The American Physical Society Committee on Education has reviewed the sections pertaining to physics education and recommends the Next Generation Science Standards for adoption by states. The Committee further urges states to implement the necessary discipline-specific teacher professional development to enable all students to meet these standards.
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Why science teaching in the US is generally poor: Some insights from the report on teacher preparation programs by the National Council on Teacher QualityJune 18, 2013
A few excerpts from the new (released this morning) report on the quality of teacher preparation programs in the US:
From page 43, on the science preparation of elementary teachers:
Regarding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) preparation, a critical area for our nation, some 70 percent of undergraduate elementary programs do not require teacher candidates to take even a single science course. The situation only slightly improves in graduate elementary programs, where just more than half (56 percent) do not require prospective teacher candidates to have completed a science course at the undergraduate level. Currently, the only assurance of content mastery in most states is a passing score on an elementary content test, which often combines all content areas and does not report individual subscores for each area. This allows a high score in one subject to compensate for a low score in another. Far too many elementary students, for example, are being taught science by teachers who might have taken no science courses in college and who answered all or nearly all of the science questions incorrectly on the state’s licensing exam.
From page 87, on state expectations for secondary teacher subject knowledge:
For “unitary” subjects such as math, tests are generally an adequate guide to content preparation: Math teacher candidates, who are only tested in math, can generally only teach math classes. For the social sciences and the sciences, however, state licensing regimes are generally not robust enough. In some states, teachers earning a license in “general science” can teach high school physics without ever having to demonstrate that they know physics. In other states, a person who majored in anthropology could teach U.S. history classes without ever taking more than one or two courses in the subject. In these cases, we take a closer look at whether programs in these states are doing what they should to prepare teachers for the classes to which they could be assigned.
From the Sioux Falls Argus Leader:
The state standards that drive what goes on in South Dakota science classrooms are among the worst in the nation, according to an education think tank, and the standards that might take their place aren’t much better.
The Next Generation Science Standards, which were released in April and already have been adopted by three states, received a C grade in a review published today by the Ohio-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute. South Dakota was one of 26 states that took the lead on writing those standards, but state education officials have not yet decided whether to adopt them…
…The South Dakota Department of Education now is working with schools to implement the Common Core in math and English, so updating science standards is on the back burner.
“The department is continuing to review the NGSS standards, but we do not have a time line for bringing any science standards to the Board of Education,” spokeswoman Mary Stadick Smith said by email.
“We recognize that South Dakota’s science standards need to be updated, and we’ve been involved in that conversation for many months. But we also know that schools across the state are deeply engaged in the transition to new standards in math and English-language arts. As a system, we need to be concentrating our time and energies on this important work before we would address any other content areas.”
With the Fordham folks insisting that all high school grads know Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws in mathematical form, I thought it would be worthwhile to make a wish list for the students I teach in my introductory physics classes for engineering and other science majors. My wish list is much less demanding than Fordham’s, and much more likely to get a positive response from the Florida Board of Education and the Florida Legislature (although that likelihood is very low). And keep in mind that all of my students were in the top 20% of their high school graduating classes.
1) I wish that all of my students had taken a high school physics class. Depending on the semester, between 25% and 50% of my students – again, all science and engineering majors – had not.
2) I wish that more than 10% of my students could demonstrate some – any – understanding of basic concepts like Newton’s Laws and electrical current on the pretests we administer in our studio physics classes every semester. I don’t need them to have memorized the integral forms of Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws – I’m willing to work with them on that. But knowing that an object traveling at a constant velocity has a total force of zero on it and that the current that leaves a battery in a closed circuit all returns to the other end of the battery would help.
3) I wish that all of my incoming electrical engineering majors could make a light bulb light with a battery and a wire. Really.
4) I wish that all of my incoming students knew that “Volts” has something to do with electrical potential energy.
5) I wish that all of my incoming students could read a position vs. time plot for an object and tell me when the object is moving in the positive direction.
I could go on, but you get the idea – I don’t need them to know Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws when they arrive in my classroom. I need them to understand the basic stuff.
Here’s the problem with the Fordham report on the NGSS: I want to keep science on the menu in Florida’s K-12 schools, even while disappointing Common Core assessment results in math and English language arts put pressure on state and district education policy-makers to deemphasize science so that resources can be more tightly focused on Common Core subjects. (See Commissioner Bennett’s recent comments on FCAT results) Our state’s present science standards – standards I helped write – are not working. In my home county, the best middle school students don’t learn any physical science at all. Instead, they are steered into the high school biology course as 8th graders. High school students are steered away from taking physics so they can earn more money for their schools by taking AP courses like Environmental Science. The Florida Legislature just passed – and the Governor signed – legislation making it OK for students to graduate from high school without taking any physical or Earth science at all. The Orlando Sentinel reported that one elementary school principal pulls her weaker students out of science so they can spend more time on reading.
And on and on.
If Florida adopts the NGSS, there will be more pressure to keep up with other states in science and more pressure to keep doing science in the K-12 schools. Maybe it will not help, but maybe it will.
But the probability that the Florida Board of Education will adopt the NGSS and maybe – just maybe – find a way to take science more seriously plummeted this morning with the release of the Fordham report. That’s the Fordham report that insists that all students know the mathematical forms of Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws.
