Opinion > Commentary

California should not adopt Next Generation Science Standards


Paul Bruno

Paul Bruno

With the release of the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), states must begin in earnest to consider replacing their own existing standards. California should be especially cautious in this deliberation because, by some measures, the Golden State already has some of the strongest science standards in the country. In fact, while the NGSS may have much to recommend them to other states, it is unlikely that they represent an improvement over the status quo for California.

The most immediately striking weakness of these new science standards is that they are difficult to read. Indeed, the standards are so difficult to decipher that at various times the drafters have released a 2 ½ minute instructional video and a 5-page set of written directions to aid in interpreting them.

This may seem a superficial objection and it may be that teachers will eventually become accustomed to the new standards document. But California’s existing standards demonstrate that rigorous and comprehensive content guidelines need not be hard to read. As novice teachers are increasingly common, difficult-to-read content standards will only add to the frustrations and challenges of the first years in the classroom.

Why are the standards so confusing? The drafters make much of the fact that the standards are designed to align with the National Research Council’s “Framework for K-12 Science Education,” which distinguishes “science practices,” “disciplinary core ideas” and “crosscutting concepts” as three related-but-distinct aspects of scientific literacy. In other words the new science standards – like the National Research Council Framework – distinguish between the scientific practices in which students should be able to engage (e.g., “analyze and interpret data”), what students need to know (e.g., “characteristics of organisms are inherited from their parents”) and big ideas students need to understand as applying across domains (e.g., “similarities and differences in patterns can be used to classify natural phenomena”).

This sample of the Next Generation Science Standards, for 3rd grade, illustrates the problems I have cited. They are unnecessarily difficult to read, spreading what students need to know about heredity across four different boxes on the same page. They are also excessively vague; general student performance expectations are provided in the top box, but neither that box nor the “core ideas” box specifies all of the content knowledge that might be required for students to perform proficiently on an assessment. (Click to enlarge)

That may be an accurate characterization of scientific know-how, but by imposing that framework literally and directly onto the format of the standards, the drafters have created a document that is often a jumble of abbreviations, bullets and boxes. And since the distinction, for example, between a “performance standard” and a “disciplinary core idea” is often fuzzy, on any given page it is often mysterious where exactly one should look to find what students are expected to know about a subject.

More seriously, by adopting the National Research Council Framework so literally the drafters have, intentionally or not, endorsed a dubious view of the relationship between knowledge and skills. By distinguishing so explicitly between skills and knowledge, the new science standards imply that skills can be taught in such a way that they can be applied easily across contexts.

In reality, a student’s ability to engage successfully in a “science practice” is likely to depend first and foremost on his related scientific knowledge. So while the NGSS suggest that a third grader should be able to “use evidence to support an explanation,” his skill with that “scientific practice” will depend mostly on his knowledge of the phenomenon he is trying to explain. A family background in gardening may allow him to proficiently marshal evidence to support an explanation about plant growth, but he may nevertheless be unable to generate well-supported explanations about electronic circuits.

The more science a person knows, the easier it is to develop the (mistaken) idea that “science” is a single thing (or a few isolated things) you can be “good at” rather than a set of skills that can only be applied successfully in areas about which you are knowledgeable. So it’s tempting for those in the field (including science teachers) to believe, as the new science standards imply, that “science and engineering practices” are largely distinct from “disciplinary core ideas.” However, since the NRC itself failed to find significant evidence to support that view in a 2012 review of the research, the new science standards should not risk promoting it among our nation’s educators.

Increasing the relative emphasis of skills over knowledge results in an additional problem: the new science standards are often frustratingly vague, especially in the lower grades. The proposed third grade standards, for instance, state that students will be assessed on their ability to “use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.” To prepare students for such an assessment teachers will need clear information about what sorts of traits and environmental factors a test question on this subject might include. The NGSS provide little such information.

An associated “clarification statement” gives two examples of traits that “could” be addressed in an assessment – stunted plant growth or a pet’s weight gain – but it is unclear what other types of traits students may need to be familiar with on a test. The section on related “disciplinary core ideas” is no more helpful; it states only that interactions with the environment “can range from diet to learning.”

The proposed standards in the upper grades are somewhat less vague, but clarity remains a problem. Middle school students, for example, are expected to be able to “ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces,” but the specific data and factors students may need to be familiar with to perform such investigations are not explicitly laid out.  Again, the standards provide only “examples of data” that “could” be provided on an assessment.

Insufficient specificity is a recurring problem in the NGSS, which means that the document as a whole fails to provide adequate guidance for science teachers and will make the meaningful interpretation of yet-to-be designed common tests difficult.

Supporters of the NGSS would be right to argue that common standards offer the promise of increasingly meaningful comparisons of student performance among states. But it remains to be seen how widely these new standards will be adopted: only about half of the states are currently even officially considering using them. Moreover, the inclusion of robust standards on evolution and climate change – unquestionably a mark in their favor – may make adoption politically more challenging in many states.

I have taught only in California and therefore cannot say with confidence that the Next Generation Science Standards would not represent an improvement for other states. Nor can I deny the appeal of developing our ability to make more meaningful comparisons of educational performance between states. Nevertheless, the final draft of the NGSS is confusingly structured and overemphasizes skills at the expense of factual knowledge. As a result, I’d prefer to continue teaching under California’s existing standards.

•••

Paul Bruno is a middle school science teacher who worked in Oakland before relocating to Southern California. He also blogs at This Week in Education.

Filed under: Commentary, Curriculum, STEM, Testing and Accountability

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83 Responses to “California should not adopt Next Generation Science Standards”

  1. Irik Edens said

    on May 20, 2014 at 11:46 am

    As a middle school science teacher in San Jose, CA, I am displeased with your assessment of NGSS. You repeatedly claim that NGSS is more vague and gives little guidance to teachers. This is complete nonsense. Have you ever looked at our previous standards. They are just as vague and more importantly are mostly watered down trivial scientific facts. Our previous standards were not based around scientific skill development. This has failed our children. You say the standards are hard to read. I call BS. Did you graduate from college? Do you have a degree in any areas of science? If so, maybe your schools failed in teaching you. It is sad that there are so many, so called, educators who are not intelligent enough to teach their own subject matter. It is our job as educators to take what is difficult and make it digestible to our students. As the educator leading the charge in our district in creating our curriculum for middle science, I can attest to the fact that NGSS standards are more in depth in developing science skills while teaching students topic matters. Adding STEM to all of this makes it an amazing curriculum for our students. NGSS is more engaging, thought provoking, and skill developing then our previous standards and it is about time! Will this require teachers to be intelligent? Yes! Should our teachers be intelligent? Yes! Will this require teachers to help students become good thinkers? Yes! Should our students become good thinkers? YES!!!! You sound like the typical, lazy teacher, who could not do anything else to make a living, so you became a teacher.

  2. Marcus said

    on December 12, 2013 at 5:06 am

    Paul,

    Another facet is the timeline for implementation across the grade levels. Will they start in kindergarden and then move full implementation with that group a grade level a year? Probably not, which means we will be getting students who have likely not been exposed to material that has been moved to earlier grades. In some cases we will have to teach the K-8 standards as well as our HS standards. Thank you for making me realize that I now have to study the entire range K-12 as I develop my curriculum.

    M

    • el replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 10:12 am

      I think this aspect of changing curriculum is sadly underthought and underestimated by The Powers That Be. Changing curriculum always causes some damage to learning. One hopes that the advantage of the new curriculum is worth it.

      The lightbulb moment for me was when I realized we never, in education, have the patience to use the same curricular framework for 13 years, which means that every student has to deal with these transitions, usually twice, as educational fashion changes. Hard to know that our old material was really inadequate when we never let it finish.

  3. Marcus said

    on December 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    Pual,

    Thank you for posting this. I hope that you were rehired, or that you have found better.

    I am ashamed, but not surprised by the speed and ferocity with which your humble and honest observations were ripped into, and how your intelligence, work ethic and basic integrity were so instantly questioned.

    I have been teaching for 7 years after being an engineer for 12 years. I have seen my share of crisis and boondoggle, which lead me to be a teacher only to find more of it here, mostly manufactured though.

    I agree with most of your observations. In fact, you neglect to cite some obvious problems with NGSS. I have no question that you are speaking from the heart, maybe even trying to be nice.

    Your first point about the format is obvious to anyone who has even glanced at the 6 point font mess of multi-color boxes making a massive single arch of spiraling ideals into a crisscrossing Chinese menu of ten dollar words, mixed in with pump you up vagaries. Do you think there are any science teachers who have only glanced at the NGSS?

