines the standards for the school curriculum in American schools in 1892, including detailed science standards.

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.

Between 1893 and 1960, there were at least many reports outlining new science standards for school science.  Some of these included A Program for Science Teaching (1932), Science in General EducationProgressive Education (1938), Science Education in American Schools (1947), and Rethinking Science Education (1960).  These documents included goals, big ideas or concepts in science teaching, and approaches to improving science teaching.

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.

In 1989, the AAAS initiated a long-term project to advance literacy in science, math and technology.  It was called Project 2061. Project 2061 provided the foundation for future changes in science education, including the National Science Education Standards, 1995 and the Next Generation Science Standards, 2013.

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, 2013.  View them until January 29
The Next Generation Science Standards, 2013. View them until January 29

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?

The Next Generation Science Standards: In the Service of the STEM Imperative or Students?

The second draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) was released this week, and you can check it out and give feedback here.

Millions of dollars are being spent to write the new science standards. And it will cost even more to carry out them in the Nation’s schools. Why new standards at this time?  According to Achieve, the developers of the NGSS there is a problem with science and mathematics education.  They write:

the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing far below par and, if left unattended, will leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in a global economy.

Achieve goes on to suggest that because of such a sub par science education, America’s economic competitive edge will be  jeopardized, students won’t be ready as workers in the 21st Century, and the country will simply not have a scientifically literate society.

Stories are told that American businesses are not able to find qualified workers with STEM backgrounds and work experience, and that colleges and universities do not graduate enough STEM graduates to meet the demand for STEM workers. These two metrics are used to explain why American businesses are moving some of their operations and search for engineers  overseas.

Maureen Downey asks on her Get Schooled blog Does a STEM degree guarantee a job?

In a recent study (Where the Engineers Are) carried out at Duke University, light is shed on this issue, and the study contradict claims by Achieve and other groups America suffers from a deficiency in the quantity and quality of STEM workers for America’s businesses.  In their study they report:

Our research shows that companies are not moving abroad because of a deficiency in U.S. education or the quality of U.S. workers. Rather, they are doing what gives them economic and competitive advantage. It is cheaper for them to move certain engineering jobs overseas and to locate their R&D operations closer to growth markets. There are serious deficiencies in engineering graduates from Indian and Chinese schools. Yet the trend is building momentum despite these weaknesses…The calls to graduate more engineers do not focus on any field of engineering or identify any specific need. Graduating more engineers just because India and China graduate more than the United States does is likely to create unemployment and erode engineering salaries.

In order to justify reforms in education, its necessary for the reformers to present an argument that the American public buys into.  Claiming that American science education is inferior to other nations’ science and mathematics education is the present argument of choice.

Historical Reform Arguments

This argument–that U.S. K-12 science education is sub par, inferior, and out-dated–has been used for many decades to rally support for reform of science and mathematics education.  It is important to ask: In whose interest will the reform serve?  Is the reform in the interests of all students?  Or are there others in society that will benefit even more than students and teachers from reform efforts?

Committee of Ten. For example, one of the first major education reform efforts in the U.S. was the 1893 National Education Association’s Committee of Ten which made recommendations and detailed curriculum guidelines for K-12 schooling in America.  Comprised of ten men, who were either college presidents, professors or school principals, the committee organized nine content-oriented curriculum conferences  (Latin, Greek, English, Mathematics, etc.).  To the Committee of Ten, as well as the nearly 90 members of the conferences, all of whom were men, and most college professors, the purpose of schooling should be preparation for college.   Were these recommendations for U.S. students, or more beneficial for America’s colleges and universities?  What do you think? Here is what one of America’s leading educational researchers thinks about this.

In her study entitled An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Levy Institute Research Professor, Bard College sheds light on this question.  Instead of colleges and universities supporting and sponsoring education, Lagemann writes:

it makes more sense to read it as evidence of university aspirations to conquer new markets and, even more, to assume a regulatory role that would make sure university leadership of the full panoply of educational institutions within a particular city, state, or region – or even nationwide

Sputnik. There are other examples.  When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, it shook up the U.S. perception of itself as a leader in science and technology.  Although science curriculum reform was already underway at MIT’s project entitled PSSC Physics, the National Science Foundation expanded the idea of assembling science experts to design, write, and carry out science curriculum for America’s schools.  Physics was first, then chemistry, followed by multiple versions of biology, and a new program for earth science.  New curricula were developed for middle/junior high schools, and finally elementary school science.  The Golden Age of Science Education was born: more than $117 million was spent on over fifty separate course improvement projects during the years 1954-1975.

Nation at Risk. In 1983, a report was issued by the National Commission on Excellence entitled A Nation at Risk. The report’s famous beginning stated that it was as if an  “unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on the U.S. the mediocre educational performance” (according to the authors of the report) that existed in 1983.  The authors viewed it as an act of war.  Continuing with another war metaphor, the authors suggested that the U.S. was “committing an unthinking, unilateral education disarmament.”

