While I’ve acknowledged mixed feelings about the common core math and language arts standards themselves, I think the process for adopting these standards stank. Neither teachers nor parents had much time to review these major changes to education policy before they were hastily adopted to meet the administration’s very tight Race to the Top application deadlines. We’re paying the price now as suspicion of the standards spreads and opposition mounts.
Next on the common core agenda is science standards. That the U.S. needs stronger science standards seems pretty indisputable. American students continue to earn dismaying scores on international science tests, even as the demand for graduates adept at math, science and technology significantly outpaces the supply.
Nevertheless, the draft science standards have sparked considerable concern from sources I tend to trust, including the Fordham Institute, which has helped lead the fight for the common core standards.
This isn’t my area of expertise, so I’m hoping readers who know more about science and science education will weigh in. Still, the controversy seems to cut across educational disciplines. Should standards focus on process, or content? While the obvious answer is both, teachers and students don’t have unlimited time. Curriculum implies choices, and the new standards are designed to drive those choices.
So here’s a rundown of the basic concerns raised by the Fordham Institute. Please, please – share your expertise!
- They went overboard on “scientific practices,” seemingly determined to include some version of such practices or processes in every standard, whether sensible (and actionable, teachable, assessable) or not. This led to distorted or unclear expectations for teachers and students and, often, to neglect of crucial scientific content.
- At the same time, paradoxically, the drafters left too much to curriculum developers by omitting (or leaving implicit) much crucial science content. This happens because much content is over-summarized; many standards lack the detail that is indispensable for their use in curriculum planning; and essential prior content sometimes vanishes. It may be assumed but nowhere is it explicitly stated.
- The alignment between the NGSS draft and the Common Core math standards is weak. There are only infrequent and vague references to important mathematics content that is often necessary to support rigorous science standards, especially in physical science in the upper grades. At the same time, however, the NGSS sometimes reference or expect the use of math content or procedures earlier in the grade sequence than the Common Core provides. That means, for states that adopt both the CCSS math standards and the NGSS, students may be unprepared for the math that their science lessons require—even as, in other places, they may possess mathematical prowess that the science standards fail to exploit for the benefit of more sophisticated and complete scientific knowledge.