    I responded in a significant negative manner when the NGSS were made available for comment, both times. I checked the absolute lowest I could on any questions regarding standard clarity for the Physics and Earth Science I teach. I also added comments regarding the overall format and design of the standards. None of my suggestions were approached in any way I saw, other than a typo. After attending training courses on them I am more understanding of them, and to be clear, I am happy with the NGSS as written, and I am fully committed to implementing them in the best way that I can, or anyone who can logically convince me says I need to. Let us have peace, and understanding, my brothers and sisters.

    My main concern is not that the standards are practice dominated. It is, that they are practice dominated without clear, specific and detailed examples of how to lead inquiry based projects in the content area, that are factually correct, and relevant for both age and academic level. Good teachers have been practicing the inquiry based learning models the standards will promote for years before there were standards. In some ways, the goal of the new standards is to get the older generation to quit, and when they do, science education, in general, will suffer more.

    My other concern, and one you don’t cite is that there is an implicit push in the standards towards an integrated science model, specifically at the middle/high school level. This week the California state board of education adopted the integrated science model for middle schools, and agreed to look at other models. I hope that a more traditional approach is not mandated out of middle school, but they are making it clear where they are going with this. I am sure, that the other teachers with more experience than me can tell me how teachers at the high flying schools that don’t currently teach I.S. are clamoring for it.

    My main feedback was that the standards should be more content based, ie, they should actually say more specific scientific things, and deal with more current scientific points and issues. While I agree we can’t cover everything, my big concerns as a Physics teacher are the seeming absence of;

    Harmonic motion, vibration, waves, sound and matter/light interactions.
    Thermodynamics and fluids (hydrostatic and dynamic)
    Heat transfer
    Optics
    Gravity and circular motion, angular quantities.
    Nuclear
    Relativity
    Engineering related – Thermal expansion, statics, center of gravity.

    Electrical circuits belong in engineering anyway. Don’t even think about the math connections missed here. If you love the science of Physics, take a look at the above list and cry. If you don’t you either are not a physics teacher or you have lost your soul.

    Now let’s talk about the wonderful world in which we live. Did anyone complain about this! No!, The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that the writers made sure to put in, as clear as a brick wall, extremely simplistic assessment boundaries next to almost each and every standard so that, “Gracious me oh my, I don’t have to actually teach, in any real detail, the concepts you are listing here.” We both know there are a lot of bad teachers out there and science is no exception. Add in the inevitable, bad science and math students becoming primary school teachers, and you can understand that we have significant structural issues that can not be fixed with a new standards BandAid, regardless of whether the fairy tales of clarified standards, and more support are true, or not.

    You, as a teacher must find a way to teach science using only string, rocks, and an Iphone. You must front load all the most complex concepts that still exist in the Earth Science standards into the freshman, before they have had any background, whatsoever, in the basics of chemistry, biology and physics. When the trumpet call comes to teach integrated science to the masses, with the mass produced S&*#, be the first in line to endorse the mass produced S&*#, but figure out quick how to really teach the basic concepts and application of the material to the masses, and COVER YOUR ASS!!!

    Well, I hope that illuminates.

    I welcome the flames!

    M

    • el replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 10:14 am

      Well, I guess if you scavenged the string from feedbags in the ag department, and you went and picked up your own rocks, you can have string and rocks. Better not be any of those highfalutin’ fancy rocks that come in colors, though.

      • Marcus replied

        on December 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm

        Hi El,

        Thanks for the reply. I don’t have any numbers on what it costs to run a lab science class. I am sure it is all over the place based on subject and lab specifics. I am not even sure my department head knows her budget. We usually get told to just request what we want or need until we get told there’s no money left. Where I am at now is pretty good about spending for what we need. The last place I worked, almost nothing. $50 a year to cover basic supplies, very little that was not old chem/bio lab equipment.
        Please tell me you are not an AG science teacher though.

        M

  4. Achraf said

    on October 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Interesting post and you make some good points. But I am bothered that an article about science education claims “Over 80% of science teachers agree that these standards will improve science education.” When I follow that link and I discover that quote comes from an “informal survey.” How about a little more scientific rigor than that? Was it six science teachers sitting around eating lunch and five agreed? I teach science and I wouldn’t let my students get away with that sort of claim.

  5. Steven Varner said

    on October 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I am a California physical sciences teacher with over 24 years of teaching science and mathematics. Although I do agree with much of what Kathryn Elliott said in her post, I also want to reiterate what Lexington said about K-6 educators. They are not even close to properly trained to teach such material. I used to be a docent at a planetarium in Tucson, and many of the elementary students were more knowledgeable about astronomy than their 3rd and 4th grade teachers. I am currently teaching physics and chemistry in a town with a very large low-income population. (50% of parents never completed education through high school. Many are illiterate in their home language, let alone English.) Most of my chemistry students have no *knowledge* or life experiences to build scientific vocabulary on. I was talking about Newlands’ octaves in chemistry, and only one student in a very large class played a musical instrument. I could not access previous knowledge on the topic. I could not even use “Doe a Dear” from The Sound of Music, because only 3 students had ever seen it. Most of the students do not know the metric system, and most have never measured anything in all their previous years of school. So yes, I do advocate experimentation and experiential learning. However, there are several factors that are being ignored in all this. In addition to needing lower grade teachers to be well trained well *before* the standards are implemented, consider that:
    1. Many teachers have 40 students in laboratory classes even though the California Administrative Code stipulates no more than 24 students in a lab class. This number is agreed on by all science teacher organizations. Non-lab science classes are also impacted by overcrowding.
    2. Schools often provide the equivalent of 4 or 5 dollars per student per year to purchase science equipment. This is usually not even enough to purchase consumables. Equipment to do proper scientific experimentation, especially at the secondary level, is expensive, and with 40 students in the class, as many as 15 to 20 lab stations need to be equipped for every lab.
    3. With overcrowding, students are often placed in classes for which they are ill prepared. Since teachers are at capacity, and there is no place to move students, they are often left in the class. Of course they perform poorly on standardized tests.
    4. Technology is woefully inadequate. In addition to babying ancient science equipment, California science teachers do not have the computers and other technology needed to record or analyze data in a modern way. I have a total of zero student computers in my classroom.
    5. Inquiry-based standards are all well and good, but rather than using them as a framework to build yet more standardized tests on, they should be used to motivate and excite students. California should train all its teachers so they are exceptionally well-qualified to teach science at every grade. Then assessment can be done in the *classroom* where it really belongs. That is a model that works in countries where students consistently outperform American students in STEM subjects. We should follow their lead.

    • el replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 10:08 am

      I suspect the assertion that schools are providing as much as $5 per student per year for lab materials is optimistic.

      Actually, I would love to have insight about how much would be appropriate per student for each lab class. Can someone point me to an “adequate” and a “nice to have” number? I’d also enjoy some discussion about what/how many labs can and should be done with that money.

      Gloves alone can easily run a few dollars per student per year, if you were doing it right.

  6. Renee said

    on September 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

    “Middle school students, for example, are expected to be able to “ask questions about data to determine the factors that affect the strength of electric and magnetic forces,” but the specific data and factors students may need to be familiar with to perform such investigations are not explicitly laid out.”

    Well, isn’t that why we are the teachers? Isn’t it our job to know this, or to sit down and figure this out? Or do you expect to be handed every detail of every lesson for every day of the school year so you know what to do (whether it fits our students’ needs or not)? The current CA standards tell me what my students should know for the test (and they are nothing more than a list of vocabulary words students will find on the test), but they don’t tell me what background information they should already have either. When they were first introduced, we had to sit down and “unpack” them as well, and that’s what we will have to do with the NGSS. Our state/districts will be responsible for training us to know how to interpret them. I’m pretty sure no one expects you to read through them today and start using them tomorrow.

    We are the professionals, it is our job to interpret the standards. We are supposed to know our content and we are supposed to know science teaching methods, and we are supposed to assess our students to find out what they already know and what they still need to learn in order to achieve the skills described in the standards. There should be examples for us, and professional development to help us interpret and set up practices to be effective in teaching them, but overall we have autonomy and it is our job to figure out where are students are when they walk in the door, how far they need to go to reach the NGSS goals, and how to get them from point A to point B.

    • Marcus replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 3:02 am

      Renee,

      No teacher wants to be handed every little detail of what to teach. If you think effective PD is going to get thoroughly and evenly applied at every school and district, you are a little Naïve. I have concerns that it won’t at the K-6 level where it is needed the most. Yes, teachers will have to develop the curriculum for each subject, that’s why the clarity of the standards is such an issue. How do you design lessons, when you are not sure what the standard is asking for?
      At this point, it’s moot. We will all grow to embrace and love the new standards, and good teachers will continue to teach well, and cover for the flaws until they are fixed, and then we will all laugh about it at the integrated science collaboration meetings.
      For now, just do what the NGSS site says. Relax, do not try and change anything right away, the standards are still years away from being implemented, fully. It the same thing I tell my seniors whenever I assign a big project. “Procrastinate, wait right up to the last minute before you really look at what you need to do, and then realize there is no possible way you can get done with it in time. Then frantically text the smart kids, and see if they will e-mail you a version you can modify and turn in as your own.” You can figure out who the smart kids are. You can bet I won’t see their fees, other than as a hole in a budget.