A Perfect Storm. Then, in 2001, the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) set in motion the latest reform, which has spurned what my colleague Steven Sellers Lapham calls A Perfect Storm. As Lapham says so rightly states, public schools in America are under attack from many directions, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) seems bent on delivering a lethal one-two-three punch: punish the poor (Race to the Top), death by paperwork (NCLB), and absurd metrics (using student test scores to evaluate teachers & schools). Writing standards and imposing high-stakes tests on American students until the cows come in. With the financial infusion by corporate billionaires, & conservative policy groups, such as ALEC and the Thomas Fordham Institute, Lapham’s storm prediction metaphor has morphed into superstorms with devastating consequences.

In the Service of the STEM Imperative

The STEM Initiative
The STEM Initiative

Science education has history of reform that suggests the phrase, “the sky is falling.”  If the science (or mathematics) curriculum is not improved, then America’s economic competitiveness, worker’s ability to compete for jobs, and students qualifications for college are at risk.  These are the underlying rationales used to promote the reform we see in science education specifically, and schooling in general. In a way, this has been an assault on the teaching profession. The hierarchical and authoritarian structure of reform in 2013 has ignored the wisdom of experienced teachers and administrators, and is relying on temporary and substitute the teachers who are only willing to give two years to work in schools where they are least qualified. When we through in charter schools, vouchers, and the wholesale closing of “failing” schools, we’ve created an unstable system of schooling especially for families of less means. What are we thinking?

For a little more than a decade, science, math, engineering and technology have been lumped together using the acronym “STEM,”which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics. It was coined by Judith Ramaley, in 2001 when she was director of the National Science Foundation’s education and human resources division. The term caught on quickly. Most government documents, reports, and RFP’s use the term instead of referring to science or math or engineering.  STEM has taken on a life of its own so that now instead of talking about science or mathematics education, which have their own traditions, we have lost our way in the world of acronyms.  But, the STEM initiative is a powerful one.  Government is willing to invest billions, states think that the STEM curriculum is more important than art or music, and indeed cuts are made to educational programs that are not embraced by STEM, reading, or language arts.  The STEM initiative has become the STEM IMPERATIVE.

The STEM Imperative is so powerful that authoritarian means have been used to make the improvement of science and mathematics education the most pressing, urgent, and vital aspect of schooling, especially if America is to keep its commanding position among other nations.

The STEM initiative has provided the perfect backdrop for the Next Generation of Science Standards.  Science education today, as it is perceived and practiced around the world, is based on goals for science teaching that were established more than a century ago. The NGSS project has not invented new goals, or ideas, but has reinvented the same wheel of science education that has been around for more than a century.

It’s important to note that the standards that are now published in draft form are based on a Framework for K-12 Science Education that was essentially devised by a group of experts, most of them professors of science, not science educators or teachers.  We’ve done this time after time in the history of reform.  Experts, largely from the college ranks, are the ones making decisions about K-12 education, not professional educators who are the practitioners, that understand the nitty-gritty of school teaching.  Science teachers, science supervisors and curriculum directors not only have strong background in the content of science, but more importantly they have a special kind of knowledge that we call pedagogical content knowledge.  They understand students, and how they learn.  They have experiential knowledge of teaching and learning, and I would suggest that college professors of science do not necessarily have this kind of knowledge.

Here is what I mean. The committee that developed the framework for the standards was comprised of 16 university professors, one state department official, and one education collaborative official.  No teachers.  No Principals.  No science, technology or engineering curriculum experts.  It makes no sense to continue to turn over the major policy decisions to university professors, especially if they have little or no experience with educational research or K-12 curriculum development.  Committees of experts tend to be self-serving.  If you bring a group of biologists together to write biology standards, to what extent will they write interdisciplinary standards, or standards that are more application oriented.

Whose interest is served by forming committees with this power? Why do we set up committees that truly lack credible knowledge about education theory and practice. If we want experts doing this in the name of school reform, we need spokespeople from the profession. A professor of atmospheric science who thinks the earth science curriculum of school is nothing more than physical geography lacks fundamental knowledge about the science curriculum (see this Scientific American blog article for more) and lacks the perspective to take part in meaningful reform.

The science curriculum that was designed for aspiring scientists and engineers, with its heavy emphasis on the scientific process and content may have to give way to new forms of science curriculum that advocate ways to engage adolescents in science education. Unfortunately, the Next Generation Science Standards, painted a canvas of predictable shades and hues, but failed to use more inventive strokes that might have given a new landscape.

The STEM imperative is not in the interest of students.

What do you think?  Surely we need to improve teaching and learning in science and math? But are we using reasons to do this that do not serve the interests of students, but serve other groups?

Dream Document: The Next Generation Science Standards

Achieve, Inc., a corporate sponsored non-profit company, uploaded the 2nd draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) on its website for review until January 29, 2013.  A final version will be uploaded in March, 2013.

