Trekkie Standards for Science – The Standards

3 Jul

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are awful. Do not adopt these standards. Corporate “Mad Men” gave them a name conjuring up the heroic images of Gene Rodenberry’s science fiction television series “Star Trek the Next Generation,” but they are really solely about pecuniary interests and power. If your state did adopt them reverse that disastrous course immediately. These misguided science standards are the pinnacle of “corporate education reform” whose theories of pedagogy are informed by profit incentive and theories of disruption.

The worst part about these standards is that they are not the real standards. The real standards are going to be written by testing corporations when they create the summative assessments for “accountability.” The NGSS are the universe of standards from which the subset of tested real standards will be taken. Once school leaders and teachers know the tested standards that will determine their future and the survival of their schools, they will focus on them like a cat after a bird.

Paul Bruno a middle school science teacher critiqued the NGSS for EdSource in April 2013 when the final draft was released. He wrote, “The most immediately striking weakness of these new science standards is that they are difficult to read. Indeed, the standards are so difficult to decipher that at various times the drafters have released a 2 ½ minute instructional video and a 5-page set of written directions to aid in interpreting them.”

This point keeps being reinforced. On June 25, 2015 NGSS released another “evidence statement” which notes “The evidence statements are intended to identify clear, measurable components that, if met, fully satisfy each performance expectation (PE) described within the NGSS.”

In Bruno’s 2013 article he makes other cogent points about the weaknesses in the NGSS; writing:

“In reality, a student’s ability to engage successfully in a ‘science practice’ is likely to depend first and foremost on his related scientific knowledge. So while the NGSS suggest that a third grader should be able to ‘use evidence to support an explanation,’ his skill with that ‘scientific practice’ will depend mostly on his knowledge of the phenomenon he is trying to explain. A family background in gardening may allow him to proficiently marshal evidence to support an explanation about plant growth, but he may nevertheless be unable to generate well-supported explanations about electronic circuits.”

The NGSS is a new theory of science education. It divides all of science into 13 core ideas which are all addressed in grade spans; kindergarten – 2nd grade, 3rd grade – 5th grade, 6th grade – 8th grade and high school. The same core ideas are repeated at each grade span.

To Bruno’s point, each disciplinary core idea (DCI) is associated with “scientific practices” and “crosscutting concepts.” Skills are emphasized over knowledge with the inherent view that the skills will easily transfer between core ideas. This is probably wrong and of course it has never been piloted because in the Procrustean world of “corporate education reform” speed is of the essence and if a few eggs are broken so be it.

In January, 2015, Peter Bishop, physics and math teacher extraordinaire, studied the NGSS over winter break. He came to our AP physics teachers meeting with some observations and concerns. Like any Annapolis man who served as an officer in the US Navy, Peter looked unflinchingly at what we are facing and identified some issues that we should address.
He spotted this in NGSS Appendix D:

“…Successful application of science and engineering practices (e.g., constructing explanations engaging in argument from evidence) and understanding of how crosscutting concepts (e.g., patterns ,structure and function) play out across a range of disciplinary core ideas (e.g., structure and properties of matter, earth materials and systems) will demand increased cognitive expectations of all students. Making such connections has typically been expected only of “advanced,” “gifted,” or “honors” students The NGSS are intended to provide a foundation for all students, including those who can and should surpass the NGSS performance expectations. At the same time, the NGSS make it clear that these increased expectations apply to those students who have traditionally struggled to demonstrate mastery even in the previous generation of less cognitively demanding standards…”

Peter’s response to this:

“How will this affect our instruction? In the statewide 2013 CST report, 40% of Algebra students were Far Below or Below Basic. Only 16% of the Physics students fell in these categories. The numbers are similar for Chemistry (21%) and Bio (18%). If we can take performance in Algebra as a reasonable metric to predict performance in science courses which require mastery of basic Algebra skills we can expect a dramatic increase in low scoring students.”

The design of NGSS is to start the standards with kindergarten students and the next year’s standards build on to the previous year’s development. By 6th grade students are supposed to: model the hydrologic cycle, report on global warming and other issues, understand the kinetic theory of temperature, work with theories of entropy, understand kinetic energy, and more. Even if the apparent belief that the rate of human development can be altered by these awesome standards is true, high school students for nearly a decade will not have the prerequisites to succeed. Today’s students are set up to fail just like the common core has set up math and English students to fail.

There are other voices across America speaking harshly about this new theory of science education. Heather Mac-Donald writing for the National Review said:

“Those standards, developed by educrats and science administrators, and likely to be adopted initially by up to two dozen states, put the study of global warming and other ways that humans are destroying life as we know it at the very core of science education.

“The New York Times reports that the standards’ authors anticipate the possible elimination of traditional classes such as biology and chemistry from high school in favor of a more ‘holistic’ approach. This contempt for traditional disciplines has already polluted college education, but it could do far more damage in high school.”

In the spirit of Lynn Chaney, Heather seems to detect a liberal college professor type conspiracy in the standards. I always find this stuff entertaining but I do see her point about citizens losing any influence over what is taught in local schools.