      M

  7. Mike Horton said

    on August 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I taught the CA standards for 10 years in a very diverse, low-SES school. The problem with this conversation so far is that the standards hold very little power over what happens in the classroom in comparison to the assessment used to test them. In CA, the assessment is low rigor (multiple choice with a single correct answer). So, no matter what the rigor of the standards appears to be, the instruction is driven by a low rigor assessment. Additionally, there really is no assessment of the “Investigation and Experimentation” standards (although it’s purported that they are tested within test questions of other standards), so there is motivation for teachers to spend more time on learning the factual standards rather than how science actually works. Even if there really are I and E questions, they are multiple choice and you cannot truly assess science skills with multiple choice questions. Since NGSS standards address what the students should be able to do as a result of their learning, the skills are embedded into the content standard.

    Here’s an example of the difference:
    NGSS: “LS1-1. Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells”
    CA 7.1.a: “Students know cells function similarly in all living organisms.”
    Huge difference in the expected outcome and the method of learning between the two.

    We have yet to see what the NGSS assessments will look like, but if they’re modeled after the Common Core assessments as is the plan, then they will be more rigorous than our CA CSTs and accordingly, instructional rigor will increase. Learning the “What” without learning the “How” and “Why” is where California’s accountability system has forced science education up to this point. If implemented with fidelity and assuming a more rigorous assessment, NGSS can help change this. That’s a very good thing.

    BTW, my criticisms of NGSS align with some of the criticisms already posted here, but pale in comparison to the benefits of NGSS over the CA standards. I think that they’re too general in certain places. They are difficult to read, but I’m supremely confident that our teachers can figure it out. There are no materials to support them yet (but that will certainly be fixed). And we haven’t seen the assessment yet.

    Lexington, your assumption that elementary teachers cannot teach these standards is insulting to all elementary teachers. Which of these second grade life science standards do you think that our teachers cannot teach, that plants need water and light to survive or that plants need animals for pollination and seed dispersal?

    It shouldn’t take a degree in physics (although I should admit that I also have one) to see that NGSS has the potential to change the trajectory of science education in California. And I don’t even work in science education anymore, so I have nothing to benefit by making these statements as others have so rudely been accused of.

    Mike

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on August 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      @Mike – That is a great argument for changing the assessments we use, although I think we’re a long way from the sorts of “ideal” assessments you’re imagining. In fact, I made a similar argument here:

      http://www.edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-watch/2013/how-best-to-integrate-content-and-practices-in-science.html

      It’s not, however, an argument for adopting the NGSS.

      Indeed, if what you want is “more rigorous” assessments, then it’s all the more important not to use standards as vague as the NGSS. After all, if you’re going to have kids “do an investigation”, you’ve got to specify the content areas they’re supposed to be investigating. One of the major problems with the NGSS is precisely that they don’t lay those things out clearly.

    • Marcus replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 3:25 am

      Mike,

      I hope you are right about the support part. Maybe I am a little too jaded from my time working in industry. I agree that the NGSS ideals of teaching the how and why are superior to what we had. I feel they will benefit any school that seriously supports their implementation. My biggest concern is that given the general lack of interest, much less knowledge of science among some at the administrative level, that it will not be seriously supported at some places/times. I fear we will be pushed into an Integrated Science model of teaching. While this may be best at some places/levels, it is not best for all.

      M

  8. Lexington said

    on August 11, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    It is usually multiple subject teachers who teach science up through 6th grade and very few multiple subject teachers I know took very much science at all in high school. So we are now going to have non-science majors teaching our students about global warming, asexual reproduction and unequal heating of the Earth. Good luck. We better have a lot of staff development before we implement these standards. Our poor students will be so confused.

  9. Lexington said

    on August 4, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    While I agree with the previous post that our students do need to focus on being able to think and critical thinking skills, the NGSS is such a complet shift in the opposite direction that I do not think it is going to get our students there. Content in Science is important and while our current standards and testing culture do overemphasize content, I feel that by tweaking our standards and the way students are tested could bring about more positive change than the radical (never been tested) NGSS.

  10. Kathryn Elliott said

    on August 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    I am a person in the trenches. I have been teaching high school in California for 19 years. I have taught before and since the 1998 “new” standards, in a variety of courses. For the past 18 months I have been educating myself in depth about both the Common Core as well as the NGSS. I am a department chairperson and a BTSA provider, have mentored student teachers, all that good stuff. I teach Chemistry, and am spoiled to teach the “good kids” who are planning to go to college.

    This is my own two cents….

    The current CA standards are not the dream. They are rigorous but they are also nutty in many ways. Try teaching periodic table in a modern sense when there are no tested standards about quantum mechanics…..just one example. The asterisks are NOT tested, before that criticism is tossed my way.

    My students have trouble analyzing their way out of a chalk circle around themselves. The testing system we employ to test the rigorous standards we teach has encouraged students to be very much inside the box. They do not adapt well to problem solving and critical thinking situations. They are very good at taking multiple choice tests, and can recognize correct answers when they see them.

    In my own opinion, the NGSS recognizes the problems we are having. It is premature to assume that the “old” standards will be going anywhere. Until the new framework from the CDE is available this is an unknown. We will still be teaching Bio/Chem/Phys/Earth just as we always have.

    Kids need to be able to think. Our nation NEEDS kids to be able to think. This is not a small consideration and our current situation is not okay. Humans don’t typically like change, and there are going to be rough patches. That is a given. However, the status quo is not going to move us as individuals and a nation in any direction that will fit the future challenges we face.

    I am very concerned about the unpleasant tone some of this strand has reflected. I have no money to be made, and I’d like to remind everyone that both the CSTA and NSTA are made up of teachers. For the teachers this is not a dollar driven decision, it is an education and student driven decision. I for one am excited at the opportunity fostered in the NGSS to actually do a better job at teaching kids and getting them excited about learning and doing science. I am hoping that the omnipresent specter of the big bad multiple choice CST looming over me will lift and whatever replaces it will not keep us in the box.

    Again, just my opinion. The NGSS is a step in the right direction and are an improvement over how we do things now. We do not know the specifics of what will be taught yet because they are not in the NGSS. The broad strands will have to be narrowed down, and that will be done at the local level of state, county and district. I am choosing to view this as an opportunity not a constriction.

    • Marcus replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 4:18 am

      Kathryn,

      I agree with you wholeheartedly, except on two points.
      I don’t think the negativity itself is an issue in this thread. Some of the accusations are, but if anything we need to understand better the weaknesses of the standards more than the eventual benefits. Especially right now. The NGSS are now very real, as are my concerns.
      In my experience, it is usually Earth Science/Biology/Chemistry/Physics, which is backwards to me. I feel that ES should go last as you list.

      M

      • Manuel replied

        on December 12, 2013 at 10:22 am

        Marcus, I agree with you. After all, new chemistry is old physics.

        OTOH, our friend at xkcd claims that mathematicians feel different.

        • Manuel replied

          on December 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

          Oh, crud, I forgot about the WordPress “no-link-on-last-line” bug.

          Here’s the link for that opinion: mathematicians feel different.

          —-
          (that should do it.)

          • Marcus replied

            on December 12, 2013 at 6:18 pm

            Nice cartoon. So where does engineering fit on the line? Is it even on the line?

            M

          • Manuel replied

            on December 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm

            Strictly speaking, what we know as engineering is applied science, so it wouldn’t be on the line, it should be orthogonal to it.

            Having said that, schools of engineering have embraced “graduate level” thinking and are now engaged on what used to be the province of the filds “on the line.” Except that the research methods and goals are toward understanding better the behavior of, for example, materials under stress to create better concrete structures. You were trained as a mechanical engineer and chances are your dynamics class was concerned in analyzing systems so as to build them better. Physics undergraduates, OTOH, were trying to figure out the Hamiltonian of the system. I hear, for example, that a lot of engineering semiconductor research is delving into esoteric effects that used to be left to the solid state folks in the physics department. At least that’s my opinion based on changes I’ve seen over the last 30 years.

            And it is still evolving. For instance, the majority of new research in my home department is biological physics, which is nothing else than biology with a heavy emphasis on understanding the physics of say, hearing, down to the molecular level.

  11. Karla said

    on July 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    I guess my “been there, done that” frustration is coming out. And it’s not just frustration in regards to what I will be asked to teach, but it’s also concern in what students will learn (or NOT learn!) because hard science content has been pared down and replaced with standards such as engineering and human impact.

