January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Inquiry Instruction Is Not Cold Fusion

Posted: Sunday, April 1st, 2012

by Rick Pomeroy

In last month’s issue of eCCS I wrote to you about the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for science education and several issues that threaten the implementation of these opportunities. As I said in that article, the political and financial issues and actions of the State often negate or diminish the actual implementation of new, cutting edge curricula and technologies. These actions ultimately hurt our students’ chances of competing on the national and world stage as leaders in science and technology.

In this article, I want to bring to your attention another situation that, if not addressed, might be construed by some as an argument against the power of critical thinking, investigation, and scientific inquiry as tools for improving literacy. In a recent article published in the Imperial Valley Press, it was reported that Michael Klentschy, former Superintendent of Schools in El Centro, CA, and author of Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms*, plead guilty to falsifying research findings that reported significant increases in students’ achievement scores as a result of integrated instruction in science. At the time he reported these findings, Klentschy was lauded for finally demonstrating the positive link between inquiry based science instruction and student achievement.  He had published achievement data that, he claimed, clearly demonstrated that engaging students in inquiry instruction had a positive impact on science and achievement scores.  In many ways, he became the poster child for the type of science instruction that has been so lacking since the adoption of the current standards. Klentschy was lauded for his work. He presented at professional conferences (including CSTA), was recognized as a keynote speaker and received accolades and awards for his work. Many organizations, including CSTA, the Association of California School Administrators, and the National Science Education Leadership Association looked favorably on Klentschy’s findings, conveying honors and awards such as California Superintendent of the Year, and the Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award. Unfortunately, events of the past few weeks have shown that these accolades were based on a sham. Klentschy’s admission of guilt demonstrated how easily people can be fooled when a respected authority figure reports results that they want to hear. Klentschy’s inflated test results supported many science teachers’ beliefs in the value of inquiry instruction. Now that the truth is known, CSTA must move forward to heal the wound this realization has caused and develop strategies to educate our members on what is known about the connections between high quality science instruction and improving student literacy.

Though Klentschy’s fraudulent reporting of inflated achievement data doesn’t rank on the level of cold fusion or Hwang Woo-suk (the South Korean scientist who falsified his findings in the field of stem cell research), it still causes the science education community great pain and suffering. As advocates for high quality, student centered, science instruction, CSTA must continue to advocate for instructional practices that engage all students in science learning while supporting academic literacy.

So what are we to do?  We can accept that all of Klentschy’s work was a hoax and allow naysayers yet another tool to argue for the current standards, OR we can educate the decision-makers on the power and value of contextually-relevant science teaching.  We can educate ourselves, the parents and students we serve, and decision makers about current, peer-reviewed research on learning. We must not be tricked into thinking that all research is fraudulent and dishonest, keeping in mind that, by his own admission, Klentschy falsified his data and published claims that he could not make. We should honor research findings that support the link between high quality science instruction and gains in literacy and achievement through honest, reliable, and peer-reviewed sources.  The Framework for K-12 Science Education upon which the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are based is a good place to start. The Framework provides strong support for the premise that engaging students in science and engineering practices, core discipline content, and cross cutting concepts will promote scientific literacy that will prepare students for college or careers.

Over the next six to nine months, you will have several opportunities to interact with the NGSS.   In late April or early May, the first public draft of NGSS will be released for public review and comment. To prepare yourselves to participate in this process, I highly recommend that you review the Framework for K-12 Science Education. By reading the Framework, you will see that we have moved beyond Klentschy. The authors of the Framework have based their recommendations on over 80 published articles about the relationship between teaching and learning and described ways to better prepare students for college or careers. We should invest the time to educate ourselves to be prepared to make thoughtful recommendations on the form and substance of the NGSS and advocate for what we believe serves or students best.

In the coming weeks, CSTA will be passing along information about opportunities to participate in organized review sessions along with information on how to participate if you cannot attend a scheduled meeting. By joining with a wide range of science focused institutions, CSTA leadership hopes that California stakeholders will make their feelings and ideas known directly to the writers of NGSS.

* Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms was published by NSTA Press and as of press time had been removed from their on-line store while they work to verify the underlying data.

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is CSTA’s president.

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Written by Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy

Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California Davis.

One Response

  1. It should be noted that Klentschy did it for the money.
    It’s always about the $$$$!

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