Science Under Siege
by Rick Pomeroy
Just when we thought that there was a glimmer of hope for a new set of standards that would engage students in authentic and relevant inquiry based science, we must contend with three significant threats to science education. Due to be released for the first public comment on March 30, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), based on the Conceptual Framework for Science Education, promise a new and exciting view of science education. “The Framework is designed to help realize a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in science and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.” (Conceptual Framework, 2010). If the NGSS come anywhere close to this vision, it will be a significant step towards more science instruction that focuses on college and career readiness through critical thinking, problem solving, and active engagement. Given that the current standards, first published in 1998, focus primarily on content with little requirement for problem solving and critical thinking, adoption of the NGSS will change the landscape of science instruction. To accomplish such a paradigm shift will require significant effort and time. Teachers will have to rethink their approach to the curriculum, teacher preparation programs will need to retool to prepare teachers equipped to teach the new standards, new instructional materials will need to be created, and finally, new and different assessments and assessment methodologies will have to be created to insure full implementation of the NGSS.
Unfortunately, there are two pending legislative actions that could greatly inhibit the success of the implementation of any new standards. First, in his proposed budget for 2012-13, Governor Brown calls for the elimination of the mandate requiring a second year of science for high school graduation. Currently underfunded by $200 million, eliminating the mandate for the second year of science for graduation would be a step back to 1986 when the second year of science was added to the graduation requirements. Elimination of the mandate could be seen by low performing schools as permission to drop science classes and replace them with classes designed to boost standardized test performance. The second attack, at the federal level, involves current proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The proposed legislation that includes No Child Left Behind, calls for the elimination of all testing in science and the exclusion of science from AYP calculations. Though the current administration has promised to veto any proposals with this language, the message it sends, that science is not a key component of an educated child, speaks loud and clear. (Please note, this is a fluid process and one that changes often – CSTA is working closely with NSTA on this issue.)
The third threat, though more subtle, may be the most real of all. The recent Fordham Report, giving California Standards a grade of A, may give some decision-makers an opportunity to delay or avoid adoption of new standards all together. During difficult budgetary times, arguments could be made that if our standards are of A+ quality, there is no reason to make any changes. This attitude would leave California with standards that were authored in 1998, which do not adequately prepare students to enter colleges or careers in 2012.
Now more than ever, science teachers must be aware of the policies and politics that control the science content they teach. It is critically important that teachers make their voices heard. On March 30, the first public draft of the NGSS will be released. This will be a chance for every science teacher to review and comment on the standards that will form the foundation of the future of science education in California. At the same time, it is critically important that science teachers’ voices be heard both in Sacramento and Washington DC on policies that will impact science education far into the future. CSTA continues to represent science teachers whenever it can. Your participation and membership in your professional association can only strengthen the message that CSTA carries on your behalf.
Stay tuned to California Classroom Science for updates on all of these issues and more. I enc0urage you become familiar with the Conceptual Framework for Science Education, click here to get started.
Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is CSTA’s president.
by Jessica Sawko
2014 will be a very busy year for the Next Generation Science Standards in California. On November 6, 2013, the State Board of Education took action on the issue of the middle school learning progression that they had left undecided at their September 2013 meeting. Their decision was to accept the revised recommendation that California adopt the integrated model as developed by the Science Expert Panel (SEP) as the preferred model for California middle grades science instruction, and to reconvene the SEP to develop a discipline specific model based on the domain specific model in Appendix K. The SEP is meeting on December 4 and 5 to begin this task. Once the SEP completes their work (estimated March 2014) school districts will be able to evaluate both – and choose between the integrated and discipline-specific models based on which they think will best serve their students. No further State Board action will be required to adopt the alternative discipline-specific arrangement. I encourage you to read NGSS for Middle Grades: Tips for Implementation – Step 1, Don’t Rush for tips and information.
2014 will bring a number of opportunities for science teachers to become involved in the NGSS implementation process: Learn More…
by Jill Grace and Marian Murphy-Shaw
Since April 2013 when the national version of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) went public, California has been working at a steady pace to move from lead contributing state to active implementation. CSTA members and other readers of California Classroom Science may be the best informed educators in the state on NGSS at this time. This article is intended to aid middle grade teachers in communicating up-to-date information to your colleagues in science education and the educational leaders you work with.
The number one point which science education leaders, the California Department of Education (CDE), professional learning providers, and the NGSS Achieve group are all making is not to rush, there is no hurry, that 2016-17 is the probable target for full implementation. As with Common Core implementation, a sequence of events, resource preparation, policies, and teacher awareness and transition support will all occur over the next few years. Now that you can breathe again, here is a rundown of common questions and next steps to consider as you start the work towards toward NGSS implementation. Learn More…
by Susan Gomez Zwiep and Jody Sherriff
Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are integral to the development of new knowledge in science both by students in the classroom and by scientists in the field. The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA provide a new opportunity for science teachers to integrate ELA into science instruction in ways that mirror and support scientific thinking.
Consider this scenario: when you start a new unit about density and buoyancy think about what activity or series of observations might engage your students’ curiosity. As you introduce the unit, the goal is not to “teach” but rather, to get students talking so you can assess their prior knowledge. If you are someone who typically begins by reading part of the textbook or reviewing important vocabulary, resist these urges for now and instead start immediately with a hands-on activity. Learn More…
My First Science Conference…How Did I End Up Here? Reflections of a Non-Science Person Teaching Elementary Science
by Cheryl Romig
OK, so here’s my dirty laundry. I actually chose my major in college based on the number of science classes I would have to take. I can vividly remember lying on the dorm floor, college course catalog spread out in front of my freshman year, counting science classes and crossing off potential majors if I had to take more than two. That was my limit… two classes in four years would surely send me over the edge. Learn More…
In this past month the newspapers, magazines and television shows have been commemorating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Kennedy inspired a generation to volunteer, to do for others and to give back to their nation. He asked Americans to step-up and to do more. As we remember and celebrate that spirit of serving, I ask you to consider what you can do for science education.
Over the past couple of months CSTA has been promoting opportunities for you to become more engaged in California science education. I have talked to people who have applied to serve on the California Department of Education’s Instructional Quality Commission and the Framework Focus Groups. Lots of you have thought about the workshop proposals you will submit for the 2014 NSTA Long Beach Area Conference – in Collaboration with CSTA! (Remember that the deadline for submission is January 15, 2014.) Learn More…