NextGenSciStandards-logoCalifornia became the sixth state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards with the unanimous approval Wednesday by the State Board of Education. The Board, however, has not yet adopted a timeline for implementing them.

Like the Common Core standards, their counterparts in English language arts and math, the new science standards stress problem solving, critical thinking and finding common principles or “cross-cutting concepts” that engineering and various fields of science share. They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas over memorization in the hope that more students will become intrigued by science.

The new standards offer “more explicit connections between learning in a classroom and what lies beyond school,” Sheryle Bolton, CEO of the San Diego-based science education company Sally Ride Science, told the State Board. “They show how STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can be fun and engaging and offer fulfilling careers.”

Two years in the making, the new standards were the work of teachers, academicians and experts from two dozen states. They were endorsed by the California Science Teachers Association, the California STEM Learning Network, an 80-person state review team and a Science Expert Panel that includes Stanford physicist Helen Quinn.

Even some supporters, however, expressed concern over the timing of the new standards. Sherry Griffith, interim assistant executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, said that teachers, already consumed by the new Common Core standards, may be “overwhelmed” at the prospect of taking on new science standards as well. She suggested phasing them in.

State Board member Aida Molina agreed. “We need to invest in teachers and roll out the standards in a thoughtful way.”

There is no timeline now for implementing the standards or for writing new assessments, perhaps in conjunction with other states. This year’s state budget contains no extra money for training teachers in the new standards, and the State Board must now appoint a committee to write the curriculum frameworks that will elaborate on the standards.

Phil Lafontaine, the state Department of Education’s point person for the standards, will present an implementation plan to the State Board in coming months. The State Board put off a related decision until its next meeting in November: whether instruction of  the new standards in middle school should continue to be taught by discipline – earth sciences in 6th grade, life sciences in 7th and physical sciences in 8th – or reconstituted in new integrated courses. At three regional forums, many middle school teachers said they opposed an integrated approach, though the state’s Science Expert Panel is recommending it.

John Fensterwald covers state education policy. Contact him or follow him @jfenster.

 


Filed under: Featured, Quick Hits, STEM

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  1. Manuel says:

    I was once told by a French researcher who does extensive collaborative work in Japan and the US that the reason why US universities were better was because students in the US are allowed much freedom to explore while other countries were much more rigid in their approach.

    This is indeed true as in other countries students are not supposed to challenge the authority of their elders, particularly if they have control over their apprentices’ professional lives.

    I doubt that China will ever relinquish its 6,000 years of doing things (“Heaven is high and the Emperor is far away”). It will never develop a university system that can drive open-ended research, IMO. It doesn’t mean that they won’t try.

    BTW, somewhere I read that China is starting to rethink their reliance on standardized testing. Also, there are reports in the popular press that their university system is already cranking out graduates who can’t find jobs and their best and brightest are making more money selling barbecued pig’s feet at a street corner than at a regular job. Ah, the irony. (It could, of course, be propaganda to make us think it is not so bad here in the good ol’ US of A.)

  2. John-Henry says:

    We are already in peachy shape teaching K-12 in science?
    Ok, then look at the numbers. Out of 34 countries studied, United States ranked 17th in K-12 science. The National Report card ranks California 47th out of the 50 States in K-12 science; which ironically leads the Country (well possibly tied with NY) in STEM jobs at 18%…. which means Californians probably aren’t getting those STEM jobs.
    Granted our Country’s crown jewel, our university system, is still top in the world; no one even comes close to our university system. However, China is in the middle of an economic change-over. Factory jobs are geared to be all gone within ten years and moved to India and elsewhere (if not China’s economy will implode). China is gunning for our White Collar jobs, and having the World’s corporate headquaters centered there… their first way to do this? Create a university system that betters ours, and they are building this up fast.

    CA’s current standards have an “A+” rating? Sure we can keep patting ourselves on the back all we want, but a storm is coming, and will we be prepared?
    Granted maybe these NGSS aren’t the solution, or maybe they are, but at least it is movement from what has not been working.

    JHC

    Background: Physics, chem, Earth science HS teacher, that was in the Marine Corps for ten years.
    and from my opinion, the NGSS at least look MUCH better than the current standards… but like much else, its not the Standards that are so important, its how they will be assessed and how those assessments will be used to make decisions about school and teacher futures.

    1. Gary Ravani says:

      JHC:

      You must be old enough to recall the charges leveled at the K-12 system in A Nation at Risk in 1985. At that time Japan was supposed to eat our economic sushi because their science and math scores on international test were so much better than ours. Five years later Japan went into a recession that have yet to emerge from though their scores are still better than ours. Five years later the US went through one of the greatest economic expansions in history. (Our 2007 recession had nothing to do with education per se. (Though the ethics instruction in our schools of business education might be looked at.) So what is the indicated correlation between international test scores and real world economic competitiveness? None. Those test scores tell us a lot about children’s well being and the negative consequences of an obsession with narrow standardized tests, but that’s about it.

      About the latest threats from China: I would suggest there is a historical tendency to always see some huge threat coming from the East that is best captured by the historical trends described by Richard Hofstadter in his “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” China has great potential, perhaps outweighed by its rigid political system, huge numbers of poor, and dire environmental issues. You are right that China is trying to reform its education system. China is trying to make its (whole system not just the universities) education system like ours was before we narrowed the focus to standardized test results. Some irony there.

      About NAEP scores in CA. You may have noticed that since the mid-90s CA has been highly focused in Math and ELA and API “accountability.” Science as well as the arts and history/social science have suffered. Then you add in funding per child at 49th in the nation and the highest numbers of English language learners and you have “trouble in River City.” Of course you look at SAT and ACT scores and they, reflecting education for the more affluent, are doing just fine.

      So, for science education at least nationally, “peachy” it is.

  3. Hcat says:

    Do the standards include “teach the controversy”? An important part of the Darwinian paradigm, the idea that evolution is totally unguided and can explain absolutely everything, is looking pretty problematic nowadays. (Note I didn’t say evolution, period.

  4. Manuel says:

    OMG…

    Call the media!! The End of the World is Near!!!

    I am in agreement with Ze’ev about the NGSS!!

    No, I have not read that Fordham thingy. I read the standards themselves and I am appalled by their disconnect with reality. And this is my professional opinion since the UC Board of Regents did grant me a Ph.D. in physics!

    Oh, well…

    NB: I don’t see much cheerleading here other than “They emphasize scientific thinking and big ideas over memorization in the hope that more students will become intrigued by science.” I think John is quoting from the press release and I don’t believe it is a capital offense. OTOH, John should have referred to the copious comments on the contrarian commentary on NGSS posted by Paul Bruno back in April. Plenty of the commenters agreed with Mr. Bruno for various reasons all worthy of discussion. But let’s give John the benefit of the doubt: this is a “quick hit,” not a “report and analysis.” So, John, when is the big report coming out? Maybe you can ask any of the commenters in Bruno to give you a hand and/or juicy quotes! ;-)

    1. John Fensterwald says:

      Manuel: Thanks for the benefit of the doubt. You’re absolutely right: I should have linked to Paul Bruno’s fine op-ed for EdSource Today, which captured a classroom teacher’s reservations and criticisms of the new standards. And it did generate an abundance of excellent comments from readers, some of whom shared and some of whom disagreed with Paul.
      The Quick Hit came at the end of a long day, after writing at length about the testing issue. Not an excuse, just the reality of the biz: write short or ignore the other big event of the meeting: the passage of new standards.
      The issue of how middle school science should incorporate the new standards returns to the board in November. I’ll be turning to that, if not returning to the overall standards.

  5. Gary Ravani says:

    The following is a link to a Diane Ravitch article re Fordham and NCTQ. Ravitch was, after all, a former member of Fordham.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-what-is-nctq-and-why-you-should-know/2012/05/23/gJQAg7CrlU_blog.html

  6. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    Well, congratulations to the geniuses on the State Board for imposing yet another foolishness on California! And congratulations to John Fensterwald for completing his conversion from a discerning observer of California education into its mindless cheerleader!

    So the most John finds of concern is the timing. How profound!

    I guess the fact that even the Fordham Institute, one of the biggest supporters of national standards, gave them a C grade (for “crappy,” if you will) is too unimportant to mention. That the existing Calif. standards have rated an A+ is also unworthy of bringing up. That those “Next Generation” standards exhibit an “acute dearth of math content, even in situations where math is essential to the study and proper understanding of the science that students are being asked to master. Also problematic is the alignment of NGSS math with the Common Core State Standards for mathematics” (Fordham’s words) is glossed over and replaced by gushing over the supposedly new stress on “critical thinking.” As if the current standards lacked them.

    Hey, we can always survive on living off young well-educated immigrants. They already fill half or more of many graduate STEM programs in this country and an increasing fraction of our undergraduate programs.

    Here is the link to Fordham report on the Science Standards. Read it and weep. For California; for our state board; and for John.

    http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/final-evaluation-of-NGSS.html

    NB For John’s benefit, I had nothing to do with our current science standards.

    1. Gary Ravani says:

      Ze’ev continues in his crusade to give all the benefits of “fair and balanced” critiques of education policy from the likes of the Hoover Institution and now Fordham.

      1. Manuel says:

        Gary, I just read the first 15 pages of the Fordham report and skimmed the rest.

        I regret to inform you that I did not read any sentence where there was a clear ideological ax to grind. Perhaps you might find some. If you do, please point them to me so I can learn to be more discerning. (There is mention of a standard referencing to global warming but I did not see it as political. Rather, it called for a better understanding of the science involved, which should, in my opinion, actually make you a strong believer on the scientific consensus.)

        1. Gary Ravani says:

          No problem, Manuel.

          Let me just quote a line from the Ravitch article: “NCTQ was created by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 2000. I was on the board of TBF at the time. Conservatives, and I was one, did not like teacher training institutions.”

          Fordham, like Hoover, is undeniably a conservative organization that looks at policy issues through a certain lens. I find it a simplistic and distorted lens. Analyzing complex issues like the new science standards or state standards in general and then reducing the analysis to letter grades seems more like an effort to produce something attractive to the popular media, aka “propaganda,” than it does to serious commentary on education policy issues.

          The introduction to the Fordham study is done by Checker Finn, a long time conservative “general” in the various education wars and a consistent critic of public education. It frames the discussion of the science standards with all of the canards about poor performance on the NAEP and international tests. It’s the same basic message in the long debunked A Nation at Risk. To my eye, that’s as big an “axe” as is necessary.

          The arguments over the science standards seem based on the age old battle of the constructivists v. the basic skills philosophies. If you, and Ze’ev, fall on the basic skills side that’s OK. It just shouldn’t be presented as if that side of the argument was delivered from on high on stone tablets. It’s being publicly articulated by Fordham.

          About science education/competitiveness/whatever in the US compared to the rest of the world: US scientists have won almost 50% of the Nobel awards in science-ever. Most of the top universities in the world for science are here in the US. It appears you graduated from one. Science as an intellectual pursuit in the US is in just peachy shape. My read of the new standards is, they are likely to make science more interesting to a broader audience who, should they choose to, pursue a more intense education in the subject in high school and college.

          1. Ze'ev Wurman says:

            Gary deprecates Fordham and Checker Finn. Yet Checker Finn and Fordham are extremely strong supporters of the Common Core. So when even they judged the “next generation” science standards to be mediocre and disappointing, one should pay attention. Reading the review of Appendix L there makes one weep in frustration.

          2. Manuel says:

            Gary, I have no idea, honestly, whether or not I am in the “basic skills philosophies” camp. All I know is that what I read on the NGSS is simply appalling to me as a “working physicist.”

            As I stated in the comments in the Bruno commentary, I found the approach to be lacking in delivering science and, without a major overhaul on professional development, our current teacher corps won’t be able to achieve much.

            It just so happens that Ze’ev this time is right and it is unfortunate that Fordham is leading the charge against the NGSS (“a broken clock…”). As I said, I did not find anything political in the paper. You probably haven’t (or maybe you just don’t want to waste your time on something coming from them) and, instead remind me that they are behind NCTQ, whose reports I’ve read and find to have more holes than the proverbial Swiss cheese. Yes, NSTQ has no right to call itself a research organization. They are hacks.

            Would you say that Bruno is a Fordham toady because he doesn’t believe NGSS can cut it? What about all those others that also complained about NGSS?

            As for the state of science in the US, I am sorry to give you the bad news but the bean counters are at it and they want to change things. In my own field, there is no more support for basic research. A friend in particle physics tells me that he was told by friends in Washington “have you considered doing something else?” Friends in space physics have been denied funding and are in the verge of closing down important ongoing research and likely retiring as soon as possible. And it is not just in physics: 20% of biochemists are thinking of leaving for Europe because of budget cuts made worse by sequestration. This is a golden opportunity to change the way science has been done in the US, or so think certain sectors. And it is even happening in Russia: Putin wants to dismantle the Academy of Sciences. The bottom line is that people like me were, in essence, lied to: it was implied that we would have government-sponsored research forever and, if we did not get a job in academia, there will be plenty of jobs in industry made possible, again, by federal sponsorship. Well, that’s over and the business model is being rethought (yes, the invisible hand of the market wins again!). What we are seeing in public education is being reciprocated in higher education and the post-graduate world, albeit you won’t hear about it because when scientists grumble the rest of the population tells us to get real jobs. Ha!

            One last anecdote: a friend, who has been a physicist for 13 years for a large defense contractor, tells me his company has essentially no technical staff and he is one of the few left. Most work is done by contractors, who have no historical memory. His outlook is so dire that he got his daughter to drop from physics and go into Middle Eastern studies under the premise that the CIA will always be hiring analysts.

            Obviously, science is not in just peachy shape. And that is my professional opinion. I think I could even call it expert testimony ;-)

            1. Gary Ravani says:

              Manuel:

              You took a slightly different tack on science than i was thinking of, and that’s the usual accusations that education itself has diminished the numbers or quality of students in the sciences. From your comments i can see that the number of positions available in say physics have gone away. And that no doubt is true. The US is likely producing more “science” (and engineering) majors than most of industry can/will support. In some technological positions numbers may be declining because students are aware that industry is more interested in employees that will work at a certain price and, as a result, we get accusations about the system not producing “enough” qualified graduates. Hence we also get tech industries focus on specialized visas for individuals from other nations who will work at what industry wants to pay.

              I can appreciate your comments. Re the NGSS it appears most science teachers (at least those represented by science teacher organizations) believe that the NGSS will inject more real thinking into science curriculum.

              1. Manuel says:

                Gary, I hope you are right.

                From where I sit, though, there is an enormous distrust of science because, surprise, science is presented as arcane and not for the “regular people.” We don’t help matters by forcing teachers, who themselves are afraid of science, to teach science in elementary schools without sufficient and appropriate professional development. By the time a kid makes it to middle school, s/he has been conditioned to think that science/math is for a few, not the many. Why is it that so few people can understand educational budgets if they think they are soooo complicated? It’s just pluses and take-aways!

                Then we are unwilling to pay a reasonable wage to those who are trained in science to teach it in secondary schools. No, I am not saying that only those who are in the Ph.D. track should be the only ones to teach science, but if the private schools see the value of it, why can’t we in public schools do the same? Oh, wait, it is too much money, so instead of teaching, let them go get a real job!

                True, we might have too many in the pipeline, but the reality is that industry is unwilling to train their workers. A Ph.D. does not automagically confer the ability to do any work. All it means is that the holder has managed to study a particular subject in sufficient depth to convince the committee that s/he deserves the guild (or is it union) card. In other words, they can do, ideally, independent research. Hence, industry wants to bring someone who has already been trained under an H1B visa. Why not? They get a more compliant worker as has been attested by many a displaced software engineer.

