Once again the American public school system has confirmed that it is failing our youth.
In a recent study conducted by the Fordham Institute, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) earned a “C” grade, barely passing by today’s education standards. The score was based on content, rigor, clarity and specificity. The NGSS received a composite score of 5.2 out of 10, translating into a “C.”
The NGSS lists sponsors such as the Carnegie Corporation and GE as well as partners which include the Federal National Research Council. “This review examined the quality, content, and rigor of the final draft of the Next Generation Science Standards,” Paul Gross, primary author of the Fordham Institute’s Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards, said. “We sought to determine how clearly, specifically, and rigorously they cover important content in four areas: physical science (including physics and chemistry), life science, earth and space science, and science and engineering practices.”
The study broke down the NGSS shortcomings within each category, listing flaws of the different areas. They found that the NGSS “physical science coverage is mediocre throughout grades K–5.” Furthermore, its “quality declines rapidly and steadily in middle school, and still further at the high school level, where little positive can be said.”
The NGSS treatment of life sciences also fall short, “generally solid in elementary school, but grows thin by middle and high school.” Even more troubling is the fact that the “standards provided are written so as to emphasize and encourage various forms of communication about high-level abstractions or loose generalizations.”
The education of earth and space science within the NGSS is “fairly ambitious in their scope, particularly at the secondary level.” Gross notes that the consequence of this desire to cover so much is that “too many standards become rather long laundry lists of content.”
Gross believes that it is “important that K–12 students see engineering in the context of science content.” However, the NGSS still contains a “number of clear weaknesses that bear on engineering.” By ignoring “several opportunities to integrate life science and engineering,” the NGSS fails to give students a sufficient foundation of applied sciences.
One of the primary issues found within the NGSS is the fact that “content takes a backseat to practices.” Gross asserts that this is problematic because “students need knowledge before they’ll ever demonstrate fluency or mastery of scientific practices.”
Recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that only one third of fourth graders score at or above the “proficient level” in science. As students advance in school, the numbers only get worse. The NAEP found that 30 percent of eighth graders score at or above the “proficient level” and a mere 21 percent by the end of high school.
States such as South Carolina scored an “A” grade in the study, proving that some schools are correctly teaching science. South Carolina’s “exemplary job” was a result of “blending such practices with a steady acquisition of science content, determining which practices are best suited, and best learned, in connection with what content.”
While many would assert that knowledge of science is obsolete because of technology, cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham refutes this claim. Willingham explains that “you can’t just Google everything. You actually need to have knowledge in your head to think well. So a knowledge-based curriculum is the best way to get young people ready for the world of work.”
Ali Swee is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run jointly by Accuracy in Academia and its sister organization— Accuracy in Media.
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