Tag Archives: Standardized Education

Californian Abandons NGSS – Sort Of

6 Jan

In California, education technocrats are busy replacing the Clinton era science standards with the even worse Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – sort of.

Standards based education and testing have cursed schools for millennia. Powerful people who never stood in front of a classroom demand that educators be held accountable by an ancient education ideology.

The Nobel Prize winning scientist Glenn Seaborg is credited with leading the development of the first California State Science Standards. Professor Seaborg was Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission under presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. He was a member of President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education which wrote the unsupported polemic “Nation at Risk.”

However, Professor Seaborg was not an expert on either early childhood education or secondary education. The familiar pattern emerges; people with limited education background are making decisions about instruction, while experts are ignored.

The science standards produced in California were at least workable. They inhibited creativity and coupled with the big test thwarted progress toward improving classroom instruction but, they covered basic science in a coherent manner.

The new NGSS has all of the inherent problems associated with standards based education plus they are incoherent.

To their credit, California education technocrats recognized that the NGSS were awful. To their discredit, California adopted the NGSS knowing it must be rewritten. The State Board of Education reports:

 “Revising the Science Framework to align with the new science standards is an important component in the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS) adopted by the SBE [State Board of Education] in September 2013. The revision of the Science Framework is a multi-step process involving the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee (CFCC), the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), and SBE.”

The new California science framework represents a significant change. A 60-day comment period on the new draft finishes this January 19th. Another round of edits and another comment period are scheduled before public hearings on the proposed new framework in the fall. Who knows when the standards will also be rewritten? Yes, California has abandoned NGSS – sort of.

In 1996, Louis Gerstner hosted the US Governors Association at the IBM conference facilities in Palisades, New York. He and the other 48 business men there forcefully called for national standards. The 40 governors in attendance responded by establishing their own non-governmental non-profit, Achieve Inc. Louis Gerstner was named chairman of Achieve and given a mandate to create and sell national standards. No professional educators were involved.

The Carnegie Foundation was chosen to oversee the development of “a new conceptual framework” which elevated engineering to equal rank with science and conceived of 13 science and engineering standards that would be taught from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The original Framework states:

 “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 scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.”

 Without ever piloting these concepts in classrooms, the NGSS was published and state leaders were convinced to adopt them. Achieve Incorporated holds the copyright on the NGSS.

Elevating engineering to the same status as science is wrong headed. Science is the foundation of engineering. Science is a prerequisite to engineering. Differentiation between science and engineering need not happen before upper division at universities. K-12 students need basic science delivered by teachers excited about the subject.

The 13 NGSS standards are repeatedly assigned to each grade level in a somewhat randomized manor (about 5 standards each year). Adding the three dimensions of learning (core ideas, associated practices, and crosscutting concepts) plus engineering makes these science standards not just bad theory but unintelligible.

In 600 AD, China was the most advanced country in the world in science – some estimates say at least 400 years ahead of any other nation. They instituted standardized education with testing accountability and all scientific progress halted. They became unable to defend themselves after the industrial revolution.

Standardized education’s main advantage is population control but it inhibits cultural progress.

Final decisions about education should be left to local jurisdictions.

Federal and state education departments could enhance professional peer review processes by supporting curriculum research. Local communities and professional educators should be freed to select and implement fresh ideas about curriculum that they find appealing for their circumstances. In this manor, popular ideas will be adopted and bad ideas will die naturally.

We need to improve education but today’s misguided “corporate education reform” causes great harm. We have a good system for tracking education progress (NAEP testing). We have the best educated and trained teaching force in the history of the United States. Unfortunately standards based education squanders this talent and opens the door for; fraud, abuse, segregation and waste.

Louis Gerstner and Bill Gates, without whom there would be no NGSS or Common Core, are billionaires not education experts. Their education thinking is shallow and amateurish. Reason dictates that we let experienced professionals lead education.

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.

Standards Based Education is Bad Education Theory

30 Mar

While discussing a student’s next class schedule with an outstanding student counselor, I learned my colleague had become dependent on testing data to place her students. That is not a surprise; it is one of the fundamental errors permeating education globally. Standards based testing is a fraud; a mirage that falsely projects an aura of objective analysis. As soon as high stakes are tied to these tests, their validity is undermined.

