The Next Generation Science Standards: A Model of Mediocrity

Gulliver_academyThe newest wave of national, top-down standards is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), now adopted in 14 states.  While there are some outspoken critics of NGSS, the outcry has not been as loud as that against the math and English language arts common core standards, most likely because science standards do not cause angst at the dinner table in the evenings between parents and kids like the fuzzy math of common core.

The NGSS are performance rather than content standards.  This means that projects rule the day, allowing the teacher to be more of a “guide on the side” who oversees group projects.  Actual knowledge of content is not the goal of NGSS, which is a chief concern among critics of NGSS.  Furthermore, the NGSS are severely deficient in high school sciences that would support science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) fields.

Here are some of the glaring problems with the NGSS:

  • There are not enough chemistry standards for a stand-alone high school chemistry course.
  • High school physics is absent.
  • The high school engineering standards would require some high school physics and higher level mathematics than is expected in the aligned common core math standards; therefore, the engineering standards are low level.
  • The human body is missing.
  • Essential life science concepts are absent, such as “bacteria” and “virus”; cytology (design and function of cells) is woefully lacking with no mention of protein structure or functions, cellular feedback mechanisms, or cell and tissue types.
  • Practical everyday science, such as electrical circuits, is given only brief mention in the lower grade levels, while the more politically charged subject of climate change is very prominent.
  • More than 50% of the science standards have an “assessment boundary” which specifically state what will not or should not be tested, creating a teach-to-the-test mentality.
  • More than 90% of the standards have a “clarification statement” which reads like a Standards for Dummies explanation on how exactly to teach the standard, including what to say to students and which examples to provide (detailed prompting).
  • Evolution is given prominence in the standards, to the exclusion of other important content.
  • Many of the standards are based on junk science, too many scientific assumptions, and correlational studies.
  • The Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducted a review of the NGSS and 55 sets of other standards from around the country.  While Fordham would be expected to rate the NGSS highly because of their prior defense of common core, they rated NGSS as 26th in the total list of 56 standards.  Translation:  NGSS are just average.   Mediocre

Despite the obvious drop in quality, states like Arkansas, who was ranked in the top 10 by Fordham, have dumped their high ranking science standards to adopt the mediocre NGSS.  In the case of Arkansas, which adopted NGSS in June 2015, there appears to be a disconnect between those who make the adoption decisions and the state legislature. The Arkansas Department of Education science specialist was quoted in Education Weekly as saying that there was no pushback on the NGSS:   “We really had very little [push]back on climate change and evolution issues,” she said. “That just really never came up.”  However, during the January-March 2015 legislative session, a bill (HB1967) was drafted to halt the adoption NGSS.  It was never heard in committee; instead, it was buried in interim study.  The “pushback” was suppressed. 

As science standards around the country are replaced with NGSS, and the outcries are quashed, we can be sure of one thing:  mediocrity in education will rule the day.