Tag Archives: NGSS

Response to Dianne Feinstein

23 Aug

Senator Feinstein, I am responding to you via open letter to address not just you but as many leaders as possible about education policy in America. At the outset, I want you to know that I have admired you since those horrible days when Dan White killed Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone and you were called upon to lead a wounded city. This message is not an attack on you, but rather, it is an attempt to educate about a harmful and widely held misconception regarding education testing.

In the message to me you wrote:

“I recognize that standardized tests have clear limitations and are not a cure-all for our nation’s education challenges; however, I also believe testing is an important tool for measuring student and school performance in order to ensure that every child receives a quality education. Standardized testing makes it possible for parents to see the progress their child is making and teachers to know when to correct course in their instruction.”

Now, I realize that this view, though unsupportable, is and has been for some time the belief of a majority of politicians and education bureaucrats in our nation’s capital. In the past, I did not appreciate how deeply this idea had permeated political thought. It therefore left me completely confused about why both Republican and Democratic leaders abandoned their own principles when it came to education.

I wondered, “Why have Democrats adopted test and punish policies that have clearly become a key tool for destroying public schools? Why have people like Barack Obama advocated charter schools that are little more than publicly financed private schools with little accountability? Why do Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton all seem to believe that a massive testing program will protect schools in poor and minority neighborhoods?”

On the other side of the isle, it is just as strange. Since the days of Abraham Lincoln, Republicans have stood for individual rights and local control but for two decades they have authored laws transferring control of education from local communities to the federal government. George H. W. Bush signed legislation that promoted federal involvement in local schools and his son sponsored, as his signature achievement, the “No Child Left Behind” law that gave control of school policy to the federal government.

Why is Jeb Bush such a long time and until recently vocal proponent of federal standards of education (the poorly written common core and next generation science standards)? Why did Orin Hatch vote against the Murphy opt-out amendment to the “Every Child Achieves Act?” Why was even Ronald Regan’s secretary of education, Terrell Bell, an early leader promoting the federalization of public education?

A very witty blogger named Peter Greene posted a comment about the recent education policy debate by Republican presidential candidates:

“GOP pols have the message– local control is great and the American Way and they totally support it except when they have to take it away from places that suck. Parents should be free to choose from an assortment of great schools, or at least from the assortment of charter schools that we say they should have. And parents who want to exert local control by keeping their community school intact (like, say, the hunger strikers of Chicago or the protesters of Newark)– well, they can’t have it.”

I started to wonder if our entire political class had become completely corrupted by money and power. Fortunately, that did not really make sense to me. I now believe I have plumbed the essence of the dilemma. Our political leaders do not understand the limitations of testing and especially standardized testing. The truth is that standardized testing is incapable of evaluating teacher or school quality, but there is a widely held belief it can.

A book written in 1999 by the education writer Alfie Kohn points directly at the disconnection:

“… it is an open secret among educators that much of what the scores are indicating is just the socioeconomic status of the students who take them. One educator suggests we should save everyone a lot of time and money by eliminating standardized tests, since we could get the same results by asking a single question ‘How much money does your mom make?’”[1]

That is the point. Standardized testing has a tremendous correlation to the economic conditions of the neighborhood in which the students live. This is the only variable that does have a high correlation with testing results. The environmental component of test results is so strong that it completely masks inputs like quality of teaching or quality of school. For the past more than a decade we have been mistakenly destroying great schools in poor communities based on a widely held misunderstanding of what the data means.

The famed education measurement expert, Gene V Glass, announced this month that he is no longer working in education measurement, because of its misuse. He asserted:

“The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.”

Last spring I heard Professor Yong Zhao speak. In his often humorous remarks he said that American students have never compared well on international testing. He then said, “The real question is why America is still here?” This instigated much laughter. The point is that standardized testing could not elucidate the greatness of America’s schools.

Here are a couple quotes from Professor Zhao’s latest book:

“’Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there have been no Nobel prize winner,’ Zheng wrote in an article. ‘This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.’”

