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U.S. State Science Standards Are "Mediocre to Awful"


Society & Culture  (tags: americans, children, culture, dishonesty, education, environment, ethics, government, Mathematics, politics, religion, Sceince, society, Standards )

Kit
- 740 days ago - blogs.scientificamerican.com
A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints a grim picture of state science standards across the United States. But it also reveals some intriguing details about exactly what's going wrong--->



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Kit B. (276)
Friday November 16, 2012, 8:20 am
(Image: Scientific American - 2012 State Standards)


A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints a grim picture of state science standards across the United States. But it also reveals some intriguing details about exactly what’s going wrong with the way many American students are learning science.

Standards are the foundation upon which educators build curricula, write textbooks and train teachers– they often take the form of a list of facts and skills that students must master at each grade level. Each state is free to formulate its own standards, and numerous studies have found that high standards are a first step on the road to high student achievement. “A majority of the states’ standards remain mediocre to awful,” write the authors of the report. Only one state, California, plus the District of Columbia, earned straight A’s. Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia each scored an A-, and a band of states in and around the northwest, including Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska, scored F’s. (For any New Yorkers reading this, our standards earned a respectable B+, plus the honor of having “some of the most elegant writing of any science standards document”).

What exactly is going wrong? The study’s lead authors identified four main factors: an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction.

Let’s take these one by one. For evolution, the report points out that eight anti-evolution bills were introduced in six state legislatures last year. This year, two similar bills were pre-filed in New Hampshire and one in Indiana. ”And these tactics are far more subtle than they once were,” write the authors. “Missouri, for example, has asterisked all ‘controversial’ evolution content in the standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that will not be assessed … Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).” Maryland, according to the report, includes evolution content but “explicitly excludes” crucial points about evolution from its state-wide tests.

States cited for vague standards include Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. One example: New Jersey fourth graders are asked to “Demonstrate understanding of the interrelationships among fundamental concepts in the physical, life and Earth systems sciences.” Meanwhile, in A-scoring California, the standards explain to teachers and curriculum writers much more specifically that “Electricity and magnetism are related effects that have many useful applications in everyday life.” The standards go on to list half a dozen specific skills and facts that students must master in order to understand that overarching concept, such as “Students know electrical energy can be converted to heat, light, and motion.”

The report also notes that standards for introducing scientific inquiry into classrooms are, in many states, vague to the point of uselessness. In Idaho, students are “merely asked to ‘make observations’ or to ‘use cooperation and interaction skills.’ ”

Finally, the report noted that few states make the link between math and science clear. In its own words: “Mathematics is integral to science. Yet .. many [states] seem to go to great lengths to avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether.”

A December report by Change the Equation, a group of CEOs working to support President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign, also found that states set radically different expectations for students in science. The report looked not at the standards themselves but at how each state scores its assessment tests and how it defines “proficiency” in the subject.

Lastly, a bit of good news. At least 26 states have signed on to an effort to write new, common “Next Generation Science Standards” that will be more rigorous and specific than what many states currently have on the books. To read more about that effort, visit http://www.nextgenscience.org/ or http://www.achieve.org/ or read the document upon which the standards will be based here.
*****

By Anna Kuchment | Scientific American Magazine |

About the Author: Anna Kuchment edits the Advances news section for Scientific American and was previously a reporter, writer and editor with Newsweek magazine. Her first book, “The Forgotten Cure,” about bacteriophage viruses and their potential as weapons against antibiotic resistance, was just published by Copernicus Books/Springer.
 

Sue H. (7)
Friday November 16, 2012, 8:23 am
Not Acceptable! Hopefully the "Next Generation Science Standards" will light a fire under educators.?
 

Kit B. (276)
Friday November 16, 2012, 8:25 am


Why is the U.S. doing so poorly? The authors single out five problems with state standards:

The undermining of evolution through a variety of methods, both involving the legislature (as in Louisiana's "academic freedom" act that allows the teaching of intelligent design creationism) and more subtle incursions, like Colorado and West Virginia's mandate that the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution be discussed, while of course other "theories" don't come in for such treatment.

Vague standards that give teachers little guidance. The report mentions, as two examples, "A middle school teacher in New Hampshire, for example, will come face to face with the following: 'Identify energy as a property of many substances.' Pennsylvania offers the equally baffling 'Explain the chemistry of metabolism.' Such empty statements can do little to inform curriculum development or instruction, and give no guidance to assessment developers."

The promotion of "inquiry based learning" without any guidance to teachers how to implement it. The report notes, "Iowa schoolchildren are directed to: 'Make appropriate personal/lifestyle/technology choices, evaluate, observe, discuss/debate, recognize interactions and interdependencies at all levels, explain, describe environmental effects of public policy, choose appropriate course(s) of action.' Such statements are devoid of any teachable content and leave teachers with no guidance as to how they can incorporate genuine scientific inquiry skills into their instruction." Further, many states say nothing about the history of science, which is essential for teaching students how science works and how to be critical.