For many educators, the NGSS are just what the doctor ordered to improve science teaching in the U.S.  In fact, some say that it will revolutionize STEM education in the nation.  According to the developers and financial backers of NGSS, the nation’s science education is in shambles, and needs to be fixed.  The economic prosperity of the nation is at stake, and future workers, today’s students, will simply not be able to compete in the global market place.

I suggest that the NGSS and the Common Core State Standards were not developed with the interests of students in mind.  The development of standards and assessments are integral to the “educational reformers” script to turn education into a product or commodity.  As Bill Ayers said in a letter to President Obama,

Education is a commodity like any other—a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver—that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads.

In order to track the effectiveness of schools, students, and teachers, metrics are needed to decide if expectations (outcomes) were met and to what degree.  In this scheme, those that are not performing will risk going out of business.  Just today, NYC announced it was closing 26 “underperforming schools.”

In this context, the NGSS is a dream document.

Dream Documents

Standards and technology-based assessments are policy makers’ and education reformers’ dream documents.

Standards are documents that are the first step in a two step process of making it possible to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools against a rationale and set of goals that they had little to no part in developing.  The standards were not written by a representative group of K-12 professional educators, yet all K-12 educators will be responsible for implementing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English/Language Arts (CCSS), and now, the Next Generation Science Standards. Step one, then, has put into place single sets of content standards in math, reading/language arts, and science for every school in the nation.

The Common Core and the new science standards were developed by Achieve, by the way.  Achieve will claim that the process to develop the science standards was a partnership amongst itself, NSTA, AAAS, and the National Research Council.  However, we need to point out that the science standards were based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas which was developed by a 16 member committee  of scientists, and educators, but there were no classroom science teachers on this committee.

The framework was not developed by K-12 teachers, or science educators, who possessed not only the content knowledge to develop a framework, but would bring to the table the professional experience of working with K-12 students, the real nature of classroom life, and anecdotal evidence & research so important to an understanding of 21st Century school.  I am not suggesting that professional scientists should not be involved in the development of the framework. I am suggesting that teachers and science educators need to be at the core or center of this development, not on the outside looking in.

We have argued on this blog that the science standards are authoritarian.  The Next Generation Science Standards are authoritarian performance expectations.  The authority for what happens in schools rests in the hands of bureaucrats who have little knowledge or experience with specific schools.  Teachers are given very little leeway to change performance expectations to meet the needs and nature of their students.

In the NGSS, performance expectations were written for K-High School in physical science, life science, and earth science, and engineering, technology and applications for middle school and high school.

"System architecture" of the Next Generation Science Standards
Figure 1. “System architecture” of the Next Generation Science Standards

Figure 1 shows an example of one of the science standards from the NGSS “dream document.”  Standards are organized as a table.  Section “1” is a list of performance expectations (which is the assessment part), section “2” includes three foundation boxes, and section “3” is the connection box.  More details about how to “read” the standards can be found here. These new science standards, as robust as they look in your browser, are written for all students no matter where they live.  The NGSS states on its website that the U.S. population is increasingly more diverse, yet they have proposed a single set of standards in life, earth and physical science.  These standards should be taught to every student, regardless of student or teacher interests, or where students live.

Teaching will be organized based on the standards.  But unfortunately, the reformers have convinced all Americans that high stakes assessments must be used to measure the productivity of each school, and if necessary use the results to reward or sanction schools.  To make it easier for reformers to get the metrics they need to keep open or close schools, assessments starting next year will be technology-based.

Technology-based assessments are the second step to set up a competitive, corporate style of education for U.S. students.  The U.S. Department of Education, through the Race to the Top assessment competition awarded two grants totaling about $330 million, to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in the amounts of about $170 and $160 million.

If you refer to Figure 2, note that the standards (performance expectations) in the box shown are actually the statements that will be used to design assessments to measure student achievement.  Indeed “assessment boundaries” are identified for the performance expectation.

NGSS Performance expectations for grade 5 on the earth's place in space.
Figure 2. NGSS Performance expectations for grade 5 on the earth’s place in space.

The assessments that will be developed will be technology-based.  There will also be more assessments.  In the PARCC system, a series of assessments given over the course of a year will replace the end of the year high-stakes test.

But there is more to it than you think.  The PARCC and SMARTER systems will be huge enterprises that not only include assessments, but they will have a banks of technology-based assessment resources.  Here is some of what you will find on Achieve’s PARCC website:

On their own, the new science standards are an other resource for science educators, and to writers of textbooks. But, they will be more than that.  The NGSS will decide the curriculum of school science for years   If you would like to know what the NGSS is all about, here is a link to the NGSS page from which you can search and study the standards, and even give feedback on the science standards.

One More Thing

The NGSS combined with forth coming national science assessments support the aim of the current crop of educational reformers to make schooling a business, and learning a commodity.  National standards and assessments will make it relatively easy to create data, which bureaucrats will use to rank, compare, rate, sort, check, grade, judge, reward, and sanction schools, teacher and students.

What do you think about this issue?  Will the science standards improve science teaching in U.S. schools, or will it continue the teach to the test pattern that is strangling innovation and inquiry?

 

For further research: