Next Generation Science Standards Are Bad Even Without Politicization

High School Student Holding Molecular Model

I received an email today about my article on the Next Generation Science Standards yesterday (The Next Generation Science Standards Are Already Politicized) that I wanted to address.

The reader wrote:

I identify as an independent voter and was happy to see, as I battle Common Core, that my friends were of a diverse political background and that almost everybody who learned about it, got on board  with our battle. It not was a Republican or Democratic issue, truly bipartisan.  After reading the TAE article The Next Generation Science Standards Are Already Politicized, I worry that it is becoming so, at least with the science standards. I think the Bible should stay at the church and science should be presented with the latest info that is accepted by most scientists.  Science changes, I mean is Pluto a planet or not, they keep changing their mind! Trump appointed a man who is the ‘chief Scientist’ or whatever his title is, and he’s not even a scientist, that is alarming to me.

There are so many issues we can agree on about how much Common Core, well, sucks, I’m hoping we can stick to those issues so we don’t lose our Democratic warriors. I appreciate and love that you said “Give me a break. I hope Governor Martinez would reject even the “sanitized” version as Next Generation Science Standards are awful.”  But I fear the whole article is highlighting the politicizing, which is what ‘they’ want to do to help keep us divided. I hope everyone reads to the end and really gets your message.

I understand this point of view. I want to make abundantly clear that my opinion is mine alone, and not necessarily the view of everyone connected to TAE. I primarily addressed that topic because that is what the article I referenced focused on. I am not suggesting that schools should teach creation, so no I am not pushing for the Bible to be taught. (I did not even advocate a position yesterday other than to say NGSS was politicized.) At the very least, I believe, educators should keep the discussion about evolution at the high school level. I also think honest academic discussion should include differing opinions on the subject. Many accept micro-evolution but see inherent problems with macro evolution. Why not discuss those? Evolution is not the only scientific theory on the block, why not mention those? At least kids should come out of a biology class with an understanding that the origin of life question is far from settled and evolution is one explanation. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and instead of education, many students get indoctrination. Is that what we want?

At the very least, I believe, educators should keep the discussion about evolution at the high school level. I also think honest academic discussion should include differing opinions on the subject. Many accept micro-evolution but see inherent problems with macro evolution. Why not discuss those? Evolution is not the only scientific theory on the block, why not mention those? At least kids should come out of a biology class with an understanding that the origin of life question is far from settled and evolution is one explanation. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and instead of education, many students get indoctrination. Is that what we want?

That is my personal opinion, and I understand not every reader, including ones who beleive the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core are subpar, agree with me.

Like I said yesterday, I do hope Governor Susana Martinez rejects a “sanitized” Next Generation Science Standards as the standards do have problems with them.

The Fordham Institute, who endorsed the Common Core Math and ELA Standards, in their review of the Next Generation Science Standards second draft made public briefly in January of this year.  They said “large problems still abound” and those include:

  • In an apparent effort to draft fewer and clearer standards to guide K–12 science curriculum and instruction, the drafters continue to omit quite a lot of essential content. The pages that follow supply many examples. Among the most egregious omissions are most of chemistry; thermodynamics; electrical circuits; physiology; minerals and rocks; the layered Earth; the essentials of biological chemistry and biochemical genetics; and at least the descriptive elements of developmental biology.
  • As in version 1.0, some content that is never explicitly stated with regards to earlier grades seems to be taken for granted when referring to later grades—where, we fear, it won’t actually be found if the earlier-grade teachers do not see it made explicit.
  • Real science invariably blends content knowledge with core ideas, “crosscutting concepts,” and various practices, activities, or applications. The NGSS erroneously claims that presenting science as such an amalgam is a major innovation (“conceptual shift”), which it is not. Much more problematic, the NGSS has imposed so rigid a format on its new standards that the recommended “practices” dominate them, and basic science knowledge—which should be the ultimate goal of science education—becomes secondary. Such a forced approach also causes the language of these standards to become distractingly stereotyped and their interpretation a burden.
  • As noted above (and praised), the drafters made a commendable effort to integrate “engineering practices” into the science rather than treating engineering as a separate discipline. Still—once again—their insistence on finding such practices in connection with so many standards sometimes leads to inappropriate or banal exercises—and blurs the real meaning of “engineering.”
  • The effort to insist on “assessment boundaries” in connection with every standard often leads to a “dumbing down” of what might actually be learned about a topic, seemingly in the interest of “one-size-fits-all” science that won’t be too challenging for students. This is a mistake in at least two ways. First, it potentially limits how far and how deep advanced students (and their teachers) might go. (The vague assertion that this can be dealt with via “advanced” high school courses helps almost not at all.) Second, it usurps the prerogative of curriculum builders and those constructing (and determining proficiency levels on) assessments to make these decisions for themselves. It is one thing to set forth what must be covered in school; it is quite another to try to put limits on how much more might be covered—and to suggest that not going farther is perfectly okay, even for pupils who could and would. What’s more, these “boundaries” are often used to strip science of critical mathematics content.
  • A number of key terms (e.g., “model” and “design”) are ill-defined or inconsistently used.
  • Even as the amplitude of new appendices adds welcome explanation and clarification of what is and isn’t present and why, it also produces a structure for NGSS that most users, especially classroom teachers, will find complex and unwieldy. Even the attempts to help users understand and apply these standards (as in the four-page PDF document titled “How to read the NGSS standards”) are complicated and confusing. Moreover, the various appendices are clearly aimed at different audiences without ever saying so. Will a fifth-grade teacher actually make her way to Appendix K to obtain additional (and valuable) information about science-math alignment and some pedagogically useful examples? Will the final version of NGSS omit some of the intervening appendices that have more to do with the philosophical, political, and epistemological leanings of the project and its leaders than with anything of immediate value to real schools?
  • Although the “alignment” of NGSS math with Common Core math is improved, there also seems to have been a conscious effort by NGSS drafters not to expect much science to be taught or learned of the sort that depends on math to be done properly. This weakens the science and leads, once again, to a worrisome dumbing down, particularly in high school physics—which, as the reviewers note, “is inherently mathematical.” It must also be noted that Appendix K, valuable as it is in grades K–5, is essentially AWOL from the middle and high school grades, where it is most needed. Indeed, our math reviewers found “no guidance about the specific mathematics to be used for individual science standards at the high school level. And only occasional guidance at the middle school level.”