Doctor Stephen Uzzo from New York is concerned with the statements in NGSS. He says:

“They make sweeping and overreaching statements like: ‘scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems (3-PS2-b)’ When we know that emergent systems abound in nature (we have an exhibit on this upstairs), and making believe nature is consistent and orderly ignores much of 20th century science, never mind 21st. Anyone who watches the weather report knows this is just incorrect.”

Doctor Jenifer Helms from Arkansas really does not like the NGSS:

“These new standards leave a great deal to be desired, and by that, I mean that they are abysmal. I have read the entire 103-page document; and then I compared the NGSS K-12 standards with the current Arkansas Frameworks standards that can be found here. What I discovered was not just disappointing, it was disturbing.”

Trying to write education standards is probably a little like picking color choices for repainting a condominium project. No matter what, there are going to be complaints. However, In this case, it seems that the desire for dictatorial control over education is a much bigger driver than the perceived need for national science standards.

The major attempt to establish national standards in 1894 has had a profound effect on education in America and it would be hard to argue that was not positive. In the 20th century, the American public education system produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other system in the world. The United States which was viewed as a second tier power when the century began rose to dominate the world militarily, monetarily and culturally. So, maybe there is a lesson here.

In the development of standards in 1894, the call for standards was almost exclusively from professional educators and all 110 people involved in writing the standards were professional educators. There was little political and almost no financial support for the adoption of these standards and there was no high stakes testing for accountability. These standards were more or less embraced across the country based on their merit. They were education suggestions from respected educators and were embraced by each locale according their own needs.

In the introductory remarks for the Report of the Commissioner of Education, Department of the Interior, Washington, October 1, 1910, Commissioner Elmer Ellsworth Brown beautifully states the genius of the American education organization.

“Our educational organization answering as it does to our federal plan of government presents peculiar advantages as regards the making of a varied flexible yet inherently unified system of instruction. It is an organization not readily understood by foreigners. It offers many obstacles to the carrying out of any plans for rapid and uniform improvement. Yet the self governing character of its several members is of itself an incalculable advantage. Whatever unity is attained must be an inner unity an agreement through conviction.”

By contrast the NGSS were totally the product of power politics and political influence. These standards should more correctly be called the IBM standards. In 1995 the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner, spoke to the National Governors Association (NGA) on the urgent need for standards in education now. Lynn Chaney had torpedoed Bill Clinton’s nascent standards drive the year before, so it was unrealistic to expect immediate movement toward national standards. (1)

The following year Gerstner hosted the NGA at the IBM conference facility in Palisades, New York. At this 1996 conference, a new non-profit organization was started by the governors and CEO’s in attendance called Achieve, Inc. (2) According to Achieve’s 990 tax forms, Louis Gerstner was either chairman of the board of Achieve or emeritus chairman from its inception until the NGSS standards were finished in 2013. Achieve has copyright ownership of NGSS.

The NGSS website says the developmental work on these standards would not have been possible without the support of: The Carnegie Foundation of New York, The GE Foundation, The Noyce Foundation, The Cisco Foundation and DuPont. According to the science framework, Carnegie Foundation gave Achieve Inc. a contract to manage the development of the NGSS, but who actually wrote these standards?

I call NGSS the pinnacle of “Corporate Education Reform.” They learned from the CCSS fiasco. The web site lists 26 states and 40 individuals as writing the standards. Instead of being written in secret by testing company employees, the 36 education professionals and four corporate scientists who are credited with writing the standards are featured. But who really put this airplane built by committee together. Could it be Sue Pimantel a CCSS lead writer? The 2011 and 2012 Forms 990 for Achieve Inc. show Pimantel received $333,791 for consulting services, but they do not advertise her involvement on the NGSS site.

Like the CCSS the NGSS is an untested new theory of education being foisted on communities throughout America by un-American means. These were not great ideas that attained “an agreement through conviction.” There is nothing about this heavy handed corporate intrusion into the life of American communities that promises greater good. It is harmful, disruptive and expensive. I know my school district would have never adopted this of its own volition.

1) Schneider, Mercedes K. Common Core Dilemma, Teacher College Press New York and London, 2015
2) Ibid.


9 Responses to “Trekkie Standards for Science – The Standards”

  1. howardat58 July 3, 2015 at 1:05 am #

    i saw the K grade stuff a while ago. The comment was “Might be better if the kids grew a plant in a pot or jar”.

    I had to look at the whole thing, well part of it, as the scheme would appear to occupy all the hours of every week if done properly.
    I found this, half of the grade 5 performance expectations. I have no comment on it. it speaks for itself:

    The performance expectations in fifth grade help students formulate answers to questions such as: “When matter changes, does its weight change?How does matter cycle through ecosystems? Where does the energy in food come from and what is it used for?Students are able to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen through the development of a model. Students develop an understanding of the idea that regardless of the type of change that matter undergoes, the total weight of matter is conserved. Students determine whether the mixing of two or more substances results in new substances.Students develop an understanding of the idea that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water. Using models, students can describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment and that energy in animals’ food was once energy from the sun.

  2. howardat58 July 6, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    Thanks for the like on ADD etc. Now have a look at the Pre-K Common Core aligned standards in math for New Jersey (it’s worse, the’re all doing it)

  3. Jennifer Helms July 6, 2015 at 6:26 pm #

    Excellent post. Please contact me. My work against NGSS continues and I would like to discuss it with you.


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