The learning standards upon which high stakes testing is based come from a mistaken philosophy of pedagogy that posits: a standardized learning rate, standardized interests, linear learning progression, developmental alignment, etc. Humans are not standard. Some learn to speak at 16 months and some don’t acquire that skill until 72 months. Some are short, others are tall. Some are fast, other are not. A child from urban Chicago has different perceptions and interests than a child from Winnemucca, Nevada. A global curriculum will not meet the needs of an endlessly diverse population. One size truly does not fit all. Even if it did, it would still be a bad idea to have political entities in centers of power deciding what that curriculum should be.

About 500 BC, the ancient Pythagoreans were a mathematically based cult. One of their beliefs (mathematical standard) was that there was no such thing as an irrational number. An irrational number is a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio of two numbers such as ½. The most famous irrational number is the ratio of the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter which is expressed as π (≈3.14). The writer, Morris Kline, claims that the man credited with the discovery of irrational numbers was a Pythagorean named Hippasus who had the bad sense to announce his discovery while at sea. He was thrown overboard for his heretical thinking![1] This story may be apocryphal but it does delightfully illustrate the danger associated with ossifying thinking with standards.

The longest most sustained use of standards and standardized testing arose in China more than 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty. It was an attempt to select government official based on some sort of meritocracy rather than feudal family station. However, local Lords were able to subvert the testing criteria and maintain the power of appointment. Starting in about 200 AD, China entered a 400 year long warring states period of instability.

In 581 AD, the new Emperor Wen of the Sui dynasty achieved a coup over his employer the Northern Zhao and then militarily unified China. Emperor Wen believed he needed to protect himself from the power of feudal lords, so he reintroduced the ‘keju’ or testing system to select government bureaucrats. Meritocracy based on test results became the sole path to a government position. University of Oregon’s dean of global education and professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Yong Zhao, recently wrote about the ‘keju’ system:

“The emperor’s biggest concern was keeping China unified under his family’s rule. Learning from his own example, he realized he needed a way to weaken the hereditary power of certain families and tribes. Thus, he needed to find people who could help govern the country without relying on the existing ruling class. He also needed a way to prevent capable talents from rising against the empire and reinforce among his subjects the need to obey the rightful rule of the Son of Heaven.

We can’t know how much Emperor Wen planned and strategized, but the establishment of keju accomplished every one of the goals.”[2]

The ‘keju’ exams focused on memorization of the Confucian cannon and interpretive expository writing about the cannon and current political affairs. By far the most prestigious position in pre-industrial China was a government appointment obtained by success in these exams. This testing became the focus of education for virtually everyone living in the most advanced civilization on the planet.

It has been estimated that in 600 AD China had at least a 400-year scientific lead on the rest of the world. So why didn’t the industrial revolution occur in China? Former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin posits:

 “I believe the real reason of the absence of scientific revolution was not due to the adverse political environment that prohibited the creativity of Chinese intellectuals, but due to the special incentives provided by the civil-service examination system. Because of this examination system, curious geniuses were diverted from learning mathematics and conducting controllable experiments. Because of this system, the geniuses could not accumulate crucial human capital that was essential for the scientific revolution. As a result, the discoveries of natural phenomena could only be based on sporadic observations, and could not be upgraded into modern science which was built upon mathematics and controlled experiments.”[3]

 In China’s case the test became the education standard and that has been an ironclad law of standards and standards based testing ever since. Even David Coleman, the man who sold the Common Core to Bill Gates and then directed their development, knows that the tests become the real standards that will be taught. In a speech, he said:

 “It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there’s no amount of saying, and ‘They teach to the standards, not the test; we don’t do that here.’”[4]

For America the first large scale standards movement was led by the Committee of Ten which published its report in 1894. Prepared under the auspices of the National Educational Association, this report was first published by the Bureau of Education, at Washington DC. The Committee of Ten was led by Harvard University President, Charles W. Elliot. The ten members supervised the development of standards for 9 different subjects. Nine subcommittees of ten members each worked in various locations around the country on their particular field of expertise.

