Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hey, Outliers, Leave My Kids Alone

I was really frustrated to read about the 'Battle Over the Science Standards' in the Des Moines Register today.  Just as annoying was the fact that KWWL  and KCRG picked up the AP as a debate for local control.  I smelled something that didn't ring true.  A simple Google vanity search and 10 seconds later, I had my answer.  Jill Jennings, the 'concerned parent' in the Register article, was a member of the task force that approved the NGSS standards; she also seems to be the outlier that doesn't believe in science or the science standards.  She said so, pretty clearly, back last September on one of Shane Vander Hart's conservative blog sites, when she paid homage to ignorance about climate change and advocated for Intelligent Design over evolution  in the classroom. Another home school parent is also quoted in the article.  This poorly-fabricated debate is an attempt to the sabotage the science standards by a very vocal minority.

If a small minority is unhappy with the NGSS, or the Iowa Core, or health class mandates, it is already possible for them to homeschool their children as a citizen of Iowa.  In fact, the people who have been part of the Iowa NICHE scored record victories in the legislature last year.  They can now homeschool their children in, among other things, driver's education, and they have an organization that will grant you a high school diploma as well, at least if you profess Christ as your Savior.  This group has fought repeatedly against the Common Core.  Fine. I'll respect a parent's right to be the primary educator for his or her child. Do what is  right for your kid.  But not adopting the NGSS, based on scientific practice, is the wrong choice for my children.  I'd appreciate it if the minority would respect that.

Jerrid Kruse brings up good points in the Register article, as does Jessica Goherty.  The NGSS will change what we know and do about science.  And because there are minimum grade-level expectations for K-8, and high school expectations some schools will finally address the fact that they have a very limited science curriculum in elementary. That would no longer be possible with the NGSS and would address a gap in student education in Iowa.  

Iowa stakeholders have some self-education to do as well.  For one thing, the  NGSS is written to address the 'minimum' requirements that all students should know and be able to do. They are not written as peak-of-the-mountain goals, but rather as performance expectations that the majority of students should be able to perform on an assessment, and they are focused on what kids can do.  This is a paradigm shift in language and it will take some time to unpack the ideas.  For almost a generation, we have spoke of standards as a catalog of ideas, rather than a set of expectations.  That changes with the NGSS.

The idea that this is not 'local control' is total red herring in the articles, by the way.  The Iowa Core does not tell people what materials to use, nor is it an about what happens in the classroom like day-by-day reading from a script. Local control addresses textbook purchases.  The Iowa Core is, however, about the basic content ideas that should be covered in a school's enacted curriculum, regardless of district.   This means that local control is focused on teaching materials and teaching strategies.  Adopting the NGSS will not change this mechanism, but will continue as part of the Iowa Core.

Whether we adopt the NGSS is a debate is moot in the eyes of the STEM/STEAM/STEMx community, as the NGSS standards were written with STEM in mind and the Framework for the Science standards is already in place.  As long as we allocate resources to helping our students become successful users of science, engineering, technology and math, we are already using the the NGSS framework by default.  We are asking students to become comfortable with data, with looking for trends and patterns. It means we teach them to become critical thinkers and problem-solvers.  That goes beyond the inquiry present in the current Iowa Core to an even more focused processes of design and experimentation and reflection.  Adoption of the NGSS makes our students better able to compete in a global market.

No one is saying that any set of standards are perfect.  No set of expectations ever is, as the needs of society, and curriculum expectations, are constantly changing.  But what we can say is that these standards are focused on big ideas.  The NGSS will work with the already-established math and English/Language Arts standards in the Iowa Core to help teachers become more relevant in the content they teach and more rigorous in their approach.  Our students deserve that change.

As a science teacher and parent, I want my children to understand data.  I want them to experiment and design, and to see science as a process of claim-evidence-reason. I'd like them to see its connections to history, world religion, literature. I want my children to have critical thinking skills and compete globally, which I believe NGSS will help them to do.

It's not about religion. The fact that I'm a progressive Christian means that I can feel comfortable with science AND with religion, but even if I wasn't religious, my religion shouldn't be forced on to anyone else in America.  Galileo, who believed that science and faith were not incompatible, shifted our world from faith alone to the beginnings of the data-driven science sphere.  Let's continue that journey with the NGSS.

Talk to your legislator.   Please, let them know that science and STEM  is too important to the future of Iowa to hang back and put another brick in the fear wall.

Marcia Powell teaches science at West Delaware and Iowa Learning Online.  She is a member of the NSTA, a 20+ year science educator and an Iowa PAEMST finalist.  She also looks for resources that align to the NGSS science standards as part of the NGSS Curator project.  She serves on the regional NE Iowa STEM Hub.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Marcia. I continue to state that standards are minimums. Keep up the good work and thank you for being so eloquent.