“The only way China will win the global competition of the future is for the West to begin educating the way China does.” [2]

I realize that when the federal government spends large sums of money there must be some form of accountability. Standardized testing has no real benefit to schools and misleads governance. It does not provide meaningful feedback to parents or teachers and it does serious harm to the classroom by narrowing curriculum and encouraging drill and skill pedagogy.

It is a mistake for congress to make specifics of education policy such as requiring standards and testing, the tool of accountability. I can think of three requirements that congress could make of states receiving title I funding that would significantly improve schools:

  1. All teachers must be fully certificated for the course they teach. (Professionalism is important for success in the classroom.)
  2. No classes can have more the thirty-two students. (Class size is very important especially in communities suffering the ravages of poverty and these are the very communities title I is designed to support.)
  3. All schools must successfully win accreditation by their regional accrediting association. (As I have written about this in other posts, this is real accountability by professional educators looking deeply into school function and giving important feedback.)

As we know, the “Every Child Achieves Act” (S. 1177) to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Public Law 107-110) passed the Senate and will be conferenced with the House reauthorization bill, the “Student Success Act” (H.R. 5). Both laws enshrine federal requirements for standards, testing and remediation of schools that are judged failures by this regime. Therefore, I urge you to stop this bill until the profoundly damaging and wasteful testing requirements are removed. Please protect public education from circling vultures.

1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, © 1999, page 77.
2) Zhao, Yong. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass a Wiley Brand, ©2014

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.

Trekkie Standards for Science – The Framework

17 Jun

The administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both supported “Outcome Based Education” and national standards which set the stage for the authoritarian model of education enacted by the George W. Bush administration. This new federally led model of education was also supported by many Democrats. Contemporaneously, many corporations both for profit and non-profit including the Carnegie Corporation, the National Academy of Science (NAS) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) launched a political campaign advocating new national science standards.

It is odd that organizations comprised of world renowned scientists proposed adopting new science standards without thorough vetting or testing. When did scientists become reckless?

The development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) followed the example set by the untested and extraordinarily rapid adoption of the common core math and English standards. As soon as the principal writer of the framework for the NGSS was finished, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) gave its full throated support.

NSTA reported that “The NGSS is based on A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (Framework; NRC 2012) and is intended to reflect a new vision for science education.” Well new is not necessarily improved, top down is a bad theory of government in a democracy and instituting the untried NGSS nationwide is foolhardy!

The idea of a set of national standards in education is hardly new. In 1891, a committee of the National Council of Education gave us a recommendation for national standards.

“At the meeting of the National Council of Education in 1891, a Committee appointed at a previous meeting made a valuable report through their Chairman, Mr. James H. Balder, then principal of the Denver High School, on the general subject of uniformity in school programmes and in requirements for admission to college. The Committee was continued, and was authorized to procure a Conference on the subject of uniformity during the meeting of the National Council in 1892, the Conference to consist of representatives of leading colleges and secondary schools in different parts of the country.”

The result was the Committee of Ten Report of 1894, a set of national standards for 9 domains of learning published by the National Education Association (NEA). This first set of national education standards could be equated to the 1966 science fiction TV show Star Trek with its NCC-1701, the starship Enterprise. Now, the NGSS with its framework designated NRC 2012could be equated to the 1987 TV show, Star Trek the Next Generation, featuring NCC-1701-D, the new galaxy class starship also named Enterprise. Is that where the name Next Generation Science Standards came from? Is the naming of the new science standards more about marketing than good pedagogy?

Maybe the development of NGSS should have been led by Captain Picard instead of The Carnegie Corporation. Never the less Carnegie “has taken a leadership role to ensure that the development of common science standards proceeds and is of the highest quality by funding a two-step process: first, the development of this framework by the National Research Council (NRC) and, second, the development of a next generation of science standards based on the framework led by Achieve, Inc.”

Carnegie not only took on leadership in developing the standards, they also helped motivate the idea of new science standards. In 2009, the Carnegie-Institute for Advanced Studies Commission on Mathematics and Science Education wrote a paper, “Opportunity Equation”, in which they summed up the work of several recently published papers and called for new science standards. The papers cited were all from well funded entities that are known for leading education “reform” in America:

McKinsey & Company, National Governors Association, Council of Chief State School Officers- Achieve, National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning, National Mathematics Advisory Panel, Achieve Inc., National Governors Association, ACT, National Research Council, and National Center on Education and the Economy.

