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New Science Standards Get B+

The National Research Council’s framework for common state science standards, released in July, won perfect marks for “content and rigor” in a new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. However, despite finding it an “impressive document,” the Washington-based think tank bestowed an overall grade of B+ because the framework’s strong content is “immersed in much else that could distract, confuse, and disrupt” the framework’s stated priorities.   Among the concerns: whether the framework provides “undue prominence” to engineering and technology, Education Week’sCurriculum Matters” blog (10/4) notes.

“Given the meager hours for science in K-12, is this boost for engineering worth the trouble, the distractions, even the poetry?” asks author Prof. Paul Gross, a professor emeritus of life sciences at the University of Virginia and a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. While he acknowledges the importance of engineering, Gross suggests the framework made a weak case for it, perhaps because of “the presence of institutional or political considerations, and enthusiasm for the E in STEM as the key to national prosperity.”

The report identifies other potential “flaws,” including an over-emphasis on “science process” skills. It also questions the  extensive discussion of equity and diversity, particularly the emphasis on differentiating content and instruction for some minority groups, which seems to contradict the framework’s goal of promoting the same high-quality science education for all children.

The review comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that 20 states would play a lead role in helping to develop a common set of “next generation” science standards from the framework.  The states – which represent a robust cross-section of the nation  – will work with Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit, and a team of 41 writers that includes science teachers.

The Fordham Institute plans to evaluate the science standards that emerge, but wanted to assess the framework before the writers got too far along.  “This is like writing a review of a cookbook rather than a restaurant,” Fordham Institute President Chester Finn, a former assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration, told Education Week’s Erik Robelen. “Nothing has been cooked yet, you can’t taste it yet, but we’re looking at what the ingredients are and cooking techniques ought to be.”

Likening the standards-writing process to carving a statue from a block of marble, Gross concludes the report by saying an A grade may yet be attained–“as long as their chisels are sharp and arms are strong.”

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