NGSS Gets in Through Back Doors

Back to July 2015 Ed Reporter

NGSS Gets in Through Back Doors

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been adopted by 13 states and the District of Columbia for K-12 students. They could face a tough road after the failure of the Common Core math and English standards to satisfy many parents, legislators, students, and teachers. But the science standards are sneaking into districts in states that have not approved them due to the work of science teachers who align with the premises of the standards.

carbon footprintSome say the Next Generation Science Standards are not only inadequate to fully educate students but they are politicized by focusing on manmade climate change and evolution. Even young students are encouraged to believe and act in a manner that is sometimes contrary to established science and might misalign with their family beliefs.

As former Wall Street energy research analyst Paul Tice writes in the Wall Street Journal:

While publicly billed as the result of a state-led process, the new science standards rely on a framework developed by the Washington, D.C.-based National Research Council. That is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences that works closely with the federal government on most scientific matters.

Tice says much of the curriculum being used to teach Next Generation Science Standards comes directly from the federal government. He says, the “Environmental Protection Agency has an array of ready-to-download climate-change primers for classroom use by teachers, including handouts on the link between carbon dioxide and average global temperatures and tear sheets on the causal relationship between greenhouse-gas emissions and rising sea levels.” Similar online curriculum is available from the Dept. of Energy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One federally provided module requires “students to measure the size of their family’s carbon footprint and come up with ways to shrink it.” (Wall Street Journal, 5-27-15)

While some scientists question the accuracy of the computer simulations that are used to predict global warming, the National Research Council accepts them as “settled science.” This is reflected in the Next Generation Science Standards, which demand of students “that by the end of Grade 5, [they] should appreciate that rising average global temperatures will affect the lives of all humans and other organisms on the planet; by Grade 8, [they] should understand that the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is a major factor in global warming; and by Grade 12, [they] should know that global climate models are very effective in modeling, predicting, and managing the current and future impact of climate change.”

Local School Boards Jump In, While States Deliberate

Education Week reports that where NGSS have not been adopted, “Some districts are jumping the gun on their states and starting to bring the new standards to classrooms as soon as possible. In many cases, science teachers themselves have led this charge.” In Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania, some school districts are teaching in alignment with the new standards, although those states may never choose to teach them.

A senior vice president of Achieve says, “In states that we know are going to struggle with adoption because of current Common Core issues or legislative issues, it’s neat to hear teachers in the districts saying we’re going to do this on our own.” Achieve was involved in the development and promotion of the NGSS, and is the same Washington-based group that helped create Common Core math and English standards.

Teachers are adding elements of NGSS to their science curriculum in Wyoming, a state where the NGSS are controversial. The Wyoming legislature passed a now-rescinded law to ban adoption of the NGSS standards. The state hasn’t adopted NGSS, yet fifteen Wyoming school districts are using the new standards. (Education Week, 5-6-15)

Informational meetings were held in five locations in Utah, as the state’s Office of Education (USOE) decides whether to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. The USOE is supposedly soliciting parents’ feedback during a 90-day review period, but many parents think their opinion doesn’t matter and that the USOE has decided to adopt the NGSS.

Wendy Hart, Board Member of the Alpine School District, the largest in Utah, wrote a letter to the Utah School Board that includes the following points:

Do the standards seek to obtain compliance of thought, instead of an understanding of the rationale and disagreements involved in controversial or politically charged issues? This is especially important in science. If we create a generation of students who believe that all science is not to be questioned, we have failed in our task. Science is always to be questioned, and refined. We should be constantly looking for ways to support or to disprove the current knowledge of the day. (WhatIsCommonCore.wordpress.com, 5-8-15)

Not Approved by Fordham

Nine scientists and mathematicians reviewed the content, rigor, and clarity of the NGSS for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The Fordham Institute is strongly in support of Common Core standards for math and English, but they gave NGSS an overall grade of “C,” listing the following major problems with the science standards:

    1. The NGSS “never explicitly require some content in early grades that is then assumed in subsequent standards.”
    2. The standards attempt “to put a ceiling on the content and skills that will be measured at each grade,” [which] may limit what is taught by the exclusion of content that more advanced students can learn.
    3. The standards fail “to include essential math content that is critical to science learning.” Particularly in physics and chemistry, “the standards seem to assiduously dodge the mathematical demands inherent in the subjects covered.”
    4. The “confusing presentation of the standards, combined with vague and poorly worded expectations, earns the NGSS a 1.5 out of 3 for clarity and specificity.”

The Fordham reviewers found that the hands-on activities required by NGSS — and the resulting focus on students “performing” at the expense of “memorizing” — “paid too little attention to the knowledge base that makes those practices both feasible and worthwhile.”

The Heartland Institute questions whether educators learned anything from the Common Core fiasco in a June 3, 2015 post titled “Common Core Battle Apparently Meant Nothing.” They chastise states that have adopted NGSS and caution those considering them. They say, “That state officials don’t think children need core academic content in science, while showing little concern for NGSS replacing core content with political indoctrination, tells everyone all they need to know.”