There was an attempt to insure that the subcommittees were constituted by members representing diverse geographical locations. The committees were dominated by college staff and administrators but there were one or two classroom teachers on most of the committees, but the largest group of educators in America appears to have been ignored. There were no women on any of the committees.[5]

Two of the published standards – and there are many more – illustrate the innate problem with codified standards:

 “They recommend ‘that the course in arithmetic be at once abridged and enriched; abridged by omitting entirely those subjects which perplex and exhaust the pupil without affording any really valuable mental discipline, and enriched by a greater number of exercises in simple calculation, and in the solution of concrete problems.’”[6]

So in mathematics the committee called for more drill and skill which is exactly the kind of teaching Benjamin Bloom’s ‘Taxonomy of Educational Objectives’ called into question. The following comes from the science standards:

 “As regards Resolutions 3, 4, and 5, it should be said that the order recommended for the study of Chemistry and Physics is plainly not the logical one, but all the members with one exception voted for Resolution 3 because they felt that the pupils should have as much mathematical knowledge as possible to enable them to deal satisfactorily with Physics, while they could profitably take up elementary Chemistry at an earlier stage.”[7]

This decision is why to this day we teach biology then chemistry then physics. This order is exactly backwards. To read a biology book a student needs knowledge of chemistry and to understand the forces that drive chemical reactions the principles of energy from physics is needed. San Diego Unified School District tried to rectify this order but they abandoned their expensive effort. The district was unfairly punished when their 9th grade student test scores did no compare well with the scores of mainly 11th and 12th grade students from across California on mandated standardized testing.

Mark Silver of John Hopkins reports, “The standards movement has its roots in curriculum content and skills. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was one of the first national professional organizations to publish national curriculum standards and goals.”[8] These standards were guiding documents for the development of the California math standards which are widely considered superior to the common core standards. The common complaint I heard from fellow teachers implementing the California math standards was that they were “a mile wide and an inch deep.” These standards took us from “uncovering” mathematical principles to “covering” the material. Constructivist approaches like problem based learning were completely undermined and math instruction was pushed back to 1894’s drill and skill model. The high stakes involved made success on a narrow range of tested material paramount.

Since the inception of the California math standards, ossified standards have existed; for example rationalizing denominators. This procedure insures that there are no square-root factors in a denominator. Before calculators, rationalizing denominators significantly eased difficult arithmetic, but after calculators dividing by radicals became no more difficult than dividing by sums. Still the California teachers were compelled to drill their students on an antiquated algorithm.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Japan and China reacted differently to being behind the West scientifically and technically. China maintained its education culture and purchased technology. Japan completely changed its approach to education and engaged in a strenuous effort to catch the West in science, mathematics and manufacturing. The hallmark of Japan’s approach was authoritarianism. The goals of education became modernizing and producing loyal disciples for the Emperor. These purposes were to be insured by tested education standards. The education reformer, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, criticized both the goals and the methods. He denounced mechanized education and agonized over putting children through “testing hell”.

With authoritarian standards based education, Japan became both a world power and a menace. China’s equally authoritarian standards based education led to weakness and vulnerability. Both countries were on a path of ruin. The renowned historian, Arnold Toynbee established criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.”[9]

Both John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi counseled against standardized education. Dewey stated “Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.”[10] And Makiguchi theorized that “Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”[11]

What is the root of the persistent and two millennial old tendency for politicians with minimal knowledge of education creating education standards and mandating testing accountability? It originates in a deep rooted innate and evil desire in humans to control other humans. If we do not fight this tendency, we are doomed to live in an authoritarian society where political elites ensure subservience by controlling education standards enforced by standardized testing.

A better path forward is the development of consensus about the purposes of education through continual dialogue. Then allow professional educators to create curricular guidance by a process of peer reviewed research. Community schools should use that curricular guidance in the best way they see fit and should be encouraged to experiment. Statistical sampling identical to the National Assessment of Education Progress should be used to assess progress and provide information for the purposes of continued dialogue, research and further progress. It should be an ongoing process with no shortcuts; no silver bullets and no miracles.

As for my colleague’s concern about guidance in student class placement, teacher grades and recommendations along with input from the student and their parents is a far more reliable method of placement than relying on dubious standardized test score.

  1. Morris Kline (1990), Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times, page 32. Oxford University Press
  2. Yong Zhao (2014), Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Jossey-Bass of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Page 38
  3. http://www.uq.edu.au/economics/cepa/docs/seminar/papers-nov2006/Lin-Paper.pdf
  4. http://atthechalkface.com/2013/12/23/this-is-the-common-core-you-support/
  5. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7129384M/Report_of_the_Committee_of_ten_on_secondary_school_studies
  6. https://archive.org/stream/reportofcomtens00natirich#page/105/mode/1up
  7. https://archive.org/stream/reportofcomtens00natirich#page/119/mode/1up
  8. http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/Transforming%20Education/Articles/Trends%20in%20School%20Reform/
  9. Arnold Toynbee (DC Somervell), “A study of History” abridgement Volume 1 – VI, Oxford University Press, 1946, page 555
  10. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan, 1916. Page 203
  11. Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001 Page 18