There's not enough math. As the report notes, things are far too qualitative, perhaps catering to students' "mathophobia": "Mathematics is integral to science. Yet few states make the link between math and science clear—and many seem to go to great lengths to avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether. The result is usually a clumsy mishmash of poor writing that could much more easily and clearly be expressed in numbers."

It's no surprise, then, that among 15 year olds tested in 65 countries, U.S. students ranked 23rd in science proficiency, while only 21% of U.S. twelfth-graders (17 and 18 year olds) are at or above the "proficient" standard in science.


Why is the U.S. doing so poorly? The authors single out five problems with state standards:

The undermining of evolution through a variety of methods, both involving the legislature (as in Louisiana's "academic freedom" act that allows the teaching of intelligent design creationism) and more subtle incursions, like Colorado and West Virginia's mandate that the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution be discussed, while of course other "theories" don't come in for such treatment.
Vague standards that give teachers little guidance. The report mentions, as two examples, "A middle school teacher in New Hampshire, for example, will come face to face with the following: 'Identify energy as a property of many substances.' Pennsylvania offers the equally baffling 'Explain the chemistry of metabolism.' Such empty statements can do little to inform curriculum development or instruction, and give no guidance to assessment developers."
The promotion of "inquiry based learning" without any guidance to teachers how to implement it. The report notes, "Iowa schoolchildren are directed to: 'Make appropriate personal/lifestyle/technology choices, evaluate, observe, discuss/debate, recognize interactions and interdependencies at all levels, explain, describe environmental effects of public policy, choose appropriate course(s) of action.' Such statements are devoid of any teachable content and leave teachers with no guidance as to how they can incorporate genuine scientific inquiry skills into their instruction." Further, many states say nothing about the history of science, which is essential for teaching students how science works and how to be critical.

There's not enough math. As the report notes, things are far too qualitative, perhaps catering to students' "mathophobia": "Mathematics is integral to science. Yet few states make the link between math and science clear—and many seem to go to great lengths to avoid mathematical formulae and equations altogether. The result is usually a clumsy mishmash of poor writing that could much more easily and clearly be expressed in numbers."

It's no surprise, then, that among 15 year olds tested in 65 countries, U.S. students ranked 23rd in science proficiency, while only 21% of U.S. twelfth-graders (17 and 18 year olds) are at or above the "proficient" standard in science. (Why Evolution is True.com)

If you have children or grand children in school, check out your schools, and DEMAND better. If you have no children and simply want or expect the best from this country, DEMAND better.
 

Lois Jordan (56)
Friday November 16, 2012, 3:29 pm
Noted. Although there are faint cries to leave education to the states, it seems that a nationalized standard is necessary. With each state deciding to do whatever it wants, there is no "bottom line." Thanks for posting, Kit.
 

pam w. (191)
Friday November 16, 2012, 4:06 pm
"What exactly is going wrong? The study’s lead authors identified four main factors: an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction."

+++++++++++++++++++++++ I'd suggest another sad factor....there's a devaluation of science by many in the right-wing religious communities....a subtle SNEERING at education and intelligence in general. We all know who's behind it and why.
 

Kit B. (276)
Friday November 16, 2012, 4:53 pm

By this point do we really need to leave education to the states? States are handling education like a political football, and the students are suffering the consequences of that poor policy. As teachers leave and retire we need a system that will pay them to help train new teachers, not subject content as much as how to handle a classroom, how to integrate subject content. Every thing we teach, every thing, can be taught as inter-connected to all other subjects. It does require teachers from all areas working together and coordinating content. Neither math or science should be taught in a vacuum of isolation.
 

cecily w. (0)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 9:50 am
Minimal** standards for KG-12 should be set at the federal level because some state governments and local school districts have dropped the ball. (** I'm not using the term "minimal" in a derogatory sense, merely emphasizing that teachers and local school districts should have the freedom to determine enrichment activiites.) Math and science have not been the only casualties of America's dumbing down.

These standards should be applied to both public and private schools, and to state (sometimes local) agencies that are responsible for home schooling certification. Naturally private schools and homeschoolers could add enrichment activities too. They could also religious instruction--so long as the content of the standard syllabus was taught.

There is another factor here. Text books are a major expense for many districts, and some poorer districts have a hard time keeping current. Federal standards could, in some subjects, enable student worksheets to be distributed to teachers online for distribution.
 

Ad Du (0)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 1:20 pm

Ms. B.,

I must say I am glad to read your articles, for their dedication to science and human knowledge. I must also say today I was (deeply) disappointed by one particular comment you apparently make:

"By this point do we really need to leave education to the states? States are handling education like a political football, and the students are suffering the consequences of that poor policy. As teachers leave and retire we need a system that will pay them to help train new teachers, not subject content as much as how to handle a classroom, how to integrate subject content. Every thing we teach, every thing, can be taught as inter-connected to all other subjects. It does require teachers from all areas working together and coordinating content. Neither math or science should be taught in a vacuum of isolation."