 In “Opportunity Equation”, Carnegie Corporation says we need new science standards that “Build high expectations for student achievement in mathematics and science into school culture and operations as a pathway to college and careers. Enhance systemic capacity to support strong schools and act strategically to turn around or replace ineffective schools.” These ineffective schools will be identified by assessing the achievement of standards with national normative testing.

Private money from the Carnegie Corporation was used to pay the National Research Council (NRC) which is a sub-group of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to write the framework. Although NAS was incorporated by Abraham Lincoln to do research for the US government, it is still a private corporation working on a contract basis. About 85% of its contracts come from the federal government, but some of its contracts are like this one.

The framework states this goal:

“The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.”

In a blog titled “The Next Generation Not-So-Scientific Standards” Jennifer Helms, PhD, writes “Notice the words or phrases “appreciation,” “possess sufficient knowledge…to engage in public discussions,” “consumers,” “able to continue to learn.” These are science appreciation standards, not science learning/understanding/synthesizing standards.” Maybe Jennifer is wrong but she has a point. The Framework does deemphasize knowledge and emphasizes practice. This may be an improvement in science teaching and it may not. We don’t know. It has not been tested.

I have two main criticisms of the Framework itself. In one of its three dimensions of science, instead of calling simply for science practices; the dimension is expanded to science and engineering practices. Adding engineering practices is not useful. Also, the Framework is overly complex and difficult to synthesize.

There is no need to introduce engineering practice in the K-12 system. At the next level there is very little differentiation between physics or chemistry majors and engineering majors until they reach third year. Science and engineering majors need to learn basic science before they are expected to apply it. Pretending that adolescent children are ready to study the nuanced differences between scientists and engineers is a distraction from learning the fundamentals of science.

In addition to shooting educators in the foot with unneeded leaning goals, the framework is a Rube Goldberg contraption. Three core dimensions are promulgated; (1) science and engineering practices, (2) crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields and (3) core ideas in four disciplinary areas: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering. There are eight practices, seven crosscutting concepts and thirteen core ideas to apply. The framework defines all of these and gives guidance on how each should be instituted at different grade levels thus ensuring that the standards based on the framework will be an unwieldy and unreadable monsters.

The framework that the NRC produced reminds me of something Michio Kaku says in one of his educational videos about the search for the Higgs Boson. He states that the current standard model of the atom was so messy, “only a mother could love it.” This framework is so messy and overly complex; maybe even a mother couldn’t love it?

The framework has some first rate ideas enshrined in it and many reasonable sounding teaching principles. After all, some genuine geniuses were contributors. I thought while reading it that science-teacher education programs could find real value in studying this document. The fundamental weakness is that it was produced by corporate entities in a pseudo open environment and is being instituted in an authoritarian manor.

From the framework: “The committee recognized early in the process that obtaining feedback from a broad range of stakeholders and experts would be crucial to the framework’s success. For this reason, we secured permission from the National Research Council (NRC) to release a draft version of the framework for public comment. The draft underwent an expedited NRC review in early July 2010 and was posted online on July 12 for a 3-week period.”

I was one of the 2000 people that sent feedback, but I certainly did not do a David Coleman “close read” of this more than three hundred page document, nor did I have the opportunity to discuss what I read with anyone else who had read it. Educators and others were given three weeks to read, digest and comment on this major change to science education that is intended to be adopted nationwide. That feedback period’s only value was that it allowed NRC to claim public inclusion in the process.

I have concentrated on the NGSS framework here and will write a second piece on the resulting standards. This is not how change should come to education in a democratic country. The science framework is not an idea that was published and then by dint of its brilliance adopted by America’s science educators. Instead it is an authoritarian mandate that is being instituted before being thoroughly evaluated by education professionals. I have written before about my conviction that standards based education is bad education but this untested science framework forced on the nation by financial and political power is education malpractice.