Saturday, August 10, 2013

Arguing science standards does disservice to students

By The Kentucky Standard Editorial Board
In June, the Kentucky Board of Education officially adopted the Next Generation Science Standards with a goal of implementing them in the 2014-15 school year.

The content included in the curriculum has people across the state on the defensive, especially religious groups who insist the inclusion of lessons about evolution and climate change is offensive and will ostracize students with religious beliefs.

The standards have been called fascist, atheistic, socialist and a “threat to religious liberty.” Some say they imply that children are property of the state and others have gone as far as to say that they will escalate to promoting genocide and murder.

A little research into the formation of the standards and the skills and concepts they teach shows the opposite.

The federal government was not involved with the development of the NGSS. The system is state-led, was created by a coalition made of members in 26 states—including Kentucky—and it will be up to states to implement them.

Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland and Vermont have already implemented the standards.

As one biology professor pointed out, other states are attracting biotechnology companies. Kentucky could be left out of industrial development without teaching our future biologists and engineers the newest scientific concepts.

Kentucky’s current standards on biological evolution haven’t been updated since 2006.

The changes will supplement basic information with the newest research.

We owe it to our students to keep them up-to-date, not teach them information that hasn’t been updated in seven years.

On climate change, instead of stopping at just teaching mechanisms behind weather, the new standards ask students to consider the impact people have on climate.

How is considering our impact on our world irrational or ostracizing?

We should embrace the bigger picture by looking at the skills and techniques the standards strive to teach, not debate over the details.

Whether you agree with the concepts or not, the standards are based on scientific evidence and changes are necessary for Kentucky to keep up with other states and allow for students to prepare for college and careers, rather than be left in the dark and labeled as scientifically ignorant.

The goal is not to debunk faith, but rather to equip students with the skills needed to do in-depth research and make their own decisions based on that research.

Our students need proficiency in the skills emphasized by the Next Generation Science Standards. These skills are needed for collegiate and professional success and will enable our young people to be contributing members of society in a world fueled by science and technology. We owe it to them to teach them the most current and innovative information available and to do so uniformly so our future workforce is all on the same page.

Thursday, the Kentucky Board of Education approved a state Department of Education report on the standards and now they pass on to the Kentucky General Assembly for approval.

For legislators to refuse their passage would be a disservice to our students.


Anonymous said...

Not only does arguing science standards do a disservice to high school students, it reflects an anti-intellectual attitude towards knowledge that most Kentuckians have not seen since the fight over evolution in the Kentucky legislature in the 1920's. Sadly, it is resistance to change that continues to hold a good number of Kentuckians back to this day.

Anonymous said...

This is just flashpan effect. I suspect that this hasn't been a significant issue up to this "new" adoption. We are just feeding into their desire for making this an issue by even responding. I don't want my science teacher trying to teach faith matters at school anymore than I want my Sunday school teacher trying to teach life science at church.

Richard Innes said...

The unfortunate thing about the science controversy is disputes about climate and evolution have hidden some much more serious deficiencies in the new standards. Those problems include the 1990 KERA era mistake that process is more important than content. They also include what seems to be a serious failure to complete the high school science instruction in areas of chemistry and physics that could leave kids seriously under-prepared to enter real college STEM courses.

Those of us who were paying attention as KERA rolled out recall well that the same, process-trumps-content ideas were pushed from the beginning days of Kentucky’s unprecedented reform. It didn’t work out.

In the 2011 NAEP 8th Grade Math Assessment, after more than two decades of nominally pushing process over content, Kentucky’s white students only statistically significantly outscored whites in three other states. White students in 39 other states outscored our white students by a statistically significant amount.

Despite all the hype you have heard about science, in 2011 NAEP Grade 8 Science Kentucky did scarcely better. Whites here only outscored whites in four other states by a statistically significant amount. And, forget the poverty excuse. If we look only at students eligible for the federal school lunch program, Kentucky’s whites only outscored poor whites in two other states by a statistically significant amount. That’s all.

The chemistry and physics deficiency baffles me. I don’t understand how so many educators can turn their back on the importance of these classical high school courses and the importance they have for student success in STEM in college. Somehow, the people who put NextGen Science Standards together talked themselves into this. This is going to be great news for students from other countries, who soon may find themselves the only ones adequately prepared for any STEM programs in US universities (not that this isn’t already a major trend).

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comment, Richard.

I have not looked closely enough at the standards to know what I would think of them. I am trusting that P-20 educators have weighed in appropriately such that high school expectations match college readiness. It is my understanding that there is a teaching curriculum beyond what shows up in the standards.

I don't have a comment on your test score data other than to wonder why you are pulling out white kids only. At Cassidy, if I had been ballsy enough to point out how our white kids were beating everybody else's white kids, while soft-selling the fact that we also had the largest achievement gap in the state, I dare say I would have been shown the door.

Anytime we focus on single pieces of the puzzle we stand a chance of missing the total picture.

The thing that struck me about KERA, had nothing to do with process. As a principal at the time, I promise you the biggest obstacle I faced was the complete lack of curriculum. I wasn't sure what to ask my teachers to teach for the first five years or so. We had Transformations, but you couldn't teach from it. The tested curriculum changed every year as schools were expected to hit a moving target. There is surely no lack of curriculum today. Today's teachers are much better schooled on state expectations than the early days of KERA.

Content knowledge is very important, no doubt. But our students gaining a fundamental understanding of scientific processes sounds awfully important to me too. It's not an "either/or" choice. More like "both/and."

Richard Innes said...


Regarding content versus process, I agree that both are important. The problem is the new standards seem VERY thin on the content part.

And, I firmly believe you need to establish a basis of common content before you can begin to really assess thinking.

I suspect once we get a few years of testing under our belts with the new tests that teachers are going to be just as upset as they were with KIRIS testing.