Next Generation Science Standards: Common Core Incognito

Back to July 2013 Ed Reporter

Next Generation Science Standards:
Common Core Incognito

It took three years for a group of committees to develop Common Core Science Standards, which are called “Next Generation Science Standards” (NGSS). The National Research Council and Washington-based Achieve, the group that produced the Common Core English and math standards, also managed the development of Common Core science standards.

Those who decided to call Common Core (CC) Science standards “Next Generation Science Standards” may have done so to dissociate their work from Common Core. Common Core has gained a negative reputation and is increasingly associated with failure, as the public has learned what federalized standards actually mean to the future of math and English K-12 education in America.

CC science creators and proponents claim the standards were created by the states. They made the same untrue claim about CC English and math standards. To give the science claim some credibility, 26 states were allowed some input into science standards. Each of those states “was required to form a broad-based group to review the standards, including representatives of K-12 education and higher education, as well as of the science and business communities.” (Education Week, 5-14-12) The key word here is “review.” These state committees gave feedback, but they did not develop the standards.

Stephen Pruitt, who managed the standards-development process for Achieve, indicated to Education Week that “the feedback from states has been taken very seriously, and many changes have been made to the draft document based upon it.” He added, “[T]he standards must remain true to the National Resource Council framework.”

The science standards, like those for math and English, are not based on empirical evidence of efficacy nor are they tested in any environment. They are fresh out of the box and will be field-tested statewide in any state that signs on.

Climate Change and Evolution

Proponents of evolution and manmade climate change are ecstatic about the Common Core science standards. Climate change is accepted as manmade in the standards and children must accept this notion. “The standards make clear that evolution is fundamental to understanding the life sciences,” according to Education Week. This may present a roadblock to adopting these standards in some states.

As Steve Goreham explains in The Mad, Mad, Mad World of Climatism, some scientific evidence indicates that warming and cooling trends are naturally occurring as an earth cycle. He claims that scientists disagree about the extent to which man’s activities are a cause of climate change. NGSS teach that human activity is responsible for detrimental climate change and emphasize that action must be taken to “save the earth.”

The Myth about Curriculum

Although proponents emphasize that the Common Core standards are not a curriculum, standards and testing drive curriculum. States will be teaching to specific standards and teaching to a test. Curriculum developed will, of necessity, reflect those standards and that test.

Bill Gates, arguably the most influential proponent and definitely the largest financial contributor to Common Core, besides the federal government, said in a speech to the National Conference of State Legislators in July 2009: “Identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.”

The January 2013 UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing Common Core report concluded that “the assessments themselves and their results will send powerful signals to schools about the meaning of the [Common Core standards] and what students know and are able to do. If history is a guide, educators will align curriculum and teaching to what is tested, and what is not assessed largely will be ignored.”

Fordham Review

Nine scientists and mathematicians reviewed the content, rigor, and clarity of the NGSS for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Fordham gave the standards an overall grade of “C,” listing the following major problems with Common Core 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.”

Another problem Fordham reviewers found stems from the hands-on activities required by NGSS and the resulting focus on students “performing” at the expense of “memorizing.” The Fordham Institute suggests that the creators of the standards “conferred primacy on practices and paid too little attention to the knowledge base that makes those practices both feasible and worthwhile.” They indicate that in this case “content takes a backseat to practices.” The Fordham report suggests that science education should “build knowledge first so that students will have the storehouse of information and understanding that they need to engage in scientific reasoning and higher level thinking.” NGSS are heavy on practice and light on content.

The Fordham Institute concludes that while 16 states have existing standards that are inferior to the Next Generation Science Standards, in another 22 states the difference was “too close to call,” and that existing standards in 12 states and D.C. are superior. Fordham suggests that states desiring to improve their science standards forgo Common Core and instead look to states with superior standards.

There are also National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) standards already in place that are superior to CC science standards and that could be used as guidelines by states. NAEP and TIMSS standards received the grade of A- from the Fordham Institute.

Despite criticism of the NGSS, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute remains an enthusiastic proponent of math and English Common Core standards.

College-Ready?

As with the math and English CC standards, what is meant by “college-ready” is misleading. While the CC science standards may prepare students for an undergraduate general science class, they will not prepare them for further study in STEM subjects. According to the Fordham analysis, “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.” Fordham reviewers say that what NGSS offers amounts to “watered-down versions of heretofore more demanding courses in key STEM subjects,” such as chemistry and physics. Many colleges require completion of high school chemistry or physics for admission. A watered-down version will not only cheat students, but will result in the need for more remedial college courses.

The Next Generation Science Standards again indicate that in the world of Common Core, ‘college-ready’ means to graduate students who are only prepared for further studies at a non-selective institution or a two-year community college. Common Core does not prepare students for a four-year college. NGSS will not prepare students for study in a STEM subject.

Align or Decline?

The Kansas State Board of Education has already chosen to align with the Common Core science standards. Ken Willard, one of two board members who voted against alignment, said, “both evolution and human-caused climate change are presented in these standards dogmatically.” He continued, “This nonobjective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness.”

Kansas state Rep. Allan Rothlisberg said that Common Core represents federal intrusion. Alluding to the recently discovered, politically motivated targeting of individuals and groups by the IRS, he said, “Why on Earth would we expect the Department of Education — which is not constitutionally authorized — to look out for our children? That’s our responsibility.” (Lawrence Journal-World, 6-11-13)

Matt Krehbiel, a science education consultant for the Kansas Department of Education, who participated in the development of the CC science standards, “criticized the Fordham report as using a flawed approach to evaluate the standards, and said the new standards are worthy of embrace for Kansas.” (Education Week, 6-13-13)

Rhode Island and Vermont have adopted the standards. Although the Kentucky and Maryland boards of education have approved the CC science standards, a legislative review is needed before they can take effect in those states.

More states will soon choose to adopt or decline the science standards. Those states choosing to align with CC science will then face the expense of aligned textbooks, teacher training, and the cost of developing testing. Common Core math and English testing was initially funded by federal stimulus money, but nationalized testing in science has received no such funding.