Fordham says improvements in K-12 science can wait

The scathing criticism Fordham leveled against the Next Generation Science Standards has received a good deal of attention.  Some of the Fordham criticisms are reasonable, and some are just completely out of bounds.

But those criticisms are not the most important part of the Fordham report.  What’s more important is this excerpt on page 5 of the report:

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.

That is, states should wait to focus on science until they have their Common Core subjects – math and English language arts – well in hand.  Given the shock that awaits most states when the first round of results from the Common Core assessments are reported, it may take a very long time for student achievement to improve enough for state policy-makers to say “OK, we can do science now.”

Those readers who saw my comments on State Impact Florida know that in the past I have taken Fordham’s critiques and comments to heart.  So yesterday I took one last crack at getting a more favorable answer from Fordham on the issue of the priority science should be given during Common Core implementation.  I used Twitter to send this question to the Education Gadfly people:  Should states improve K-12 science while Common Core being implemented?  They were gracious enough to answer promptly, Not a question of #CommonCore before or after #NGSS; It’s about implementing high standards in math, English AND science.

I didn’t find that helpful, so I tried one more time:  So you would advise states to continue improving instruction now in all three subjects – math, English AND science?  And again, another graciously prompt but unsatisfying answer:  Only states can decide what they have the resources to do at once. We advise implementing the highest standards for kids.

If you are one of the two or three people in the world who are aware that I have been campaigning for the NGSS, then you know why I am doing so.  It’s not because the NGSS are perfect, because they aren’t (although they are amazingly coherent for a document composed by flocks of scientists and 26 state departments of education).  Certainly the Florida standards I worked on are far from perfect, and I bear considerable responsibility for their imperfections.  And I can tell you why the California standards, rated “A” by Fordham, are deeply flawed (too many benchmarks!).

I have been campaigning for the NGSS because science must be a high priority for the nation’s K-12 schools if our students are going to be prepared to live productively and thoughtfully in our new technological society.  What about the Common Core subjects, math and English language arts?  Yes!  We need those, too.  But just as we need multistate standards in math and English to drive student achievement to the next level, we also need multistate standards to propel achievement in science.  Fordham doesn’t address that issue in their review, or anywhere else for that matter.

But it’s the Fordham argument that improvements in K-12 science can wait while states focus their resources on the Common Core subjects that is most insidious.  If we take science off the K-12 menu now, how do we bring it back onto the menu a decade from now (or whatever it takes)?  And what about the students who lose career opportunities in science and engineering over the next ten years?

The most important rebuttal to the Fordham review isn’t that some of their content-specific arguments are ridiculous.

It’s that science can’t wait.

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