    I am also frustrated because I do not think the average classroom science teacher has any idea what is going on. My district has been so involved with implementation of the Common Core that the adoption of the NGSS has not been emphasized and I’m guessing other districts might be the same. I’m just afraid that at this point my concerns are too little too late.

    • Manuel replied

      on July 17, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Karla, my suggestion to you is to start emailing your science teacher friends and share what you have found out. Then have them email their friends. Eventually a critical mass will form and you might as well take it to a Facebook page.

      If you don’t do that, you’ll be run off the road. Or thrown under the bus. Take your pick.

      Good luck.

      • Karla replied

        on July 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

        Good advice! Thank you.

  12. Karla said

    on July 16, 2013 at 11:39 am

    No, I am not suggesting teachers cannot learn and teach new material outside their credential. My point is, that with integrating the standards at every grade level you could be teaching outside your Single Subject credentialed area up to 1/2 or 2/3 of your school day. According to the State, teachers should not be spending a disproportionate part of their day teaching content outside their credentialed area, and for good reason. A life science teacher is not going to have the same level of expertise as a physics teacher to teach motion or forces A physical science teacher is not to have the expertise in explaining meiosis and mitosis as a life science teacher. So if the point of the NGSS is to increase depth of understanding and equip students to analyze and evaluate, then put them in classrooms with well-trained, effective, expert teachers.

    I have been teaching long enough that I remember the last time (early 90’s) we tried to do the “integrated” standards. We ended up teaching a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing. The integrated textbooks focused on doing a lot of experiments and “hands-on” activities but contained very little content. Students had to rely heavily on the ability of the teacher to explain the content because the textbook contained mostly experiments. So if the teacher didn’t have the adequate content knowledge then the students suffered. So here we are, 20 years later and the pendulum is swinging again.

    I am not some old lady ready to retire and complaining about having to learn something new. I am an experienced science teacher who wants to prepare my students for their high school science courses, equip them to think for themselves and give them a better understanding of the world around them. What I want from the State of California are clear, logical standards that will help direct my teaching and guide my practices. NGSS does not fit that bill.

    • el replied

      on July 16, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      Karla, I hope I did not come across as critical. I thought you made a very very good point, one that I have not seen in any other discussions of the science standards. And I totally agree with you about expertise.

      I was just tacking on my observation of how fast biology in particular has moved over the past 20 years and that probably few people are aware of the changes – experts don’t notice because they’re steeped in it every day, and laypeople don’t notice because they don’t deal with it at all.

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on July 16, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      What el said. I agree completely that specialization is worthwhile, and I don’t see any justification for undermining specialization by randomly pasting together portions of earth, life, and physical science into a single year, to be taught by a single teacher.

      I do think a fair chunk of middle school teachers – myself included – already teach multiple science courses, so that’s one mitigating factor. There’s not even as much specialization now as there should be.

    • Ingrid Salim replied

      on August 11, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      With a single-subject credential you are authorized to teach ANY introductory science through grade 9 in CA. (After that it’s not considered introductory). So, a person like you, Karla, with a physical science credential, could teach a 9th grade bio class, by law. But not a senior physiology class. Check it out. The newer credentials are more specific, but still grant the intro authorization.

  13. Karla said

    on July 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    In looking at the NGSS, the glaring question which I have not seen addressed is this: How are teachers with Single Subject credentials going to be adequately prepared to teach these integrated standards at the middle school level? I have a CA Single Subject Physical Science credential and have been teaching 8th grade physical science for 25 years. I have no expertise in teaching gene mutation, natural selection or geologic time scale and yet those are standards I will be expected to teach in 8th grade science. In looking at the 7th grade standards, teachers with biology/life science credentials will be expected to teach molecular models, states of matter, chemical reactions, law of conservation of mass and plate tectonics. So teachers with Single Subject credentials are supposed to be able to teach content outside their discipline (for half or two-thirds of the school year) at a high enough level so that students can analyze, evaluate, experiment and construct models? This makes no sense to me. What would make sense is to streamline our current content standards and incorporate some of the NGSS performance standards into each discipline/grade level. Students can only analyze, evaluate, experiment and construct what they have learned and they need expert instructors to prepare them for this kind of thinking and performing. The NGSS as written is setting us ALL up to fail.

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on July 15, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      @Karla – That’s a good point I hadn’t thought about before. Mixing up the subject matter within school years isn’t strictly required by the NGSS, but it does seem to be what CA is looking to do.

      I will say that I think science teachers are for the most part perfectly capable of learning enough, say, life science to teach the proposed 8th grade standards even if they happened to have majored in, say, physics.

      But yes, the goal seems to be “integrating” the sciences in some superficial ways at the expense of coherently organizing the content across the grade levels, and that will probably cause additional complications.

      • el replied

        on July 16, 2013 at 9:16 am

        I think perhaps the bigger problem that Karla is alluding to isn’t that someone with a science background can’t learn (say) the new biology content, but that we need to make sure they have the opportunity to be taught it. Biology has changed dramatically in the past 20 years – I had no trouble with the material in my daughter’s middle school texts because I am constantly interested and self-taught in that topic, but (a) I would say the expectations of her were closer to what I experienced in AP Biology than in 7th grade life science, and (b) I was pleased to see how much cutting edge and recent science was present there. Someone who is nearing retirement might need quite a lot of learning to catch up, if they had not been teaching or researching any biology in the meantime.

        I’d be interested to hear more from teachers about whether it would make more sense to swap off teachers between units/reorg the curriculum or if it makes more sense to get some strong professional development going for them to develop the content expertise.

        In large schools, it’s typical for a teacher to handle only a single subject; in smaller schools like mine, we have teachers covering all the sciences already, so this is not really an issue for us.

        • Marcus replied

          on December 12, 2013 at 4:05 am

          el,

          I would say that both curriculum reorg. and PD are needed, and I don’t think most schools are thinking much about it right now. Mine is not. I am looking at my classes, on how I can change and align better, but not because I am being asked.

          M

    • Marcus replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 3:57 am

      Karla,

      I am confident that you will learn and master the material. I had to for Earth Science and to some extent Physics, since my degree is a BS in mech. eng. Most of the MS teachers in CA will too. My concern is that the decision to go to an IS model is not best for all places. Maybe it is, maybe not.
      Some very smart people have integrated the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Engineering, but it was a set of even smarter people who came before them who split them into separate disciplines in the first place.

      M

    • navigio replied

      on December 12, 2013 at 9:12 am

      For me, the question is more about which would be better for the students’ learning process ie not whether our teachers have been properly prepared for that model. Clearly the preparation of teachers is critical but an alternative to giving up on the integrated model because students won’t have teachers with the experience they need is to strive for the integrated model while modifying how we prepare those teachers. So I’d like to hear the arguments for and against the iterated model under the assumption that teachers could be properly prepared for either.

      I do think the point about specialization is important given the evolutionary rate of science but I don’t think this should be a significant barrier at the middle school (and maybe not even high school) level.

      • Marcus replied

        on December 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm

        If we assume that teachers could be trained in sufficient quantity for either, then my gut feeling is that the integrated science approach would be best for most middle schools and about 80% of the lower performing high schools. Most of the high schools would probably still need to have an alternate path because some parents would demand and get it. I would not expect to see IS much at places like Mission Viejo.
        I was maybe a little over critical in regards to my perceived push by the state towards the IS model. There is an group working on Alt. path for MS, and they should have recommendations in early 2014.

        M

        • navigio replied

          on December 13, 2013 at 12:03 am

          I dont know whether it was your intent, but you seem to be implying that an integrated model serves lower performing students better. If that is what you meant, can you clarify why you think that?

          Anecdotally, I have noticed no high performing districts in our area have decided to move to the integrated math sequence. I find this curiously troubling.

