Standards Opinion

Jack Hassard: The National Science Teachers Association Takes on the NextGen Science Standards

By Anthony Cody — June 30, 2012 5 min read
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Guest post by Jack Hassard.
Originally posted here.

Standards development, such as in science, is a big enterprise, and one that will result in huge profits for corporations, and will cost school districts billions to carry out over the next few years. For the past two years, Achieve and the Carnegie Corporation have teamed up to write a framework, and a set of science standards for K-12 schools. The science standards were recently flashed on the screens of our computers for about three weeks so that we could give Achieve feedback that they no doubt will embrace in their next draft which will be published in the fall.

In the meantime, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has provided feedback to Achieve on the first public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). You can read the full report here.

NSTA, the largest organization of science teachers in the U.S., issued their reaction this week, and has concerns about the new science standards as shown by this author statement:

we continue to have serious and extensive concerns about the current content and architecture of the NGSS. These issues are similar to the ones we voiced in our review in November 2011 and January 2012 and are outlined below. The level of our concern has intensified considerably as a result of an increased number of individuals who have seen and commented on the draft. As we inch closer to a final draft of the standards, the NSTA leadership is concerned that some of the issues we have raised have yet to be addressed and strongly recommends that these issues be addressed now so that they are reflected in the next draft.

After reading the report, I can not help reading between the lines of NSTA’s feedback to Achieve that NSTA is still an outsider in this enterprise, and “welcomes the opportunity to work together with Achieve and its writers to address the issues contained in their report.” Welcomes the opportunity? If you read Achieve’s website, it claims that NSTA is a partner. If NSTA were a true partner, why does an official reply have to be written? NSTA should be able to walk in the door of Achieve’s headquarters, and talk directly to the writers. It’s reputed that Achieve works behind closed doors, and my view of their current project further supports this contention.

Here are NSTA’s recommendations followed by further critique of the science standards.


Nevertheless, NSTA made critical recommendations about Achieve’s science standards, and their report outlines them.

NSTA Recommendation 1: The NGSS should include a section on Connections to the Nature and History of Science in a manner similar to the Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science.
NSTA Recommendation 2: The front matter of the NGSS should contain an overarching essay that explains the architecture of the standards, including the relationship between the individual performance expectations in a set and how each performance expectation relates to the practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts within the foundation box. The essay should also make clear how the performance expectations, practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts should be used in planning instruction and provide some examples for various topics and grade levels.
NSTA Recommendation 3: Each set of performance expectations in the NGSS should include an opening statement that explains why this set of performance expectations has been grouped together.
NSTA Recommendation 4: Every core idea should have at least two performance expectations that probe it. The first performance expectation should combine the core idea with the practice of modeling, explanation, or argumentation, and the second performance expectation should combine the core idea with one of the other five practices. The connection between these performance expectations and the core idea should be explicit.
NSTA Recommendation 5: The appropriate grade level for students to learn a particular science concept in the NGSS should not differ from the recommendations in the National Science Education Standards and Benchmarks for Science Literacy unless there is published research that provides evidence in favor of the move.
NSTA Recommendation 6: Any assumptions about the resources, time, and teacher expertise needed for students to achieve particular standards should be made explicit (Note: This is identical to Recommendation 11 on p. 305 of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.)
NSTA Recommendation 7: The survey mechanism used for the next public draft of the NGSS should be more user friendly than the mechanism that was used for this first public draft, and the timing of the release should be sensitive to the schedules of all educators, but particularly the schedules of classroom teachers.

Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards
were available for public review for a few weeks in May, 2012 and we had until June 1 to complete their online review, and this reviewer agrees with NSTA when it said in its 7th recommendation that the next review needs to be more user-friendly.

But There is More to Criticize
The NSTA feedback is critical of the details of Achieve’s effort to write a new set of science standards for K-12 schooling. But it is not critical of the way the standards are being created, nor do they dispute the value of standards-based reform. We still continue to fracture the world of science into the traditional disciplines of science, and to make matters worse, the authors of an earlier report, The Framework for K-12 Science Education, added another discipline to science, and that was Engineering, Technology & Applications.

The NGSS has created a set of standards that do not get us to “think outside the box” of the traditional science disciplines. And even after adding engineering, technology and applications, they have treated this new domain as a separate, and new set of standards that students must learn and science teachers must teach.

There is very little evidence of supporting interdisciplinary teaching in the NGSS. The science standards are too confined to the traditional disciplines, and there is meager attention to “applications” in the new Engineering standards. There seems to a lack of science-related social issues being embedded in the new standards. The long history of science, technology, society and environment (STSE) education has largely been ignored in the new standards. This is as expected. When the teams are organized by content disciplines, the need or desire to give up some of limited space for your list of standards to write interdisciplinary standards is low on the priority list.

It is disappointing that the writers stayed in the traditional box and created one more set of standards that in the end will make very little difference in student learning. We’ve shown over and over by citing research studies that the authoritarian standards model of teaching presents a barrier to teaching and learning.

Why have we invested millions of dollars in creating a new set of traditional standards at a time when education dollars are scarce? A new study by the Pioneer Institute estimates that it will cost states $15.8 billion to align their state standards to the common core. What will it cost the states to align its science standards to the NGSS?

It’s probably because the education is a multi-billion dollar enterprise and a cash cow for corporations that sell products and services for the education market. Since we’ve been convinced that American schools are failing, raising the bar and writing more rigorous standards is just the ticket to pushing those test scores up. And along the way, it will mean more millions in new text books that will have to be written, new online courses and resources, new assessments and monitoring systems, staff development training to explain the new standards, and on and on.

What do you think about the Next Generation Science Standards?

Related Blog Posts on the Next Generation Science Standards
What People Are Saying About the Next Generation Science Standards. One high school chemistry teacher said that the “Next Generation Science Standards” have set out to backwards engineer the whole science curriculum into a coherent, self-validating tool. The goal all along was an instrument to market both teaching and assessment products to a captive education system, not to provide a framework for good teaching of the sciences. Read more to find out what others are saying.

Are the Next Generation Science Standards a Brick Wall or a Bridge to Learning? In this post, I am going to suggest that the authoritarian standards are metaphorically brick walls acting as barriers to learning and teaching. By understanding how authoritarian standards can prevent teachers from helping students learn, opportunities for change will come to light.

Some Problems with the Next Generation Science Standards: One Reviewers Notes. These are my notes after participating in Achieve’s online survey of the NGSS.

Next Generation Science Standards: Old School?
It is disappointing that the writers stayed in the traditional box and created one more set of standards that in the end will make very little difference in student learning.

Next Generation of Science Standards: What’s Really Been Achieved?
The NGSS, although they are presented in an overwhelming and distinctly powerful way on Achieve’s website, when you drill down to the actual standards, you find content statements that are not very different from standards that we’ve seen in the past.

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.