Thomas R. O'Donnell

Next Generation Science Standards: an update

In STEM on April 30, 2014 at 6:49 am

Next Generation Science Standards logoIt’s been six months since an Iowa Department of Education task force recommended the state adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The group of educators, legislators, parents and others rejected conservative objections over local control and the inclusion of evolution and human-caused climate change and sent the standards on to the Iowa Board of Education.

The standards, formulated with input from 24 states – including Iowa – will set the agenda for science literacy and, more importantly, for teaching citizens to understand and interpret scientific data.

Since then, there’s been no news – which made me nervous. Was the board letting the NGSS die of neglect, hoping people would forget about them? Was the department getting objections from conservative officials in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration?

It seems the former hasn’t happened and it’s doubtful the latter has, either. What is clear is that the drive to adopt the standards has stalled.

For more on how we got to this point, skim my other posts on the NGSS, moving from my fear the Branstad administration was out to torpedo the standards, to a survey gathering opinions on the proposal, to conservative opposition.

In brief, conservatives think the standards take local control from schools – even though Iowa voluntarily participated in their development and schools would be free to decide how to teach them.

(“Local control” sounds like code for letting local school boards dictate standards that omit bothersome things like evolution, multicultural subjects, and critical views of U.S. history. But that’s just me, right?)

Some conservatives also object that the standards include evolution (it’s just a theory!) and human-created climate change (a huge science conspiracy!). This ignores the fact that the Iowa Core Standards the Board of Education adopted several years ago already include both scientific principles.

Reason prevailed and the task force supported the NGSS. But what happens next?

Well, Staci Hupp, the Department of Education spokeswoman (and my former Des Moines Register colleague) said the department is reviewing the task force’s recommendations.

Meanwhile the department is wrestling with a related controversial topic: the Common Core State Standards – and it seems certain the NGSS will be set aside until that’s settled, or nearly so. Hupp is part of an Iowa Core Commission appointed earlier this year to work on full implementation of the Iowa Core, which the Board of Education integrated with the Common Core in 2010.

Many conservatives oppose the Common Core standards and are trying to ban them. Just this week Indiana reversed itself and tossed them out under pressure from conservative groups.

Hupp said the commission is focused on implementing the Iowa Core in math and English/language arts because state law requires the standards take full effect in the next school year. “We still have some variability in schools when it comes to following the standards,” she wrote in an email.

One person close to the NGSS study noted that an executive order Gov. Terry Branstad signed last autumn directs the department to regularly review the Iowa Core’s contents and improve academic standards. One possibility would be to incorporate the NGSS in some fashion, the source said.

But Hupp says the department hasn’t yet set a schedule to review the Iowa Core, and the NGSS is not part of that cycle. “But we will be looking at how to improve science standards,” she wrote.

So the NGSS continues to languish in limbo. Stay tuned; I’ll keep an eye on this.

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  1. […] I was messing around with arctic research, zombie tractors and NGSS – and doing my taxes – there was a burst of materials science news out of Iowa State University […]

  2. […] there it sat. Last April I checked on the task force’s recommendations. The department was reviewing them, but also looking ahead to […]

  3. […] least a couple of speakers seem to confuse the present review team with the previous task force I mentioned earlier. That group examined just the NGSS and didn’t consider other state […]

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