Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Should Iowa Adopt the Next Generation Science Standards?

This last fall, I was given the opportunity to sit on an Iowa Department of Education task force looking at the question of whether my state should adopt the Next Generation Science Standards in place of our current Iowa Core Standards in Science. The committee consisted of about 20 people from across the state who represented various interest groups. There were some teachers, students, parents, professors, STEM coordinators, DE people, and even a congresswoman or two. After three meetings in Des Moines, I can tell you that the group of professionals called to action in this committee were at the top of their game. I have the utmost respect for each of them and their opinions (even those I disagreed with). They were passionate, without an agenda, and highly concerned about the direction Iowa should go in terms of it's science standards. In the end, the committee voted to recommend that Iowa does adopt these standards, but there was some hesitation in many members.

That being said, let me give you my thoughts, reservations, and hopes for our state.

I went into this thing a blank slate. Overall, I am not the biggest fan of standards in general. As I have said before, I believe that they stifle creativity for teachers, limit student choice as to elective classes, and rarely fit with what I think should be taught in high school. But.... as we are stuck with having to adopt something, I was willing to give them an ear and keep an open mind.

Spoiler alert: I voted that the state should adopt, but I had reservations. Let me explain my thoughts here.

Why the State should adopt:

In looking at a comparison between the Iowa Core and the NGSS, there were a few distinctions that stood out in my mind. First was the research they were based on. I am not a fan of educational research in general, (its all soft science) but am aware that there are many out there that know more about it than I do. Both of the standards documents are research based. The NGSS follows the Framework for Science Education published in 2012, which was based on the last decade's research in how science should be taught. The Iowa Core was based on the original National Science Standards document that came out in the mid 80's which means the research behind it was probably done in the late 70's. This was before we had computers! Score 1 NGSS.

The second interesting fact about the Iowa Core came when a panel of the actual writers sat before us. They were understandably proud of their document. They spent hours of their life in working through its intricacies, and themes. However, there really were only a handful of them, and they had other jobs. They consistently told us that if they had more time, money, and support, they would have developed something similar to the NGSS. I am proud of a lot of what I write, but I know that if I didn't have a day job and could devote my time to, say this blog, it probably be funnier, and make a lot more sense than it does.

Third was the PD piece. The Iowa Core, to me, was not implemented with fidelity. Our state had switched gears to many times, altered what they wanted, and finally failed to assess anything. 2013 was the year where science was supposed to comply with the standards placed in the core. Most of us teachers are completely surprised we made it this far. Many science teachers tried to put our heads in the sand and wait for it to go away. With the NGSS, you can't do that. It calls for a complete revamp in what is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught. This scares the hell out of me.

In the end, it is my hope that the State of Iowa does adopt these standards in their entirety. The NGSS is not designed to be a document that you can not take apart and use pieces and parts. It is a full curriculum of standards that demand integration of the disciplines traditionally held apart. To do this, however, calls for a strenuous change to the current status quo in science teaching. Are the teachers, administrators, and state officials in Iowa ready or willing to make this change? Is the political climate that surrounds these kinds of decisions too charges for our legislators?

Please comment on your thoughts below.