Thomas R. O'Donnell

Posts Tagged ‘Common Core State Standards’

Iowa approves NGSS as opposition fizzles

In STEM on August 10, 2015 at 7:38 am
An April 2015 photo at California's Lake Isabella. Once a tourist destination, the lake is going dry in an inexorable drought. Climate scientists say such severe weather episodes are more likely as global warming persists.

An April 2015 photo at California’s Lake Isabella. Once a tourist destination, the lake is going dry in an inexorable drought. Climate scientists say such severe weather episodes are more likely as global warming rises. Photo credit: Chris Wronski via photopin (license).

Thursday’s meeting of the Iowa Board of Education was almost as notable for what didn’t happen as for what did.

The board voted to adopt a modified version the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as the science criteria for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. It was unanimous.

In adopting the standards, the board followed the recommendation of two Iowa Department of Education panels. The most recent one worked since last fall to weigh numerous sets of science education standards – including those Iowa currently uses – and chose the NGSS. The board of science educators and industry representatives said the NGSS are best suited to help Iowa children grasp not only science’s fundamentals, but also how science works and how to weigh evidence, making them better prepared to learn on their own and judge competing scientific claims.

The outcome was not completely unexpected, but the way it happened surprised me. It could foreshadow a change in the debate over science and climate change.

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The Des Moines Register catches up on the Next Generation Science Standards: a critique

In STEM on May 6, 2015 at 7:05 am
Cover of Science Comics, April 1939, via the Digital Comics Museum.

Science Comics, April 1939, via the Digital Comics Museum.

It’s taken months, but the Des Moines Register finally caught up with deliberations over Iowa’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

On Sunday, reporter Mackenzie Ryan did a big takeout on the Iowa Department of Education (IDE) study of the standards, which would replace the current Iowa Core standards in science. It ran across the top of the front page – and as a former Register reporter, I will say you can’t do better than lead the Sunday paper, which has the biggest circulation of any day of the week.

There’s even a video on line of Ryan discussing the story and visiting a West Des Moines engineering class. (The class has more to do with Project Lead the Way, an initiative to coax more students into engineering, than with the NGSS, but never mind.)

So the Register focused a lot of attention on the issue – one that your faithful correspondent and others have reported on for months. That fact, and the fact that it was a rather weak story (as I’ll detail below), has me scratching my head about why editors thought it deserved such prominent play. Perhaps there wasn’t anything better to run.

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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.

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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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Why you shouldn’t fear the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 25, 2015 at 7:23 am
A man lights a cigarette. If local schools can dictate what science is taught, what's to stop a North Carolina school from teaching that cigarettes aren't unhealthy?

If local schools can dictate what science is taught, what’s to stop a North Carolina school from teaching that cigarettes are safe? Credit: Nightsongs via photopin (license)

This is the last week Iowans can provide comments to an Iowa Department of Education panel that is reviewing the state’s science teaching standards.

As I’ve written before, the panel reviewed several sets of standards before deciding to consider the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as a basis for Iowa’s revised guidelines. The panel had one open forum on February 11. The last two are this week: tonight in Dubuque and Thursday in Sioux City.

The panel also is collecting opinions via a survey. If you support the teaching of accurate, evidence-based information in Iowa schools, you must take it now, because opponents are arrayed against the NGSS.

Through all this, I’ve puzzled over one question: Why do people fear standards?

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Parents pack Waukee forum to comment on Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

If you were in Waukee at a forum about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) last Wednesday night and knew nothing about them, you may have come away thinking they’re a government plot to dumb down science for our kids and brainwash them.

Or you might have left thinking they’re evidence-based, objective guidelines that will help children understand how science works and how to apply those principles throughout their lives.

An Iowa Department of Education team is considering using the NGSS as a base to set new standards for what Iowa youths should learn about science.

To gather public input the team of educators is holding a series of forums around the state. I attended the first one, at the Waukee Community School District offices, on Feb. 11.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I fear conservative forces will attempt to scuttle the standards, at least in part because they teach evolution as the best explanation for Earth’s biological diversity and human influence as the best explanation for climate change.

What I heard on Wednesday did little to ease my fears and much to exacerbate them.

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Could Branstad’s task force be a smokescreen to kill new science education standards?

In STEM, Uncategorized on August 20, 2013 at 4:06 am
Kids looking into microscopes and doing science

Photo credit: Atli Harðarson via photopin cc

Terry Branstad and his lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, have been pushing Iowa educators to do more to engage kids in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea is to have a well-trained workforce for all those high-tech jobs they want to bring to the state.

So far, they’ve accompanied the drive with action, starting the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, handing out grants to scale-up activities, like FIRST LEGO League, that are designed to engage and attract students to technical fields, and holding annual summits of educators, administrators and business people.

Now, however, Branstad may face the biggest test of his resolve to make Iowans STEM leaders. His administration will have to decide if and how to adopt new science education standards – guidelines and goals that have prompted controversy elsewhere and could upset the conservative base of Branstad’s Republican Party.

For Iowans who support the standards, there have been reasons for despair – and perhaps for hope.

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