                Anyway, enough of my grousing on this particular direction…

              2. navigio says:

                oh, were education budgets merely pluses and takeaways… you need to layer on top of that a distrust of transparency and a ‘leave-it-to-the-specialists-mentality’ driving the desire to obscure..

            2. el says:

              Lest anyone think Manuel’s words here are hyperbole, I can verify that my network is full of the same stories. Sequestration is going to shut down a lot of labs for good and possibly bump quite a lot of Ph.D.s out of research completely. And no one wants to hire a STEM Ph.D. for a lesser job… because they’re overqualified.

              When you hear handwringing about American kids not going into STEM fields… perhaps they’re just good at reading market signals.

              I have a handful of friends with various elite STEM degrees who are working as artists. Think of that next time someone tells you we should drop the arts from schools.

              I’m a believer in the beauty of science and I think sometimes school crushes it into meaningless facts instead of the joy of discovery. It is valuable for its own sake, and because of the way it trains the mind into a curious observer, rather than because of its vocational possibilities.

              1. Gary Ravani says:

                Manuel:

                I’ll take your word on what your perspective is from one holding a Phd. On the other hand, I taught for 31 years at the middle school level and I have a very different perspective on how students (and teachers) approach science and Math at that level. I should say try hard to approach the subjects because that gets interfered with by state standards, scripted curriculum that takes the thinking and joy out of teaching and learning, and management obsessed with not standards but standardization of instruction. Not to mention test scores. But teachers and kids do it in spite of the system.

                Recall that our state standards were declared (A) “world class” by groups like the Fordham Foundation who wouldn’t know “world class” of it bit them on the ventral orifice. If anyone was interested in world class they would look at the much admired high performers in the world (Finland & Singapore) and try and model education on what they do. Problem with that is, neither country is obsessed with high stakes tests or mass firings of teachers. Finland, and other high performing northern European countries, also have this uncomfortable belief that you have to eliminate childhood poverty and provide supports for kids and parents. We are firmly committed to children having the “liberty” to wallow in poverty. Not much “world class” about that.

              2. navigio says:

                We are still tops (more or less) in GDP. I expect that takes priority over kids.

                I wish Hanushek would do a study on what poverty costs us, and whether it is worth it.

              3. Manuel says:

                Gary, I can’t help to remind you that your teaching is in the past. I am talking about what is happening to graduates right now. It could be argued that it is just a swing of the pendulum. But I don’t think we have had swings this bad before. Plus they have changed their business model so we are in a completely different attractor.

                As for emulating Finland, I finally got curious to see how many kids Finland educates. There is an official web site, http://www.stat.fi/til/kou_en.html that has many reports on Finnish education. Since English is the lingua franca of Europe, they have English versions of the reports.

                First thing you notice is that their compulsory education (what they call “comprehensive”) ends at the ninth grade. The most recent report tells me that the total number of students in 2012 in this system was 539,545 kids. Yes, their entire country is smaller than Los Angeles County in population. And all these kids are distributed among 2,789 schools. That’s an average of 200 kids/school.

                They report having 177,764 kids in grades 7-9. Let’s take a leap of faith and assume the cohorts are the same in size: 59,250 kids. Are all of them going into the college pipeline, the post-comprehensive school education? I was unable to find info on this, but I did find that they conferred 13,100 bachelors degrees in 2012. Given these rough numbers, I’d say they don’t have “college for all” as we are pretending to do here in LAUSD.

                Given these numbers, is it any wonder they are doing way better than us? Imagine how easy it is to run a school where you are well paid and the number of students is smaller than your average US elementary! And when you add in the social services the state provides as well as their social homogeneity, well, comparing ourselves in education as a nation to Finland is like comparing apples to gorillas. Or blue whales. Or whatever. The comparison is simply not meaningful.

                And, no, I don’t want to dig the numbers for Singapore. I am sure the comparisons would be equally ridiculous.