          • Marcus replied

            on December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm

            Navigio,

            Speaking as a private person, let me first say that any generalizations I make are not meant to take away from great work that is being done at all of our schools.
            On the Integrated science vs. traditional model
            First, the main reason we have a traditional model is that specialization becomes more important as we move up through the fields of science. We teach general science at a young age, and once we get to the college level we are doing intense study in a chosen field. In general, students who are more advanced are going to be more in need of more specialized classes. In an ideal world, all of the students at a certain age would have about the same prior preparation, and/or ability to learn the material, and you then could easily have the same model for all schools.
            They both have strengths. I.S. could be equally as effective, and in many ways can be linked to other courses concurrently. It is also easier in some cases to link to job shadowing programs, or at least could be, if done right. When I say that 80% of schools could use an I.S. model, it assumes it would be done right. Therein lies the problem you notice.
            Seldom is I.S. done right. In the real world, science teachers tend to specialize, so you question of could they teach it, becomes will they teach it as well, if forced to generalize. Also, the general knowledge, skill level, general motivation, effectiveness of leadership and support varies from school to school, and as you know is lower at lower performing schools. So, the sad fact is that the I.S. model, and in some cases the Ag science model becomes where we send the lower performing kids in high school. We put the less technically specialized, and therefore usually less competent teachers into teaching these tracks, and parents quickly learn that Integrated Science equals poorer education, and you don’t have to look far to see it. That’s probably why the high performing districts in your area are avoiding moving to integrated math, same issue, different field.
            So, when you say that the curriculum training could be eliminated as an issue, it still doesn’t negate the other real issues that I have little or completely no confidence that the state can solve easily. Mainly, more and better trained teachers in math and science, and continuing development and support of those teachers. Either model will work great if that happens. If the state wants to do it cheap, then they better change as little as possible, and let the teachers themselves figure it out, or they will just drive away more people who want to enter the field, and let me just say, there are more good things than bad in teaching, and I hope more science professionals get involved in teaching.
            So, what I fear is that the state is going to push an I.S. model on schools where the traditional model is working well, and then fail to implement a good I.S. model, and/or support the teachers so they can. When the students who were blowing away the SAT/ACT and other college entrance exams start scoring in the 75th percentile, the manure will impact the rotary air mover in a big way.

            Hope this helps. I will be gone for a while, but reply if you have other ideas/questions

            M

            M

          • el replied

            on December 13, 2013 at 8:59 pm

            Interesting analysis, Marcus; thanks.

          • navigio replied

            on December 14, 2013 at 11:52 am

            Hi Marcus.

            I have heard the argument that the reason we have a traditional sequence in math is that the sequence was developed in an historically ‘layered’ manner as math requirements and expectations increased for our population in general. I expect the fact that much secondary education was effectively ‘optional’ for many years also factored into that. I would disagree that specialization in learning is the driver for the traditional sequence. I would, however, tend to believe that specialization in teacher preparation was a driver of this model (ie teachers who have advanced degrees have, by definition, in recent times, specialized). Problem is, that means the driver is a function of what fits best for teachers (or what options we are presented with given our current teaching force) and not whats best for students. This is why I explicitly asked about assuming we could choose one prep method over the other.

            That said, I happen to believe that the nature of specialization in math is different than in science. So while I could buy the argument that more advanced districts are sticking to the traditional model as a result of the impact of specialization on varying teacher preparation level for science, I would be more skeptical about that argument in math. If there is a measurable teacher difference in that regard, more likely is that would simply be a lower level of overall math preparation. (this is obviously something we should figure out)

            Now again, that said, there is some level at which the integrated model might theoretically require a more rigorous sequence. In math, for example, you will be merging concepts, some of which will come 2 or 3 years earlier than they otherwise would, into the first course of the sequence. This is going to not only impact the math sequence classes themselves, but all the grades’ math content that leads up to it. I admit, I may be seeing the integrated method too rosily and the real goal is simply to figure out a way to give us 4 years to cover stuff that we’d otherwise cover in 1 or 2, or to make sure people are exposed to at least a little bit of all the math topics before they drop out of the sequence altogether. But it also seems that the argument of being able to better apply the concepts to real-world problems is a valid one, and something that might even be more effective.

            In the end, it seems like you’re saying that either model can work well if done right, but that the integrated model is simply more difficult to implement. I could buy that (though I think this would mean better performing districts should be giving the integrated sequence a longer look).

            One thing that really stands out for me is that CS and UC systems have already allowed either math sequence to satisfy the same prep requirement. If the integrated model were inherently less effective then there is no way they would have done that (I hope).

            I agree with you on the teaching training problem, and I dont think this is only about the integrated vs traditional sequences (though its critical in the science sequence), rather with the introduction of technology in the curriculum and schools, we are going to have expectations that I dont think we can PD our way out of.

  14. Chuck said

    on July 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    I think one of the huge differences between the current standards and NGSS is the assessment. Sure the California standards has an experimentation and investigation for each grade, but when have we ever seen that added in the STAR tests? Probably never. I myself am a new teacher and I have no problem reading the next generation standards. I honestly feel most teachers should be at the level where that can read texts that are as complex. I also feel that it is a huge push away from the memorization of topics in the current standards towards an actual foray into the scientific process which is essential for our students to become comfortable with.

  15. Bob said

    on May 7, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Peefectly stated. These standards are under the radar with the new common core standards in the forefront.

  16. Lexington said

    on May 6, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    I agree with many of the recent posts about the problems of the ngss, but anytime I read something in the press all I read is how the ngss are the greatest things since sliced bread. What are the real opinions of teachers in the trenches? The teachers with inclusion sped Ed students in their classes and the teachers who teach at the lower socioeconomic schools?

    • Nathan replied

      on May 7, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Yeah, the press has been amazing! And of course it’s always professors and politicians along with industry and interest groups that go on and on about how great the NGSS are. I will be writing to various politicians in CA to encourage them to not adopt the NGSS, but as I said before and as several people here have noticed, it appears to be a forgone conclusion. I’m trying to raise awareness, but at this point it seems futile.

      I’m not sure most actual science teachers even know what’s going on. Most of the middle school and high school science teachers and administrators I’ve talked to don’t even know about the new science standards. Whenever I mention them the teachers or admins always say “oh, you mean the new common core?” Perhaps the NGSS got lost (?intentionally?) in the noise of the CCSS.

  17. Nathan said

    on May 4, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Now that the NGSS has been integrated with the Common Core, there is something VERY interesting and concerning. The “evidence” in all the NGSS performance expectations for “Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence” is correlated to the common core standard “Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.” Please, PLEASE tell me that “evidence” in science class is not going to be understood to mean textual evidence, because that’s what they appear to be saying here!!! In order to teach a correctly integrated lesson, reflecting both the NGSS and the CC, I would need to be teaching about textual evidence for a given topic (ie DNA). If the performance expectation says “use evidence” and then they define evidence through the common core as “textual evidence,” then that just seems to open the door to zero collection/use of any actual data! Another wonderful ambiguity and problem!

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on May 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      @Nathan – A good point, and a good example of how the NGSS’s vagueness on so many topics represents a potential problem going forward. It is already the case that science (like many other subjects) is often pushed aside in the service of more heavily-tested subjects (viz., math and ELA). By failing to clearly articulate what scientific information students need to know, the NGSS may be poised to make that problem worse. After all, if the NGSS don’t specify as much science to teach kids…well, why not teach them these ELA standards instead?

      • Ingrid Salim replied

        on August 11, 2013 at 9:15 pm

        No, these aren’t the same, and no, the NGSS writers did not use the Common Core language. The framework cites ‘modeling,’ and ‘constructing explanations’ as two of the major practices. The framework makes clear that this evidence is data — which could be investigative from experiments, or from data gleaned from someone else.

        Citing evidence from a text, a task that researchers in all disciplines do is just that, and we are expected as educators to teach our students how to do that with science texts.

        I am deeply concerned that threads like these move far afield from primary documents and then muddy the waters.

    • Demosthenes replied

      on May 24, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Very good catch!

      They did replicate the language from the Common Core, and since much of the writing work was done by folks who don’t know much science, they didn’t know that they were using the words inappropriately. That’s why the performance expectations read like Science Mad Libs.

      • Ingrid Salim replied

        on August 11, 2013 at 9:12 pm

        actually, http://www.nextgenscience.org/writing-team lists all the people who were writers, and only 10 out of 41 did not appear to have specific links to science or science education.

  18. Bob said

    on May 1, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    A major issue I have with the ngss is the progression of science from kindergarten through high school. Our elementary teachers have a difficult job and many of them lack the science training and knowledge to teach the new standards effectively. Besides that, because California does not test science in every grade, in many classrooms of non testing grades, science will be taught as much as music which amounts to once a week. Now when students do arrive in hr high, their background will be no where near it needs to be to effectively learn the standards. As a junior high teacher, I see this now. When I ask my students how many of them did science more than once a week, almost the entire class admits they rarely did science. Most likely for 2 reasons: 1). It’s not tested in 6th grade and 2) their 6th grade teacher probably has never taken an Earth science class. I still feel junior high is when students need to start building their background knowledge for their high school science classes and our current standards do a better job, though not perfect, at doing this than the ngss.

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on May 4, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      @Bob – You bring up a good point that I’m also worried about but didn’t have space to bring up in this piece. On a day-to-day basis the vagueness of the NGSS may be more problematic in the lower grades. A bigger long-term problem, as you point out, the omitted content at each of the lower grade levels accumulates over the years, snowballing into potentially large deficits for older students. Yes, districts may “fill in the gaps” in the NGSS, but they also may not and students who move from district to district may be in for an especially rude surprise when they find themselves without the background to do more advanced work in the upper grades. (Let alone at the college level.)