One science teacher also saw the Next Generation Science Standards as “backward engineered.” He wrote, “The ‘Next Generation Science Standards’ have set out to backward engineer the whole science curriculum into a coherent, self-validating tool. The goal all along was an instrument to market both teaching and assessment products to a captive education system, not to provide a framework for good teaching of the sciences. In addition to all the historical evidence for this interpretation, we can now examine the document itself.”

He added, “In fact, we can readily see that their standards are made out of picked bones. These standards actually don’t span anything much and connect nothing but assessment boundaries. In this case, less isn’t more. We would be forced to devote all the formative, developmental years to consumption of standards-based learning products and assessments, in absurdist preparation for future standards-based product lines.”

The standards (Fordham mentions this as well) do not include chemistry as a separate subject but instead distribute it throughout other subjects. In so doing, the standards drop essential science content, writes former chemistry professor and science editor Harry Keller.

The standards also fail to require any chemistry labs, which is odd given their focus on experiential learning and entirely distort the point of science, which is learning from tested experience. Its format pushes a teaching method similar to that of the failed 1940s progressive science that focused not on learning but the “social, personal, and vocational needs of the student,” Keller writes.

So hopefully the evolution and man-made climate change proponents among us can also recognize that these are bad standards.

One thought on “Next Generation Science Standards Are Bad Even Without Politicization

  1. Shane’s comments on NGSS, and the New Mexico version in particular, are quite accurate. I would like to point out that the New Mexico Public Education Department is inviting public comment on the standards, with a deadline of October 16. The draft standards may be viewed at http://ped.state.nm.us/ped/PublicNotices.html . Comments may be submitted by e-mail to rule.feedback@state.nm.us . There is no standard format for comments, and the respondent does not need to list their affiliation or state of residence.

    The New Mexico standards are based on NGSS, but the numerous deviations from NGSS give the document a somewhat distinctive character. Changes made by the New Mexico writers have removed most of the activist environmental aspects of NGSS. Specifically, anthropogenic global warming and negative human effects on the environment have been downplayed, leading to better objectivity.

    Unguided biological evolution is still emphasized, but a few changes were made that call for some scrutiny of evolutionary theory. Overall, however, the New Mexico standards are totally materialistic in nature. There is no discussion of operational and historical sciences, scientific inquiry, materialism, methodological naturalism, or teleology. The origin of life is not covered, and the Big Bang is presented as a materialistic theory.

    The current (2003) New Mexico science standards are far superior to the proposed 2017 version in several ways. The 2003 standards operate within a materialistic paradigm, but not in a dogmatic manner. These standards explore the materialism/teleology dichotomy. One standard inquires about the cause of the Big Bang, and another explores the origin of life. Another standard calls for critical analysis of macroevolution. The 2003 standards distinguish between operational (present day) science and historical (origins) science. Standards on the nature of science and science inquiry are quite good.

    In short, if the 2017 NGSS-based standards are adopted in New Mexico, nearly all of the good features in the current 2003 standards will be abandoned. The state will move from an approach that questions reigning science dogma to a stance that puts that dogma firmly in place. Gov. Martinez was correct in vetoing the bill that would have fully adopted NGSS, but the modifications made by the Education Department offer little improvement.

    The 2003 standards are among the oldest in the country, and they are certainly due for an update – but not a replacement. New Mexico should abandon NGSS as a template and use the current standards as the starting point for a new document that builds upon the foundation established in 2003.

    For a list of comments on specific New Mexico standards, please send an e-mail to rplattimer@gmail.com.

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