The sad thing is that the Fordham folks have now made it less likely that my future students will understand the basics when they arrive in my classroom because of Fordham’s insistence on setting a bar that even a non-expert on a state board of education will know is unattainable.
The influential Fordham Institute today released a report that is highly critical of the Next Generation Science Standards, giving the standards a grade of “C” and saying that this multistate effort is not as high in quality as the standards many states developed and adopted in the past. The hit on the NGSS, which is the centerpiece of the national effort to improve science education, may be a major setback for that effort.
Here we will focus on two issues raised in the Fordham report – the science-for-all-students character of the standards, and what Fordham says are the shortcomings in the high school physics standards.
The first issue is one that many teams writing K-12 science standards have confronted: Do we really write standards that we should expect every high school graduate to meet? Even those in the weakest 25% of grads? What happens to higher level science courses – especially chemistry and physics – if we do so? Will they be dumbed down? And what about the students who should be preparing for college majors in science and engineering? Should the standards address them in some way?
Fordham’s answer is that the NGSS should include benchmarks that even the most ambitious high school chemistry and physics courses should include, and that the science-for-all-students goal should essentially be set aside.
Consider this excerpt from the strongly-worded (at one point, the phrase “pedagogical farce” is used) section on “Content Weaknesses and Omissions” in high school physics:
Ampère’s and Faraday’s laws are introduced by implication but never named—and certainly never expressed mathematically:
… provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current. (HS-PS2-5)
It will be no surprise that no mention is made of such fundamentally important bases of modern society as the electric generator and motor, whose operation cannot be understood without Ampère’s and Faraday’s laws.
Mathematical expressions for Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws necessarily involve the use of calculus – beyond the scope of an algebra-based physics course at either the high school or college level. The benchmark quoted by Fordham on this topic is indeed a very ambitious statement for a science-for-all-students document. An algebra-based physics course could cite some simple derived algebraic results involving the magnitude and direction of the magnetic field near a straight current-carrying wire, or the electromotive force in a current loop caused by changing magnetic flux through the loop. But a full statement of Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws? Obviously not.
The Fordham report also offered an ominous warning in the era of the implementation of the Common Core standards in math and English language arts:
One more crucial point at the outset: most states already have full plates of education reforms that are plenty challenging to implement, often including the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math. Before undertaking any major change in their handling of science education, state leaders would be wise to consider whether they have the capacity to accomplish this in the near term, too. We caution against adopting any new standards until and unless the education system can be serious about putting them into operation across a vast enterprise that stretches from curriculum and textbooks to assessment and accountability regimes, from teacher preparation to graduation expectations, and much more. Absent thorough and effective implementation, even the finest of standards are but a hollow promise.
This suggestion to put science on the back burner in K-12 schools until they have raised all students to the math and ELA levels demanded by the Common Core standards is a framework for mediocrity and a recipe for disaster in the nation’s science and engineering pipeline.
Coverage from School Zone.
Yes, they are, as you can see here.
From the Curriculum Matters post on the Fordham NGSS report, a response from Carl Wieman:
But Carl Wieman, a professor of physics at the University of British Columbia, rejects the notion in the Fordham analysis that practices crowd out content.
“In its repeated criticism that the NGSS are abandoning knowledge in the pursuit of practice, the Fordham reviewers are holding up a false dichotomy, suggesting there is competition between knowledge and practice in the standards,” said Wieman in an emailed statement. “In fact, in its emphasis on the integration of practice and content, the NGSS is calling for knowledge to be learned deeply and usefully, the way scientists learn and use that knowledge.”
Mr. Wieman, an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize in physics 2001, served on the team that reviewed the final National Research Council framework, a document that guided the development of the Next Generation Science Standards.
He said, “The Fordham analysis fails to recognize that the NGSS [performance expectations] can only be satisfied with deep and substantial content knowledge, a much deeper knowledge … than science education research is showing most students are now achieving even after completing university courses in chemistry and physics.”
From a National Science Teachers Association press release:
The National Science Teachers Association strongly disagrees with the opinions of the Fordham Institute regarding the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS contains rigorous and substantive science content that will give all students the skills and knowledge they need to be informed citizens, college ready, and prepared for careers in a workforce that now considers science skills and knowledge to be basic and fundamental requirements. We also applaud the NGSS writers for maintaining a teachable number of core ideas. If fully implemented, we believe the majority of students will leave high school with a far greater understanding and working knowledge of science than is currently being achieved.
Even with the controversy over the Common Core swirling all around it, the NGSS sailed to an easy 8-2 adoption victory at the Kansas Board of Education meeting today. Kansas, with its history of evolution education controversy, became the first red state to fully adopt the NGSS. (Coverage from the Topeka Capital-Journal here)
After hours of negative public testimony to the Board about the Common Core, the comments about the NGSS were almost uniformly positive. In addition, a petition with 2,500 signatures in support of adoption and a rally by NGSS supporters outside the meeting demonstrated that there was a grass roots constituency for NGSS adoption. In contrast, the public comments on Common Core seemed to indicate that there was no popular support at all for the math and English language arts standards.
Perhaps the lesson is that widespread adoption of NGSS will depend on grass roots organizing. In Florida, that will be the Florida Citizens for Science. Joe, Jonathan, Brandon and the rest of you – I hope you are ready!