Thomas R. O'Donnell

NGSS moves forward in Iowa; skeptical review team member discusses why he voted no

In STEM on April 20, 2015 at 7:42 am

How to Read the Next Generation Science Standards from Achieve on Vimeo.

After months of work, an Iowa Department of Education (IDE) review team last week signed off on a recommendation that the state’s schools teach the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as an update to the current Iowa Core standards.

It’s a victory for science advocates over conservative opponents, who don’t like the NGSS’ focus on inquiry over rote learning and inclusion of lessons on evolution and human-caused climate change.

The team of science educators and business leaders will meet again next month to draft a report to the Iowa Board of Education, which has the final say. Opponents are likely to put up resistance again there. One press report indicates some board members may be leery of diving into the evolution and climate science controversies (which really are non-controversies among scientists). Conservatives may try to exploit that hesitation.

The team formally endorsed only a portion of the NGSS document and its decision wasn’t unanimous. Two members voted no.

In fact, one of those two consistently voted against the standards at the team’s March 24 meeting.

His objections and the review team’s choice to adopt only part of the standards, leaving the rest as “supporting material,” provide insights into how the NGSS are structured and what they’re designed to do.

Next Generation Science Standards gain attention and near approval

In STEM on April 13, 2015 at 7:25 am

Iowa Department of Education logo

Some interesting things have happened in the month since I last wrote about Iowa educators considering the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

If you’ve been reading along (and you have, haven’t you?), you’ll know that an Iowa Department of Education (IDE) team is studying revisions to the Iowa Core science education standards. After considering several sets of standards, including some from other states, the team focused on the NGSS as a baseline for new Iowa requirements. You can read more about the deliberations and associated surveys, forums and issues in my previous posts.

This followed an earlier IDE task force that reviewed the NGSS and endorsed them as acceptable for Iowa.

The two groups approved the NGSS despite loosely organized opposition from social and political conservatives. They object to the standards’ emphasis on inquiry-based, hands-on science understanding as opposed to rote memorization. But they may object even more to their inclusion of evolution and human-caused climate change as accepted science. Which they are.

In the next month or so, the team will devise a recommendation for the Iowa Board of Education to consider. It meets again on Tuesday, April 14, at the Science Center of Iowa boardroom in Des Moines.

Here are the new developments:

Review panel data finds strong support for the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on March 10, 2015 at 7:45 am
Chart showing sentiment toward the depth and breadth of the Next Generation Science Standards among Iowans in an unscientific survey.

Chart showing sentiment toward the depth and breadth of the NGSS among respondents in an online survey.

Often, the loudest voices get the most attention in a debate. For instance, there’s organized, motivated opposition to Iowa’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards.

But the loudest voice doesn’t always represent the majority.

Data gathered from an Iowa Department of Education team reviewing the state’s science education standards indicates there’s strong, if not overwhelming, support for adoption of the NGSS as a base for revised Iowa standards – the base concepts K-12 students will need to grasp to advance and graduate.

Significantly, much of the support comes from the state’s teachers and administrators – the people who will have to implement the framework while applying their own judgment and expertise.

Even at four forums around the state, where you might expect opponents to come out in force, the number of speakers in favor appears to outnumber those speakers opposed. (Although, at least at the meeting I attended, only a fraction of those present actually addressed the education officials.)

The review team was established under a governor’s executive order, which directed the education department to review all the state’s standards, now called the Iowa Core. Over the last month the review team has gathered comments from parents, teachers, administrators, and others via a survey and the forums.

On Thursday the review team met to review the comments and survey results. After they got them, I got them. Now you can read them, too – if you care to invest the time.

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