Indiana’s New Science Standards

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) had asked Indiana Association of Home Educators (IAHE) to make recommendations for involvement in developing new Indiana Science Standards.  IAHE recommended several homeschool parents with strong science backgrounds who were willing to participate.  Dr. Brent Speelman was contacted by the IDOE to participate.  We have asked Dr. Speelman to update homeschoolers regarding the process.

C. S. Lewis begins his book, The Abolition of Man, with the sentence: “I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text-books.”

I admit, I was also not sufficiently attentive to Indiana’s education standards before May of 2015 when I volunteered to be involved with the evaluation of new science standards for the state of Indiana. Currently, over one-half of the Kindergarten through second grade standards, two-thirds of the high school biology standards, and all of the high school process standards include the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The second draft of these standards was posted for comment on the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers, Inc.’s home page.

The Next Generation Science Standards are national standards adopted currently by approximately one-third of the states. They were based on a framework created by the National Research Council in 2011. These Next Generation Standards are also aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Appendix L of the NGSS (Connections to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics) states, “To achieve this alignment, the NGSS development team worked with the CCSSM writing team to ensure the NGSS do not outpace or otherwise misalign to the grade-by-grade standard in the CCSSM. Every effort has been made to ensure consistency.” Additionally, in Appendix A, it states, “The NGSS and Common Core State Standards (English Language Arts and Mathematics) are aligned”.

Since Indiana left the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2014 and developed other standards, the aligned Next Generation Standards could produce an educational dissonance, initially for the K-2 grade band and high school biology, but later for other areas if the Next Generation Science Standards are more fully adopted.

It should be emphasized that Indiana has not fully adopted these Next Generation standards. They have NGSS “process standards” that apply to all high school science classes. A 2010 Indiana science standards document states, “The Process Standards reflect the way in which students are learning and doing science and are designed to work in tandem with the science content, resulting in robust instructional practice.” Consequently, the teaching methods associated with these new standards could be incorporated into Indiana science classrooms. NGSS standards, added to the early grades and to the process standards, could represent what Education Week, in a commentary, referred to as the phased implementation of NGSS—a slower, less disruptive, adoption process.  BLOG Featured Image_Action Logo Square BW 10.28.15 SMALL

I only became involved with physics and integrated chemistry and physics standards group (which do not include the NGSS) for the second round revisions after the first round of public comment (in August). I was impressed with the professionalism and diligence of the group leader I worked with. However, I feel it is important to point out some of the unintended consequences that could result as the Next Generation Science Standards are adopted in other area of science.

If the Next Generation Science Standards are fully adopted, they will, like common core standards, be very difficult to displace.

In a Fortune special report this year, ”Business Gets Schooled”, Peter Elkind reports:

“That said, Common Core has become a reality. Like Obamacare, it’s reviled in many quarters. Yet it’s increasingly impractical to undo. Countless schools have established curriculums designed around the standards, retrained teachers, and bought new books and materials. Reversing course would require redoing all of that again.”

Even more, the Next Generation Standards are unlikely to be revised. The promoters of these standards believe that they, at this particular moment, have produce nearly perfect educational policy. Indeed, Common core is six years old and no one has proposed any mechanism for reform—it is correct, it is evidence based, it has reached a steady state. Alignment with the National Research Council’s canonical A Framework for K-12 Science Education will also maintain the Next Generation Standard’s stability.

The Next Generation Science Standards also limit science content. The writers of the Common Core State Standards always decry the old math and English standards as being “a mile wide and an inch thick”. Similarly, the promoters of the Next Generation Science Standards criticize science education as mere rote memorization of facts, teachers “proliferating” content severed from its context. Consequently, their guiding principle is the broad elimination of science content.

Appendix E of the Next Generation Science Standards states:

“Second, the framework focuses on a limited number of core ideas in science and engineering both within and across the disciplines. The committee made this choice in order to avoid the shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered is intended to give time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the core ideas presented. Delimiting what is to be learned about each core idea within each grade band also helps clarify what is most important to spend time on, and avoid the proliferation of detail to be learned with no conceptual grounding.”

As previously mentioned, two-thirds of the proposed Indiana standards for high school Biology incorporate the Next Generation Science Standard for life science. A report, analyzing the life science standards from Fordham Institute, highlights some of the consequences of this limiting of content:

“At the middle and high school levels, the content covered by the NGSS is systematically biased against “difficult” subject matter.

 Thus, for example, even the most elementary biochemistry is given short shrift (not really surprising, considering the general and widespread neglect of chemistry in the NGSS, noted elsewhere in this review). Inadequately treated are molecules small and large, cell biology, genetics, and elementary mechanisms at the cellular and gene levels of morphogenesis and development.”

“Yet students who have no familiarity with the basic molecular features of DNA, proteins, subcellular organelles, gene transmission, and the regulation of gene expression, and whose grasp of biochemistry is limited to vague notions of carbon and energy flow— whether or not college- or science-committed—will be poorly prepared for twenty-first- century encounters with health and disease. They will also be ill-prepared to grapple with life science issues of high public interest: genetically modified crops and foods, cloning, stem-cell therapies, the character and uses of genetic counseling, individualized therapeutics, environmental toxins.”

 The proposed standards for high school biology have added non-NGSS standards to address some of this content limitation; however, it is likely that the new curriculum and textbooks required for these classes will align with the Next Generation standards. The standards that were added to compensate for this limitation will not be addressed with curriculum aligned with NGSS, and consequently, will slowly fade. NGSS becomes the steady state of standards, with curriculum, textbooks, afterschool programs and later, assessments, always driving the process back towards total NGSS adoption.

By limiting the detailed, complex facts of cellular biology, students, deprived of the beauty and grandeur of life’s intricate processes, will rarely be captivated in wonder of life’s details. If science is merely practical engineering practices, no consideration will be given to questions of how all these details, these facts of biology came to be. All that is left is the expedient, the necessary practices that will accomplish useful work. Excluded is the startling fact that every cell in the body contains a code, information that produces all of life. “It’s a code, it’s a code”, could have been proclaimed when DNA’s structure was first determined, but rather, scientists praised natural selection’s cleverness—there is always the presumption of purpose—in producing all this complexity. A simple, unthinking process propagates boundless information. These questions will never be asked by students, if life’s content is delimited.

 

Brent Speelman earned a PhD in chemistry and has worked as a formulation chemist, a development chemist and a college chemistry instructor. His doctoral research involved computational models of epilepsy, while his post-doctoral research investigated the computational biophysics of cold viruses. Additionally, he studied secondary education at Chapman College (now University) in California. He lives with his wife and three children in Mooresville, Indiana.

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