  19. Maria Simani said

    on April 28, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Thank you Mr. Bruno for your perspective as science educator to the NGSS. I appreciate the points you made which stimulate an interesting discussion.

    For the past few months the California Science Project (CSP) worked with a few hundred K-12 teachers across the state to provide feedback to Achieve during the public review of the NGSS.

    Overwhelmingly, the teachers were excited to participate in this review process and even more excited to see that at every new iteration of the NGSS documents their input and feedback was indeed taken into account.

    It was very clear to them that the new document was a challenge, but they also expressed strongly their positive vision for the new standards: 1) NGSS reflect how science is done in the real world by explicitly intertwining the three dimension of core ideas, practices and crosscutting concepts; and 2) NGSS focus on deeper and more coherent learning with a clear contextual application of content.

    The general agreement among teachers was that, in comparison to the California science standards, the NGSS are potentially transformative for classroom instruction as they explicitly indicate a way of learning that is through the science and engineering practices, a strategy that they know will engage more of their students in the science classroom. Furthermore, the learning progression outlined throughout grades K-12 will allow students to learn more complex ideas and achieve a more relevant core scientific literacy. In this, the crosscutting concepts are seen by the teachers as the real new trick to bring students to master new content by leveraging previously learned concepts across disciplines.

    Finally, our teachers were very pleased to see also an explicit correlation of NGSS with the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. These connection boxes would allow them to collaborate with other teachers at their schools as they synergistically reinforce students’ learning with the simultaneous acquisition of knowledge and skills.

    The call for adoption of NGSS is strong. The CSP will continue to provide voice and support to California teachers as they embark in analyzing further the conceptual shifts outlined in the New Science Framework and accomplished through the NGSS.

    Regarding the Fordham report, a different perspective is provided by Jack Hassard who analyzes the criteria with which the reviewers assessed the science standards for each state. Through this lens the Fordham report gets a D.
    http://www.artofteachingscience.org/2012/02/07/the-fordham-report-on-science-standards-flawed-invalid-deceptive/

    Regards,
    Maria

    • Demosthenes replied

      on May 24, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Shame on you, Dr. Simiani! You should know better.

      Learning progressions?? They took the learning progressions and stripped them. The key pieces for the learning progression on atomic molecular theory, and Newtonian motion, were removed. If you were part of the writing team, and if you know anything about the learning progressions, you should know that.

      For shame.

      As an intellectual exercise, please take a look back at those LPs, and then take a look at what was removed in the science. Define the key ideas in the progression that removed in the early elementary band, and never replaced in the NGSS.

      Sell out if you will, but please be honest about the science.

      • Ingrid Salim replied

        on August 11, 2013 at 9:06 pm

        Alright Demosthenes, if you are using this pseudonym referencing Ender you need to live up to the highly professional, rational and evidenced-based thinker that handle personified. Shaming someone in a blog comment? So unprofessional! Without having offered any creds, or any specific evidence? I very much hope you’re just some two-bit PTA parent without any experience in education, because if you are a scientists or education prof, who thinks she knows what the ‘key pieces in atomic molecular theory and Newtonian motion’ actually should be (and disagrees with all the rest of us)I’m very disappointed indeed!

  20. Mr. Lexington said

    on April 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    I teach in the trenches. 7th and 8th grade science. So I see students from 11 to 14 years old. No, I do not have a Phd in physics but I do have a pretty good concept of what an average child understands between these grades. The NGSS will blow kids out of the water. It will be like requiring all students to take algebra in 8th grade. How well has that worked? Sure some can, but most aren’t ready and end up repeating it in 9th grade. The intentions of the ngss are good, but we are going to turn kids off to science.

    • Brad Huff replied

      on April 29, 2013 at 10:53 am

      Mr. Lexington, I am curious why you object so strongly to NGSS.

      I agree requiring every 8th grader to take algebra has been a disaster.

      Ok, so I have a PhD in physics. I got it so I could teach physics teachers and science teachers at all levels. Middle school science is a key interest of mine, since having students in grades 7 and 8 become turned on to science is so important to their futures and ours.

      We tend to look with caution on changes that affect what we believe to be a successful curriculum and teaching style. Why do you think NGSS will turn kids off to science? It only will, if it turns you off to teaching science, in my opinion.

      • Demosthenes replied

        on May 24, 2013 at 10:57 am

        If the NGSS left the science the same way that it was in the Framework, there is no question that kids could do the physics, and do it starting in kindergarten. That was the Framework writers’ intentions.

        As we know, infants understand physics in significant ways. They get gravity, momentum, friction, and the idea that force can create change in motion. You don’t have to have a PhD to be able to teach these things to little kids. You just have to do it in the right order.

        Unfortunately, the folks who edited the Framework into the NGSS were not actually the people who you see listed. When I’ve called them up to ask them if they knew about changes to their text, they were quite surprised. And not in a good way.

        Look at the data.

  21. Adam Percival (@ampercival) said

    on April 28, 2013 at 11:42 am

    Hi Paul,

    I think you raise some interesting points. I would agree that California’s current state standards are among the strongest science standards currently in use in the US. I also agree that the NGSS are probably less clear than the current California standards in some areas, especially when it comes to what classroom teachers should be teaching on a day-to-day basis.

    However, there are some very good reasons for California to adopt the NGSS. I think your claim that the NGSS are attempting to draw clear distinctions between the core ideas, cross-cutting concepts, and science and engineering practices is actually counter to the intent of the NGSS and the K-12 framework on which they are based. The goal of the NGSS is to encourage an understanding of science that recognizes the exact interdependence of these aspects of science, just as you mention. The format of the current California standards doesn’t emphasize this in the same way, just like nearly all current state standards do not.

    Moreover, the K-12 Framework and NGSS are based on a significant amount of research conducted by the NRC and others into how science is best learned, and our best understanding of the most critical scientific concepts and at what grade levels these should be introduced. Without adopting the NGSS, California would need to independently revise its current standards to account for what we’ve learned about science instruction since the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy were drafted.

    As mentioned by other commenters, the integration of the NGSS with the Common Core standards for ELA and Math that California has already adopted is another strong argument for adoption of the NGSS over leaving the current standards in place.

    Because the NGSS are not as accessible to classroom teachers as previous sets of science standards, there will be some considerable work needed to help with this transition. But leaving current state standards in place would probably be a mistake in California, and would definitely be a mistake in the many states with much weaker science standards.

    • Demosthenes replied

      on May 24, 2013 at 10:52 am

      Percival,

      I notice that you also work for a company that stands to make money if California adopts the NGSS.

      Your website says “Common Core: Make the Shift with Us.” Your company sells professional development, curriculum and software to schools to improve scores on the common core.

      So it’s good for your pocket book if as many schools across the country adopt the NGSS. Then you only need to develop one model, but you can sell it at scale.

      If California doesn’t adopt the NGSS, then you can’t sell them the same product that you are selling to everyone else, right?

      I’m just wondering.

      Also, are you personally aware of the ways in which the NRC work was altered by Acheive, Inc. in creating the NGSS? Or is that part of your sales pitch?

  22. Nathan said

    on April 27, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Wow, this is just about the only webpage presenting even a hint of criticism of the NGSS and look who shows-up to defend it within minutes, the CSTA presidents and The California STEM Learning Network CEO. I’m amazed by the gushing and uncritical promotion of these standards by all the big societies and interest groups. Why isn’t there even a hint of uncertainty/criticism/evaluation in the blogosphere or from the societies even if just to help guide adoption and implementation (ie what are the weaknesses)? I get the feeling the NGSS were a forgone conclusion from the beginning and would probably have been supported by big interest groups and adopted by the states no matter what in the name of “nationalized standards.” Does or did the little guy really ever have a say in this, i doubt it?

    -A Teacher

    • Brad Huff replied

      on April 29, 2013 at 10:44 am

      The reason for the support by CSTA and the California STEM Learning Network CEO is not blind, uncritical promotion of the NGSS. A lot of scientists and science educators were VERY critical of the first draft of the standards, and we were given the opportunity to voice our criticisms and to make suggestions. Our voices were heard, and the second draft was much improved.

      And we criticized the second draft, too.

      So, the third and final draft has had the benefit of input from many many scientists and science educators.

      NGSS was NOT a foregone conclusion.

      Does or did the little guy have a say in NGSS? Absolutely. In fact, anyone could have had input online. Where were you then?

      • Demosthenes replied

        on May 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

        @Brad,

        Have you looked at the differences between the drafts?
        Do you know why the changes were made?
        Have you ever the specific science that was of issue?
        Have you compared the science in the Framework to the science in the NGSS?

        Really??? Or have you taken what has been said at face value?

