The “Next Generation Science Standards” are now out for inspection—though some remaining bits won't appear until later in the month—and Fordham's expert science team has just begun its review. In a few weeks, we'll have an appraisal. Later in the spring, we expect to produce some comparisons with individual states' present standards.
It's no secret that many of those are mediocre or worse—sometimes far worse. But it's also no secret that a few states have outstanding science standards, so devising such isn't impossible.
States that are already grappling with the challenges of implementing and assessing the Common Core standards for English language arts and math will, of course, need to determine just how many unfamiliar foods they can swallow and digest at once. And it's already evident that the new science standards will elicit some degree of controversy, not least because some topics covered therein are inherently contentious, beginning with evolution and climate change. (Climate change "activists" are already declaring that their side has "won" in the science standards.)
How science should be taught and learned is also certain to be tussled over. The NGSS emphasizes “doing” it. We'll await our reviewers' judgment of whether these new standards also pay sufficient attention to “knowing” it.
RELATED ARTICLE: Justin Gillis, “New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education,” New York Times, April 9, 2013.
It was one thing—and a legitimate thing—for Texas to opt out of the new Common Core academic standards for English language arts and math that forty-five other states have embraced. Although the rigorous and generally admirable Common Core is the work of states themselves, Governor Perry and then-commissioner Robert Scott viewed it as federally inspired mischief and an assault on the educational sovereignty of the Republic of Texas. They chose instead to adhere to the Lone Star State’s own expectations for what schools must teach and children should learn.
Well and good—because at the time of those decisions (and still today), Texas could boast strong standards in English language arts; so-so ones in math; solid assessments; and a forceful, results-based accountability system, including the tough part that state after state (including top-scoring Massachusetts) has shown to be key to actual achievement gains: requiring kids to pass the tests and meet the standards in order to graduate.
Then and now, Texas has a “default” high school curriculum designed to prepare students for college-level work and modern careers—the kind with futures—as well as
I get lots of emails from aspiring ed-policy wonks, so this first bullet is for that wayward crew. Understanding the annual federal-budget dance is key to your decent into wonkery. The pre-release, behind-the-scenes process is really quite interesting—e.g., negotiations between the Department, White House, OMB, and other associated agencies. That culminates in a series of documents (from formal congressional submissions to accessible fact sheets) that provide a picture of the administration’s priorities, or at least what the administration wants to public convey as its priorities. (This is just Phase 1; Congress takes over from here.) You might want to spend 30 minutes familiarizing yourself with these products and their contents—you can get your feet wet on this annual ritual and impress your friends at dinner parties! (“Once again, ED’s trying to make a go of TLIF, huh?”)
Per the budget request itself, the initial documents are generally purposely gauzy and vague; this is, after all, partially a public-relations exercise. So there’s only so much we can know until all of the gory details are released. But here are some quick thoughts: More for i3? Quietly chugging along but very interesting ARPA angle. Money for charter replications? Great, but how about the DCOSP? High school redesign? Start new schools, don’t remake old ones. Flat-line-formula grant programs (Title I, IDEA)? Meh. Another push for TLIF? I’m a TIF fan, and these changes are generally good with me. More turnaround
For those of us who support academic standards, testing and accountability as strategies to improve public education, the Atlanta cheating indictments are sobering. Here was a system where dozens of employees, over the course of almost a decade, racketeered to rig results (or so it is alleged).
And while one can hope that Atlanta was an outlier in terms of the scope and longevity of its cheating conspiracy, it’s hardly an isolated case, as examples from El Paso, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other locales demonstrate.
As expected, test critics are having a field day, using Atlanta as evidence of why all this must go. They yearn to throw the accountability baby out with the testing bathwater. But they’re wrong. The better approach is to “mend it, not end it.”
Try this thought experiment: What would happen if U.S. schools ceased all standardized testing—and related consequences? No more annual assessments, no more grading schools based on the results, no more interventions in low-performing schools, no more teacher evaluations tied to test scores, no more “merit pay” for high performing teachers or job jeopardy for low performers.
The result: In our most affluent communities, little would change. Schools would continue to drive toward the real-world standard of college acceptance at elite universities, via Advanced Placement exams and high SAT scores.
At schools serving both rich and poor kids, we would probably see a return to the 1990s, when achievement gaps were overlooked, wealthy students were guided toward
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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