The Debate over the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards
Today's guest blog post comes from Adam Mansour. Adam is a student at the University of California, Berkeley and is also currently a summer intern at CK-12 working on standards correlation. He is working to align the content CK-12 publishes to states' education standards.
In reading about the Common Core State Standards for Math and English Language Arts and the Next Generation Science Standards it is clear that there are no two defined groups of support and opposition to the implementation of the new policies. Initially, it is important to clarify that the intention of these two initiatives are to prepare all American students for college and future careers and that the standards have not been proposed or endorsed by the federal government. They are not curricula, but rather they are sets of expectations of students’ performance following each year of K-8 instruction and four years of high school. As a result, a new approach to the implementation of education standards across state lines has led to debate over the true effects the policies will have on education systems throughout the United States. Currently, 45 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and some Pacific territories have adopted and are implementing the Common Core, which was finalized in June 2010; meanwhile, 26 states have adopted the NGSS, which was finalized this spring.
While less populated states of the country seem to be those most affected by the changes, there are mixed reviews of the NGSS and Common Core from around the entire nation. From parents, to teachers, to think tanks, those invested in the K-12 education in America have a broad range of perspectives from which they critique the NGSS and Common Core. Such responses include fears regarding the politics, rigor, testing practices, and timescale of implementation of the new standards.
States with generally more conservative political views, including Texas and Alabama,
have yet to accept the NGSS, with many believing that the standards are biased towards a politically liberal, rather than scientific, agenda. Specifically, discussion of evolution and climate change is at the focus of criticism of these states. Despite significant and conclusive research validating the two theories, they have yet to be accepted universally. Another obstacle to the new standards is school culture among teachers and their administrators. In addition to teachers implementing the standards in widely varying ways, many teachers argue that the actions expected of students to demonstrate understanding will be difficult to standardize. In the NGSS, these performance-oriented expectations promote project-based learning through an extraordinarily explicit three-pronged approach, including Science and Engineering Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas and Crosscutting Concepts. Together, these different facets of the NGSS standards meld to shift the way testing is viewed by both students and teachers.
Assessment, however, is still under fire from many groups invested in K-12 education, including parents and think tanks. Parents have been largely skeptical of the prospective changes, as the private sector has taken a larger role in influencing the standards than in the past. Zoos, aquariums, and museums, for example, have offered a new perspective to the creation of the NGSS. As a result, skeptical teachers and parents have argued that these organizations and education think tanks may have received public funding, in a power-grabbing effort by the federal government. While these claims are unverified, they do propose an interesting argument regarding the role of the federal government in standardizing education standards across the country.
The most notable past effort by the federal government is by far No Child Left Behind, which mandated standardized testing across the country. Highly controversial due to its immense manipulation of government funding to schools based on test scores, some of its components have resurged in the implementation of the Common Core. For example, schools that were determined to be traditionally low performing will be allowed to retain the designation in the first years of the Common Core implementation, beginning in the spring of 2015. This would make such schools exempt from testing, indefinitely. While some argue that 2015 is too soon of an implementation, Chiefs for Change, a coalition of school administrators, has been the prominent voice denouncing the idea, citing that every school must be held to the same higher standard without delay.
Despite debate over student assessment, there is a resounding consensus against using Common Core and NGSS assessments to judge teachers’ performance. Currently, there is no indication when testing will be used to assess teachers, in order to smooth the transition into what some teachers call inflated and excessive rigor in testing. There is significantly less resistance in California, and other large states whose standards are already of the same rigor as the Common Core and NGSS. The dominant opposition comes from smaller states that have the breadth, but not the depth, of the new standards in their existing education systems. In many states, for example, what was high school math will now be taught as early as 7th grade. With the new form of testing introduced by the Common Core and NGSS, students will be required to take part in deeper levels of individual, critical analysis. This aspect of the upcoming changes is being enthusiastically praised by aforementioned think tanks and private sector influences.
Overall, the new standards will be beneficial in closing the gap within the country, despite the non-involvement of the few states resistant to the prospect of more rigorous standards and testing. The move, whether federally funded or not, is a step in the right direction for the United States’s education system as bridging the gaps in STEM and higher education becomes more and more of a necessity in today’s workforce. By creating an increasingly standardized and respectable American diploma, we can better prepare our students for college and their future careers.