        Given the amount of money to be made, by Achieve, Inc., the textbook publishers, NSTA (who will gladly sell you their texts on the NGSS and allow you to pay for their workshops!), and the many, many consultants who are setting up shop, there’s alot of money in this game. A Lot Of Money.

        And lots of reason to not be entirely honest about the whole business.

        If you were a company that wanted to make a lot of money on this thing, you would have to see it be adopted, especially by big states like California. So what might you do?

        If it were me, I would whip up a NGSS cult. Give teachers and scientists what they so infrequently get: a feeling of being special and respected. I would fly them into DC, I would hold meetings where they get to hobnob with Nobel Prize winners, I would make them part of the team. And I would keep them from actually knowing what was going on behind the scenes.

        There’s much reason to suspect that things are not as they seem. And the first red flag should be the unbelievable enthusiasm that is being shown by so many in the education community with regard to the standards.

        For my part, all I’ve ever seen are summaries…and we know within our societies that our changes were not adhered to with regard to the science. The scientific errors are still there…. And we know that some of the science was changed without external review.

        Conduct your own due diligence. Your a scientist. So don’t buy what’s being sold to you without looking at the data yourself.

        From what you’ve written here, I can tell that you haven’t. No physics PhD of honest character would hold with what they’ve done to the fundamentals of the physics. They gutted it while no one was looking.

        Everyone was so busy having cocktails, and having their egos stroked that they didn’t notice they were being pimped out.

        • Ingrid Salim replied

          on August 11, 2013 at 8:55 pm

          You do know that both NSTA and Achieve! are non-profit organizations…..

          I don’t really understand your argument, but it’s all over the place. But it seems to me that part of it is that NGSS isn’t perfect. Okay, I’ll grant that, though not for the reason that you cite as I can’t quite follow them, and wonder whether YOU have compared the framework with the standards, and exactly what you might have compared….they did will by my analyis. The point of this originaly blog was that the CA standards were just fine, highly rigorous, and not in need of replacing. That’s where you’re just wrong, and if multiple organizational voices (non-profit), teacher voices (CSTA represents that as well as CTA) then there isn’t really data we can agree ‘counts.’

  23. Manuel said

    on April 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Mr. Bruno made a provocative statement: ‘while the NGSS suggest that a third grader should be able to “use evidence to support an explanation,” his skill with that “scientific practice” will depend mostly on his knowledge of the phenomenon he is trying to explain.[...] he may nevertheless be unable to generate well-supported explanations about electronic circuits.’

    Is the NGSS recommending that electronic, let alone electric, circuits be explored in third grade? Really?

    So I went looking for the new standards and, having read the third grade standards, am happy to note that the relationship between resistance (R), inductance (L), and capacitance (C) will not be explored, what with the second order differential equation describing the time-dependent change of electrical charge in the circuit being a tad advanced for that cohort.

    I am, however, seriously concerned about the cavalier phrasing employed in the “Disciplinary Core Ideas” for third grade (2. 23 of the “DCI FINAL”). The paragraph states:

    “Electric, and magnetic forces between a pair of objects
    do not require that the objects be in contact. The sizes
    of the forces in each situation depend on the properties
    of the objects and their distances apart and, for forces
    between two magnets, on their orientation relative to
    each other.”

    Is this how real science should be taught to third graders?

    There is plenty to nitpick in this paragraph. So let me limit myself to the following: Absent an explanation on the concept of “action at a distance” central to electromagnetism (and gravity!) as well as understanding that “forces between two magnets” requires familiarity with vector products (i.e., F = qv x B), I don’t see how this is “doing something in science” as opposed to “memorize facts” as stated in the Next Generation Science Standards web site. True, students will probably have an entertaining demonstration employing magnets and/or charged balloons, which will help them better memorize the facts, but the students are not doing science. I honestly doubt that California is preparing its teachers to conduct full blown inquire-based exploration of electromagnetic concepts a la Mr. Faraday, who did not have the benefit of Mr. Maxwell’s Equations as simplified by Mr. Heaviside. Even if that were to happen, will there be enough classroom time given California’s preocupation on testing English and math for accountability purposes? I seriously doubt it.

    I’d love it if students actually did do explore these and other concepts in the manner of the pioneers in science. This will certainly drive home the fact that our present society stands on the shoulders of giants. But the phrasing in the above paragraph tells me that the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions.

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on April 27, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      @Manuel –

      To clarify, that particular passage of mine is not about the specific content of the 3rd grade NGSS. Rather, in that passage, I meant only to make a more general point about the relationship between knowledge and inquiry skills. I do, later, discuss the content 3rd grade standards, but that wasn’t the point of the passage you quote.

      • Manuel replied

        on May 2, 2013 at 9:44 am

        Fair enough, but given the way those standards are written, I would be rather careful on how I cite them.

        You are correct that the standards suggest the use of an inquiry method that leaves a lot of wiggle room. Who is to decide how much of the “evidence” is “valid?” And how will we know it is “valid?”

        I do, however, have an issue when you state “The more science a person knows, the easier it is to develop the (mistaken) idea that “science” is a single thing (or a few isolated things) you can be “good at” rather than a set of skills that can only be applied successfully in areas about which you are knowledgeable.”

        Perhaps you are talking about people with a Bachelor’s degree or less, but any scientist worth her/his advanced degrees will tell you that science is a way of interrogating nature, or, as you put it, “a set of skills,” that allow you to buil, principle by principle, “knowledge.” After expertise is gained, the skills remain and can be applied to another area. Ars longa, vita breve and all that. To ask, as the standards do, a third grader to use skills honed after years in the field is just unfair. It is also equally unfair to the teacher who now has to attempt to be sufficiently knowledgeable to guide her/his thinking as well as the students. Without a lot of professional development, this is asking for trouble.

        But what do I know? “Jim, I am not a teacher but a scientist!”

        • Ingrid Salim replied

          on August 11, 2013 at 8:48 pm

          Manual, I understand your discomfort with the idea that more science makes it easier to have the misconception that science represents isolated knowledge. I think that’s exactly how we’ve BEEN ‘teaching’ science, as a sort of open-the-head-pour-in-the content. What he’s suggesting, I think, is a deeply inquire-based approach, where what kids learn begins and ends with phenomena and trying to make sense of it. Through that approach, they really do begin to acquire the practices that you, a real scientist, use every day.

          And that brings me to the third graders. The standard that is listed is totally reasonable to expect third graders to infer IF presented with a lesson that allows them to experience and deduce that there is a relationship between force, mass, orientation and distance. Educators are just now beginning to design lessons that put phenomena in front of kids and lead them, somewhat socratically, through questions, experiments, thinking and finally reasoning to the very observations this standard points to. It almost follows an historical human pattern: magnetism was noticed, then observed closely by humans, and not until later mathematicians quantified the forces they observed were humans able to exploit them. But getting to that point begins with observation. Today, some kids might see magnets, might play with them, might make those connections. Many kids might never see them. Most will not be immersed in an experience designed to help them notice what they might not have noticed. My most sincere hope is that these standards from kindergarten up will provoke such a creation in curriculum design that solid lessons will be become available on the net long before publishers go through their normal process. We’ve never done it before, so it’s new, but I’m part of a grant-funded group working on just that right now, and we believe it is doable.

    • Demosthenes replied

      on May 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

      @Manuel,

      Here’s the rub. You noticed that gravity was not included in this standard…

      Now, go back to the Framework for the same standard. PS2.B. Gravity was in the original work done by the NRC committee.

      Where did it go?

      • Manuel replied

        on May 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm

        @Demosthenes, I did not even notice that. All I did was to focus on the third grade standards.

        If they left out gravity from any discussion, then this is doomed. Gravity is at the root of learning physics because it is so basic to human existence (and, yes, that is the first physical concept children discover, as you noted).

        Where did it go? I guess the final write committee did not think it was worthy of inclusion as it is sooooo basic! Or was it a case of traduttore traditore?

  24. TRISH WILLIAMS said

    on April 27, 2013 at 9:51 am

    Achieve has done extraordinary work in developing the NGSS in collaboration with scientists and educators all over the country and in responding to a massive amount of feedback, including from California, for almost two years. Now the NGSS are final.

    The National Research Council has said that this final version of the NGSS is aligned with their recommended Framework.

    The National Science Teachers Association has endorsed the NGSS: http://www.nsta.org/publications/news/story.aspx?id=59931

    The CSTA is endorsing the NGSS.

    Jonathan Osborne, professor of science education at Stanford, has stated in public commentary that he believes the NGSS will better prepare students for the new international PISA assessment.

