Iowa Adopted Subpar Standards for Science

next-generation-science-standards.jpgOn August 6th I attended the Iowa State Board of Education meeting to comment on their plans to move forward with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  One of my stated main concerns was with the large emphasis on engineering in what was supposed to be science standards, which as many know is a completely different discipline from science. Engineering is about making things work, while science is about how and why things work. Engineering is about implementation, while science is about discovery.  Engineering centers on facts, while science centers on theory.  These are two different ways of thinking, which is why these are also two separate career paths. While they can work together in the real world, and often do, I believe that the blending of the two in a classroom of young minds can quickly lead to the blurring of the line between fact and theory.

I think that the perfect example of this blurring is the current hullabaloo surrounding the NGSS standards on climate change. The standards emphasize human caused climate change the way an engineer world: that it is an unquestionable fact, like gravity. Yet a simple Google search reveals that scientific questions and discrepancies on it still remain, and are espoused by respected experts in their field. I am not a scientist and will not pretend to know all the particulars on how the earth works, however as an engineer, I can tell you that no engineer would commit to a project if it had as many discrepancies (& scientific disagreement) in the data as climate change does. So why is it being taught as fact, and the children required to come up with climate change solutions like an engineer, when it is clearly still only a theory, which children should be required to explore and question like a scientist?

I cannot help but evaluate these standards as an engineer would, so I have also shared the following concerns with the Iowa State Board of Education regarding the NGSS:

  1. The Task Force evaluating these science standards included many science educators, but no practicing scientists. In looking up the available Bios on the members, none disclosed any continuing scientific practice, any peer-reviewed published work in science journals, or ongoing scientific research. While it did include one real world engineer from Rockwell Collins, why not a real world scientist? How can we trust the evaluation of these standards when no field experts appear to have been consulted? (as a side note: the Iowa Department of Education did not require certain expertise to be on the Task Force. When asked, they could not provide their Bios or contact info to the public, and seemed to not even be aware of what they were. I had to research each member myself. They were chosen for the Task Force mainly via recommendation- how and by whom is unknown.)
  2. By including so many engineering standards in the science standards, actual science standards suffered as a result. There is little depth in the chemistry topics, very little at all in terms of physiology, and physics is abandoned altogether.
  3. There is a greater focus on science “activities”, where children are given the data to use in order to draw pre-determined conclusions, and less focus on science “learning”, where children gather their own data to test theories based on the knowledge shared and taught in the classroom.
  4. The climate change standards violate the scientific method by not including both sides of the scientific theory. In presenting theory as fact, and repeating alarmist claims to tap into feelings, these standards risk undermining the learning process itself. Since students can now easily discover contrary theories on their own (as well as the objective data to back them up), doubt will be cast not only on the authority of the teacher, but also on any possible validity of the theory itself.
  5. The standards are not rigorous enough to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and the Task Force openly admits this in their report. Why are we approving sub-par standards that are an insufficient base for these kinds of career paths, thereby requiring children (& parents) to supplement them?

If you want to build the greatest building, the most efficient telecom infrastructure, or the strongest bridge, you need to start out with the best of standards, led by the best in their field of study. Sadly, after my evaluation, I don’t believe that the Next Generation Science Standards are anywhere close to being the best. So, if we are going to be implementing new science standards, shouldn’t we be giving Iowa students the best?

Comments

  1. Exactly! These standards are not the best for Iowa children! It saddens me to see another nail in the coffin of public education.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head. There is little science in the science standards. And in addition to your accurate portrayal of Chemistry and Physics, Earth Science has almost no consideration either.

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