September 2014 – Vol. 27 No. 1

Science Under Siege

Posted: Thursday, March 1st, 2012

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.

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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 and is past president of CSTA.

7 Responses

  1. It is a shame that mathematics and language arts, which, although VERY important tools, have taken center stage, especially in the elementary grades, thus dramatically reducing the focus on science. How much better it would be if they were taught in the context of science and social studies. I am hoping that the new science framework and the Common Core standards help to see this realized. I was actually shocked to see that our governor, for whom I voted, has so little insight into the importance of being scientifically literate.

  2. Rick is right about keeping an eye on progress. . Some of the same forces, politely called “mischief makers” back in the development days of The California Science Standards, 1998, appear to be in play today. Many national and state scientific society leaders considered and reported our 1998 California Science Standards to be a disaster for developing our childrens’ science literacy and volunteered to reviseit for free. Their offer was rejected.

    The recent Fordham report’s accolades appear to be influenced by some familiar 1998 behind the scenes people. Sometimes it’s important to know history so as not to repeat it. We need now to have the high quality of science learning promised to our children by the New Generation Science Standards.

  3. Rick and Bonnie are right. Watch and pay close attention. The 1998 Science Content Standards might have looked very different from the version that was finally adopted, and I (along with a few others) attribute much of the mischief that transformed education … first in California and then later in the rest of the country … to seemingly small power plays, some out in the open, but others just under the radar. A little history lesson might be of use. I can help if anyone wants to take the lead.

  4. Scott – Christine Bertrand wrote a standards history piece back in 2009, you can access it here: http://www.cascience.org/csta/pdf/standards%20history.pdf.Might be a good place for folks to start…

  5. Christine wrote a nice P.C. history. The mischief however was sometimes intense, and unfortunately sometimes successful. Much more lies between the lines of the 2009 CSTA article. Similar attempts are bound to be made this time.

    “Sunshine” should be P.C. this time. We sometimes hesitate to report until the deck is stacked. Intimidation is sometimes experienced. CSTA and our friends in the scientific community can help keep the development of the NGSS in the best interests of our California kids.

  6. Susan, Bonnie, and Scott,

    Thank you so much for your comments about this article. I wish I could have reported today that the reauthorization of ESEA had included an amendment that would leave science testing as it was (at least this was not a loss) but alas, the amendment was withdrawn this morning and the bill is moving forward without science. There was a good account of this in the NSTA Express which can be found at the following URL
    http://science.nsta.org/nstaexpress/nstaexpress_2012_03_05_legupdate.htm

    As we move forward I am committed to doing everything I can to facilitate a wide spread review of the NGSS, by stake holders in California, to insure that our input is included . Unfortunately, the previous Standards adoption was heavily impacted by a small group of people. If we mobilize as many of our constituency as possible, I hope that it will be impossible to approve standards that are different than those supported by people who have seen and support the NGSS.

    We look forward to working with you and any of our members to develop as rich an understanding of the NGSS and the Conceptual Framework as possible.

  7. [...] Science Under Siege [...]

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