    As one of the two CA State Board of Education’s liaisons to the NGSS work I have attended meetings of the CA review committee and am now attending meetings of the CA Science Expert Panel to review this final set of NGSS. One-third of the SEP are top of their field K-12 science teachers; others are equally knowledgeable scientists from business and higher ed, etc. Two nationally recognized scientists who both live in California, Helen Quinn, chair of the NRC Frameworks committee, and Bruce Alperts, UCSF science faculty and editor of Science journal, have both joined California’s SEP

    In other words, the NGSS final set standards is being vetted by CA individuals that are actively working scientists and K-16 educators who have deep knowledge of these standards and of whether they will better prepare all students (and thus CA’s future workforce) for a world and a time in which scientific and engineering knowledge and application is exploding.

    I will attend two more meetings of the CA Science Expert Panel to hear their deliberations. I am eager to hear their official recommendation, and that of the SPI, to the State Board of Ed at our July meeting as to whether the NGSS is right for CA’s students and should be adopted.

  25. Chris Roe - CEO, California STEM Learning Network said

    on April 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    The California STEM Learning Network concurs with comments made by CSTA leaders and by Brad Huff.

    In addition, we would point to other significant reasons why the state should pass new science standards, which were last updated in 1998.

    Among them, the NGSS build upon and reinforce important shifts taking place with the state’s adoption of Common Core Math and English Language Arts standards. Is so doing, they break down unnecessary and unnatural boundaries among these disciplines and will infuse more real-world relevance to science taught in our classrooms. And for the first time, they will include engineering as a key part of K-12 science education. In a state like California, with its preeminence in STEM fields that drive our economy, the importance of these shifts to our students and their futures cannot be understated.

    I should also remind the author that the process of developing the K-12 Frameworks started by benchmarking existing U.S. standards against those in the highest performing countries. In so doing, the Framework committee, which included practicing scientists, Nobel laureates, cognitive scientists, science education researchers, and science education experts, found that our standards needed to be more clearly and deeply focused on the big, central concepts that undergird science, which these standards have accomplished.

    The committee also found that U.S. students performed poorly compared to other countries, especially with respect to how they demonstrated the applications of science. If you talk to California employers and higher education leaders they will likely share with you the need addressed by the Next Generation Science Standards in this area, and how they can help ensure our students are both “college and career-ready.”

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on April 27, 2013 at 8:39 am

      @Chris – See my reply to Rick & Laura.

      Regarding your additional comments, note that my concern is not that the process by which the NGSS were drafted was somehow deficient or that the individuals involved did not have impressive credentials. Rather, my concerns are about the contents of the resulting document, which is difficult to read, vague, and gives a misleading impression of the relationship between knowledge and skills.

      I am not sure about the relevance of comparisons of student performance between countries. There are rather a lot of variables that affect student performance on those international assessments, and it is improbable that changing content standards will affect those results much.

      Also, while the CA state standards may very well deserve revision, scrapping CA’s strong existing standards seems a reckless way to handle that process. I see no reason why engineering standards, for example, couldn’t be integrated into CA’s existing standards. Losing considerable content clarity, breadth, and rigor to get a few engineering standards seems like a questionable and unnecessary trade-off. (And given that CA became such a STEM hub *without* these standards in place, I’m not clear why we’d worry that the state’s economic future depends on them.)

  26. Rick Pomeroy said

    on April 26, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    A survey of California science teachers (conducted by California Science Teachers Association of its members) indicate overwhelming support for Next Generation Science Standards.

    While there are many questions about the implementation process (professional development, assessment and timelines), teachers are excited to be able to delve more deeply into content and help students successfully do science.

    While the format of the new standards does take getting used to, it is not curriculum. It simply guides curriculum development and assessments. NGSS standards represent what all K-12 students should be able to demonstrate at the end of schooling. The California Science Framework has yet to be written. It is likely to be more straightforward to read and include the level of specificity and clarity that Paul Bruno doesn’t find in NGSS. It is the California Science Framework to which teachers will turn as they implement new standards.

    CSTA is pleased with the blend of disciplinary content, cross cutting concepts and the science and engineering practices as a way to prepare our students to enter the increasingly technological workforce of the 21st century.

    Rick Pomeroy – CSTA President
    Laura Henriques – CSTA President Elect

    • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

      on April 27, 2013 at 8:27 am

      @Rick & Laura –

      Thanks for the thoughts. I’m certainly aware that many teachers support the NGSS.

      My concern, however, is not that the NGSS are not popular. (If anything, I’m concerned that they *are* so popular!) Rather, my concerns are that they are difficult to read, vague, and give a confusing impression of the relationship between knowledge and skills.

      I understand that, as with existing standards, educational authorities at the state and local levels will still need to make curricular decisions to “fill in the blanks” (so to speak) of any new standards.

      This, however does not really address the issue of vagueness in the NGSS. It seems unwise to adopt such vague standards just on the promise that CA will eventually compensate with sufficiently clear frameworks at the state and local levels. This also seriously undermines the promise of meaningful assessments and comparisons between states.

      • Ingrid Salim replied

        on August 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm

        Paul, what are you thinking is a ‘vague’ performance expectation from the standards? I’ve perused all of them, from K-12, and have gone deeply into chemistry, physics and earth science. I don’t know exactly how I will get each student there, but I don’t find any of the expectations vague at all. Can you give an example?

        • Paul Bruno (@MrPABruno) replied

          on August 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

          @Ingrid – Most of the performance standards are vague. I gave two examples in the original piece: one from third grade and one from middle school. Those problems are replicated throughout the standards, however, and that seems to be a result of the authors systematically underestimating the importance of factual knowledge in higher-order thinking. I’m not sure how else to interpret their consistent failure to specify the factual knowledge that will be required of students.

  27. Brad Huff said

    on April 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I teach science in California and train science teachers in California. I have a PhD in physics. The Science Framework moves us to teach what science is rather than the old California Science Framework and Academic Content Standards in Science that persist in promoting the idea that science is a collection of facts.

    There are so many other problems with the current California Science Standards, despite a favorable rating from some sources that looked at the content, that I strongly support the adoption of the New Generation Science Standards.

    As someone who returned to graduate school so I would know what “doing science” is as opposed to teaching “about” science, the New Generation Science Standards capture the nature of doing science.

    I agree that the format is less than appealing, but guess what? Teachers do not have to plan their lessons from the Standards. The instructional materials presented to the California State Board of Education will have to be standards-based. They will supply the specifics for teachers whose backgrounds in science are weak. They will spell out for students clear descriptions. If they don’t they won’t be adopted.

    • Paul Bruno replied

      on April 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      @Brad – What are your complaints about the existing CA standards? I certainly have my problems with them, but they’re mostly quibbles. By-and-large I find them clear and rigorous.

      As for the “doing science”/”knowing science” distinction (which I think is what you’re getting at, I think what the NGSS illustrate is that that that distinction is more apparent than real. The NGSS attempt to describe “doing science” in isolation from “knowing science” and the result is that it’s quite unclear in many places what, exactly, students will or should be expected to do.

      Better, I think, to take the approach taken in the CA standards: articulate the investigation skills we want students to have, then lay out a comprehensive account of the content knowledge we want them to have so they can apply those skills successfully.

      • Ingrid Salim replied

        on August 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm

        Paul, I disagree with you as well. As a 23+ teacher of physical sciences, grades 7-12, I have absolutely no question that the CA standards, in accordance with the old framework, did a great job of teaching the WHAT. That’s what we mean by teaching ‘content.’ The new framework calls on us as educators to engage students in lessons that requires them to engage in those very real scientific practices, including modeling, and reasoning, and analyzing, that aren’t ever a part of the old expectations. You’re right: there was nothing ‘wrong’ with the old standards, if what you were trying to do was fill kids’ heads with ‘stuff.’ But that hasn’t worked out so well for us, and despite the A grade from the NEAP, our science scores on every formative assessment have borne that out. I do agree with you, the depth and complexity of the format is daunting. I’ve spent a year immersed in the practices already, and several months with the actual standards. But where you see ‘fuzzy,’ I see a very real and important nuance. Will every teacher teach well to these? Probably not. But for the many of us committed to helping students learn how to learn, how to think, how to invoke data and evidence and draw conclusions from them, these will help us on our way far better than the earlier standards did. They’re not a miracle drug, or a panacea, but there’s no question that they are far superior in suggesting how to get kids to understand the WHY of how the world works, rather than just the WHAT.

  28. John mockler said

    on April 26, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Nice to hear from a real teacher who teaches real students in California. He makes so much sense we should appoint him to the State Board of Education

    • Brad Huff replied

      on April 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      John, nice to hear your support for someone criticizing the complexity of the format of the New Generation Science Standards from the author of Proposition 98.

    • Paul Bruno replied

      on April 26, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      @John – Thanks. As it happens I’m on the job market while I wait for my district to formally offer us new hires jobs for next year, so a board appointment would be handy…

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