New Science Standards Draw Some Criticism

By Erik W. Robelen — April 30, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

With the final Next Generation Science Standards now out for exactly three weeks, reactions are cropping up in blogs, news outlets, and other media. Although I’ve encountered no shortage of high praise for the standards, this welcoming stance is by no means universal. Today, I’ll highlight a few examples of criticism and/or caution about the standards, which were developed by a coalition of 26 states in partnership with several national organizations.

One of the most outspoken critiques I’ve seen was published earlier this month on a blog hosted by National Review Online, an outlet for conservative political news and opinion.

“One doesn’t need to be a global-warming skeptic to be appalled by a new set of national K-12 science standards,” said Heather Mac Donald, who writes on a wide range of issues for the National Review Online, and is also a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She argues that the standards “put the study of global warming and other ways that humans are destroying life as we know it at at the very core of science education. This is a political choice, not a scientific one. But the standards are equally troubling in their embrace of the nostrums of progressive pedagogy. ... The standards drearily mimic progressive education’s enthusiasm for ‘critical-thinking skills.’ ”

This post sparked considerable debate in the comments section of the blog, not all of it complimentary of the author’s take.

Second, Paul Bruno, a middle school science teacher from California wrote an online commentary last weeek for EdSource, a nonprofit research and policy organization based in Oakland. The title says it all: “California Should Not Adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.”

Bruno argues that while the standards “may have much to recommend them to other states, it is unlikely that they represent an improvement over the status quo for California.” He identifies “the most immediately striking weakness of these new science standards is that they are difficult to read.” He also argues that the standards document “overemphasizes skills at the expense of factual knowledge. As a result, I’d prefer to continue teaching under California’s existing standards.” (From all I’ve heard, California, one of the lead states in developing the standards, is likely to adopt the standards this year.)

Here too, scroll down to the comments section at the end of Bruno’s commentary for reaction, including a defense of the standards by the president and president-elect of the California Science Teachers Association, and another from Chris Roe, who leads the California STEM Learning Network. (Here, by the way, is the CSTA’s statement praising the final standards, as well as a statement from the STEM network touting the standards potential to transform California education, and urging their adoption.)

Finally, I’ll highlight a warning for states to “hold your horses” before adopting the new standards, courtesy of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank led by Checker Finn, a former Reagan administration education official.

“States are being encouraged to embrace and adopt these standards—and it’s no secret that most would benefit from far stronger standards than those they’ve been using,” write Finn and his colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee at Fordham. They note that in Fordham’s latest grades for science standards, issued in January 2012, the average score was a decidedly mediocre C minus. (Ouch.)

“At present time, however, we urge states considering NGSS to exercise caution and patience, for three reasons,” they write.

Those reasons? In a nutshell:

• First, some “important ancillary documents” are still forthcoming, most notably materials to address alignment with the common-core standards, and a discussion of high school course sequences in science that may prove “crucial” in determining the extent to which the standards will “sufficiently impart ‘college and career readiness.’ ”

• Second, leaving questions of quality aside, a majority of states are “already consumed” by challenges with common-core implementation and will want to weigh how many big changes they can realistically undertake at the same time.

• Third, their early read is that the final version of the standards “suffers from some of the same challenges that were evident in the first and second public drafts.” (You can find the response of their panel of science and math experts to the second draft here.) Key questions Finn and Porter-Magee identify regarding the final standards include: Is crucial science content missing, especially at the high school level? Are the expectations detailed enough to inform curriculum and assessment development? And does the systematic integration of science “practices” have the effect of “constraining and distorting pedagogy by mandating classroom activities, rather than articulating student outcomes?”

Fordham is the only organization I know of that currently is in the business of evaluating—and grading—state science standards. It’s planning to grade the NGSS, and also offer some kind of comparison and contrast with existing standards for each state. (However, I’m told Fordham will not make recommendations on whether an individual state should adopt NGSS or not.) The think tank, by the way, gave a grade of B+ to the National Research Council framework created to help guide development of the standards.

Also, Fordham has proven a pretty influential ally for the Common Core State Standards, especially in reassuring conservative political leaders. So, what it has to say on the subject is likely to get the ear of policymakers in at least some states as they consider whether to adopt the standards.

Meanwhile, leaving aside the critiques highlighted here, the NRC has concluded that the new standards are consistent with the intent of the framework document it developed.

Also, you can learn here which states are likely to be early adopters of the new standards.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP