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.


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  1. Mr. Lexington says:

    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.

    1. Brad Huff says:

      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.

      1. Demosthenes says:

        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.

  2. 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.

    1. Demosthenes says:

      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?

  3. Nathan says:

    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

    1. Brad Huff says:

      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?

      1. Demosthenes says:

        @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.

        1. Ingrid Salim says:

          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.’

  4. Richard Moore (@infosherpa) says:

    Is there a problem producing enough STEM-educated students at sufficient performance levels to supply the labor market?

    http://www.epi.org/publication/bp359-guestworkers-high-skill-labor-market-analysis/

  5. Manuel says:

    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.

    1. @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.

      1. Manuel says:

        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!”

        1. Ingrid Salim says:

          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.

    2. Demosthenes says:

      @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?

      1. Manuel says:

        @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?

  6. TRISH WILLIAMS says:

    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.

  7. 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.”

    1. @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.)

  8. Rick Pomeroy says:

    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

    1. @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.

      1. Ingrid Salim says:

        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?

        1. @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.

  9. Brad Huff says:

    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.

    1. Paul Bruno says:

      @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.

      1. Ingrid Salim says:

        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.

  10. John mockler says:

    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

    1. Brad Huff says:

      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.

    2. Paul Bruno says:

      @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…