Please do not take to heart the things I am about to say.

What is "vacuum" ? What is "interconnectedness" ? What is "isolation" ? Are these not just like the "enlightened" subject "explain the chemistry of metabolism" ? I say they are! In a world where "teachers" have "a few courses" in whatever they want to be teaching, which qualify them to be "trained" into becoming teachers, one cannot expect them to be as knowledgeable as an academician (university professor). I bet you the latter would not feel "confused" by the subject "explain the chemistry of metabolism", nor would they need any "guidance" from anybody, in order to decide what and how to teach young(er) kids.

Just as some tribes lost in the forest may still venerate goddess Phoebe and have no idea people have already been there, numerous people here have no idea that the world used to have much higher education standards than people in the US have ever seen in their secondary or even undergraduate education. Regretfully, as they read their news in English only, such news seem to have never made it to them. I looked for a way to contact you (there should be an e-mail service, but can't find a link for you), in order to show you a real mathematics curriculum, and to beg you to explain how that could be made mandatory for a whole country (or US state, say). Because it was.

Deeply disappointing was your claim (reproduced above), that teachers need training in how to handle a class, and not that much in their knowledge of content. Ms. B., the level of knowledge for teachers is so low that nowadays errors are published in textbooks! To say that teachers need to "specialize" in handling a class" is beyond comment: while students have virtually no limit set to their bad behavior, teachers are left to manage with the pretenses of a toreador waiving a cape in front o the bull, pretending they could "civilize" the bull that way.

Perhaps you could write me with a way to reach you, such that I could share with you that curriculum. Then I would like to know your comments. Please excuse my discretion, whether you agree with me over it or not.
 

Joanne Dixon (40)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 1:51 pm
Ad Du, you can always go to Kit's profile and send her a (very) brief introduction to let her know you want a conversation. I would be very surprised if she didn't respond, since she is knowledgeable, interested, and open to discussion and new ideas. Probably not necessary now.

Now for what I came to say:

OMG!!! Colorado is dumber than Texas! Horrors!! (hanging my head in shame)
 

Rita White (1)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 2:48 pm
thanks
 

Mary Donnelly (47)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 3:44 pm
Thanks Kit. I hope things get better fast. This is your "inequality" point at its most dangerous.
 

Tom Edgar (56)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 4:06 pm
Look around the world. The most regressive, backward and poorly educated people are all, without exception, the most deeply religious. It matters not one jot which religion, the more fundamental and the more intense the belief, then the least enlightened and questioning they are. From South American Catholics and Southern Baptists to Calcutta Hindus and Afghani Muslims. None encourage dissent nor questioning.
 

Kit B. (276)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 4:19 pm

I am not going to get into a major discussion here. If one has taught and trained student teachers, than they should know that student teachers at any and all levels need time to learn how to monitor their own classrooms. Integrating content means that one can teach math while teaching science, math is present in history, as is science. Neither science nor math need be restricted or isolated to being taught as if they existed separate from the rest of the curriculum or content being taught.

I also agree that religion belongs in the home or the church and not in a public school.
 

Robert O. (12)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 4:30 pm
Thanks Kit!
 

Kit B. (276)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 4:41 pm

Click on the photograph to find my profile. At no time did I indicate that teachers do not need the most comprehensive education possible. I said only that teachers reaching retirement could mentor the younger teachers with ideas and concepts that are not available in a college.
 

Yvonne White (232)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 5:32 pm
Something squirrelly about a map that lists Indiana as an A state (with all those RepubliCONs???), Texas as a C state, & Illinois as a D state!!! The University of Illinois has Several campuses, my youngest graduated from the Springfield campus with a BS in Computer Science.. and for goddess's sake Missouri got a C & Utah got a B???!!!
 

Yvonne White (232)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 5:37 pm
"Idiocracy" (the movie) is on right now..humorous prophecy of Bu$h League policies working exactly as they were intended!;)
 

Kit B. (276)
Saturday November 17, 2012, 7:50 pm

I've seen that movie, and it was funny.
 

Anthony Hilbert (6)
Sunday November 18, 2012, 5:30 am
It seems increasingly hard to believe that this could happen to a once world-leading country by accident. Someone figured a long time ago that the 1% would be richer and more powerful if the 99% were uneducated and superstitious, and set out to make it happen.
 

Past Member (0)
Monday November 19, 2012, 5:11 am
I blame the teachers.
 

Lynne Buckley (0)
Monday November 19, 2012, 12:12 pm
Very disturbing. It's too easy to blame the teachers. The cuts to the education budget in some states has been appalling. Furthermore the negative and extreme attitude towards science hasn't helped promote science to children and the public. America can benefit from having a strong science basis that is taught to all children.
 

Melania Padilla (180)
Wednesday November 21, 2012, 10:29 am
Thanks for posting
 
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