Before I begin discussing the Next Generation Science Standards, I want to take a moment to explain some of the background facts behind the organization that wrote these standards; Achieve, Inc. Achieve is proud of the fact that they are the only education reform organization that is led entirely by a board of Directors that is comprised solely of governors and business leaders. At this point, I have to ask…where are the educators in this process? Further information states that Achieve has been working on national education standards for 30 years. If things were not right for the past 30 years, why should New jersey be willing to sign on for additional standards from this organization? Achieve’s “Common Core Implementation Workbook” outlines a delivery system that was developed in 2001. To give the facade that these standards were state led, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers were enlisted to sign onto these standards with Achieve. Both of these organizations are trade-based associations that do not possess grant authority from any state to write any educational standards. The people connected to these standards through Achieve, as well as the Gates Foundation; a high financier of the standards both stand to gain a lot of money through the technology and software that is being and will be purchased as the further implementation of these standards is driven by the need to satisfy their greed. But they are not the only monetary benefactors of these standards. Textbook companies such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have created a new market for themselves in which textbook sales and testing contracts are increasing in numbers that have reached the millions.
The first question we should be asking is, “Does New Jersey need new science standards?”. If you look at the results of the Last PISA assessment, the answer may be yes. But PISA is a statistical test that contains inherent flaws. The methodology behind the PISA test is not exactly what one would think. First, individual students answer a minority of the problems. Then ‘plausible values’ are generated for all students based upon a statistical model. This provides an estimate about what might have happened, had the student answered all of the questions. This estimated data is then applied as if it was the result of a survey of all of the students. Then, to add to this process, there are only three states that participate in the PISA assessment. The room for statistical error in this process and the fact that this is not a proper use of representative sampling raises a lot of questions about the validity of the PISA assessment itself.
Taking a look at our state in the rankings of science curriculums, the Thomas B Fordham Institute rated our current set of science standards with a grade D rating. Yet the rating that they give to the NGSS is only a C. The first and foremost question that comes to my mind is, why are we recognizing the need for a new set of science standards, yet willing to adopt a set that only earns a C rating? Why not explore options that other states are using? California science standards rated an A and is noted as clearly superior. Virginia utilizes the TIMSS Framework that rates an A- and is also noted to be clearly superior. Why are we willing to quickly jump on board with a set of inferior standards?
The Fordham Institute explains why the NGSS rates only a C. The list of problems and shortcomings is outlined in there is outlined in their report “The Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards”. To summarize, they found three flaws within the set of standards themselves.
Flaw 1: Missing and implicit content: There are several topics of content that are not explicitly required in lower grades that is then assumed to have been understood and mastered for subsequent standards.
Flaw 2: The inclusion of assessment boundaries along with the standards: By including these boundaries for assessments, a limit is given to the higher-reaching material that may be taught as a part of the natural instruction of a course. In doing this, the needs of our high level learners may become impacted.
Flaw 3: The failure to include essential math content that is critical to science learning: With specific mention to physics and chemistry; there is a large gap of mathematical instruction that should also be provided as a part of science instruction that is inherent to the learning of these areas.
Looking at the term college-ready we have to ask how this relates to the NGSS. The Fordham Institute also gives an analysis of how well these standards meet this parameter. They make note that while the NGSS notes the fact that these standards will not prepare a STEM student for further advancement of study towards a career and will need to pursue additional coursework, there is no mention from NGSS about what should be included as an enhancement to NGSS to achieve this for our STEM students. The larger implication of this shortcoming is the fact that the adoption of these standards will not provide all of our students with the background information to make such a STEM career a possibility. The advantage of schooling in a higher economic area will segregate future science careers for those that could only afford to live in a district that can include the possibility of additional science instruction. The biggest lack of this is found in physics and chemistry; “…the physical science standards fail to lay the foundation for advanced study in high school and beyond, and there is so little advanced content that it would be impossible to derive a high school physics or chemistry course from the content included in the NGSS.” Warnings are given about the inclusion of Appendix K having a potentially harmful effect due to the fact that it is implied that the NGSS includes all of the content necessary for high school chemistry and physics courses when in fact, they do not.
Specific warnings were also given by the Fordham Institute that I would like New Jersey to pay special attention to. At a time where the state is struggling to fund and implement the Common Core math and Language Arts standards, we should be asking if it is really prudent to take on the implementation of yet another set of standards. It has become obvious that there are many issues with the current implementation process. But have we really sat back and examined what these issues are and what needs to be done in order to avoid making the same mistakes. In my mind, we have not. This session is an example of such. We have here a time that is only for public comment. Not a time for dialogue, not a time where educators are invited to sit at the table and offer suggestions, not any indication that we will even be heard, except as background noise, while decisions are made that directly impact our profession and the lives of our students.
On a personal note, I am not a science teacher. I attempted to take a look at the standards and dissect them for my own understanding before I wrote this testimony. I was unable to do this. The confusion that I felt at reading just the first few pages of this document was overwhelming. So I did what seems like the obvious solution. I asked one of the best science teachers that I know for help. His response when I asked him if he has had a chance to sit down and really examine the NGSS? “I tried. It is so confusing. I am going to need to take a training session to learn how to just read them, let alone how to implement them. They are just too confusing.”