Below is a guest article from a parent, Emily Rouse from SW Iowa, who sat in on the last Next Generation Science Standards Task Force meeting. Like me she was less than impressed with the format and the “transparency.”
By Emily Rouse
Eight states have adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Iowa is currently one of the states considering the NGSS. The Iowa Department of Education (DOE) hand-picked twenty-eight Iowans to review and make recommendations to the State Board of Education (BOE). These twenty-eight individuals make up the NGSS task force. There have been three public NGSS task force meetings. The stated purpose of this meeting was to come to a consensus of whether or not to recommend the NGSS to the State BOE. However, the true purpose of this final meeting was to convince all task force members to cast a ‘yes’ vote to recommend that the State BOE adopt these standards for Iowa. This was achieved by only having experts speak that supported the NGSS. My first concern is that the NGSS task force meetings were never designed to let the members hear from a variety of experts who supported AND opposed the NGSS. These meetings were one-sided. One presenter, Sarah Deery, energetically supported the NGSS because they would allow students to be taught “how to evaluate truth.” The task force members where never given the opportunity to hear differing viewpoints on the NGSS at the meetings, and thus half of the truth was hidden from them.
Colleen Anderson presented on the Implementation, Assessments and Cost of the NGSS. She stated upfront that schools would be in charge of buying all NGSS aligned textbooks. Assessment costs would also fall into the school district’s and taxpayer’s lap. The current cost of Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is a fixed form test, is $3.50/student. Students are tested in science in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades. There are approximately 37,000 students per grade in Iowa. This equates to Iowa school districts spending $388,500 for students to be tested in science. The NGSS fixed form test will cost approximately $25-27/student in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades or $2,775,000 total. I reiterate, we the taxpayers and school districts will be footing the majority of the bill. The financial cost is not the only burden that we, as a state will carry; with the possible adoption of the NGSS, we will also be carrying the heavy burden of a generation of people who do not know how to problem solve without the use of technology. One of the task force members raised the concern that there is “too much focus on technology and engineering, which gives kids a false belief that all problems are solved with technology.” He went on to further say that “science is no longer the emphasis and has been replaced with engineering.” He was told, along with the other task force members, to write up a one page summary of concerns, questions, etc. to be submitted to the State BOE. It came as a surprise to most task force members and myself that, as the meeting was drawing to a close, a vote would be taken. I say a surprise, because it appeared a discussion was just beginning to take place among the task force members about the NGSS. Only 20 of the 28 members were still present. Up until this point only the pro-NGSS viewpoints had been offered from the presenters.
The final question was this: Do you recommend the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards?
a.) Yes, without reservation
b.) Yes, with some reservation
The results were a.)11 b.)7 c.)1
One member chose not to vote and there were 8 members not present. (Editor’s note: State Senator Amy Sinclair said to me that she was told she was not eligible to vote since she was considered an “ex-officio” member.)
One member remarked that the way this was carried out seemed very “anti-climatic”. Another task force member said of the NGSS, “They are a ship with many leaks, we need to make good implementation of this process.” Yvette McCulley, the Science Consultant of the IA DOE remarked that “it appears that the majority of task force members believe that the NGSS meets the needs of Iowa students.” I don’t believe this was the case. Eight votes were not taken and the whole process was rushed. Voting was the unwritten purpose of this meeting, but it was NOT included on the written agenda and the ONLY viewpoint presented was that from a pro-NGSS bias.
I am in agreement that we need to have high academic standards in the sciences and ALL areas of education, however the NGSS are not best solution. The Iowa Core was adopted in 2008. How have our students been faring with these standards? Also, do we need to look to a nationalized set of standards that are untested? Wouldn’t it be smarter to seek out states such as California and Indiana, which received an A and A- rating from Fordham Institute on science achievement, and adopt those state standards as our own? NGSS only received a C rating from Fordham Institute. We do need to have better science assessments, but why build a whole new test which is very costly (it cost $200 million to develop the Smarter Balanced Assessments). Why not use what we have but make it better? I support better education, I support our children, and I support local control. I do NOT believe that the NGSS have these three items at the top of their list if they are on their list at all.