Two recent events provide the opportunity to revisit a couple of recurrent themes in my blogs. The first of these events was the release of the NAEP science results from the 2011 administration. The results were predictable – no significant growth in the number of students achieving at the proficient level. Only about a third of all students tested performed at this level or better. Sound familiar?
The same general pattern was apparent when I reviewed the results from the last NAEP reading and mathematics assessments. And the reasons are also the same. There are no “breakthroughs” in NAEP results because this snapshot assessment program tells us as much about student ability as it does about student achievement. Not all students of a given chronological age will reach the same achievement levels at the same time – particularly when the resources invested per student are essentially uniform. The number of hours of instruction per day, week and year are broadly equivalent across the United States and students are focused on the same relatively narrow curriculum.
The NAEP results are being broadly misinterpreted. Various pundits cite the results as more sure evidence of the failures of public education. The results don’t show this at all and are in the range of what can be expected given individual student differences and our allocation of resources. I urge you to challenge politicians, the popular press, and even educators that consistently drawn uniformed conclusions about the assessment and its results.
This leads us to the second recent event of note, the release of the full first draft of the Common Core Science Standards. Do these standards inspire confidence for higher science achievement in years to come? The short answer is no. They simply repackage old ideas we’ve seen so many time before. No paradigm shift here. Traditional science instruction just gets a new coat of paint.
Consider this vision as an alternative. We have now arrived at a point in human intellectual history where the knowledge base derived from the application of the scientific method should form the consilient foundation of the entire public school curriculum. The current, old curricular silos should be replaced with a large web of interconnected domains all linked by their scientific origins. Science concepts and processes should anchor all fields of study. Critical thinking will become, by definition, the central habit of mind to be developed in all classrooms.
I think this curricular vision qualifies as a paradigm shift on the order of the one needed to prepare students for the future. Of course this kind of curriculum won’t answer all questions of interest, because the understanding of the world created by scientific thought is, of course, incomplete. But the evolving nature of our understanding is one of the most important lessons to be learned in school.
If the vision of a forward looking, science-driven curriculum appeals to you, send a message to the Common Core team about broadening the focus of the standards. They are accepting comment on the draft science standards until June 1st. Here’s the website: http://www.nextgenscience.org/.