Next-gen science education

Science education should be deep, engaging and coherent, declared a National Research Council panel, which issued a new framework for science standards. Achieve, a nonprofit, will design the “next-generation” standards, which advocates hope will be adopted by most states.

Common Core Standards, now adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, cover English Language Arts and math only, notes Ed Week.

The framework is built around three major dimensions: scientific and engineering practices; cross-cutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering; and core ideas in four disciplinary areas—physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences, and engineering, technology, and the applications of science.

Framers hope to return science to the K-3 curriculum and to add engineering and technology in the K-8 grades to “provide a context in which students can test their own developing scientific knowledge and apply it to practical problems.”

The report calls for focusing on core scientific ideas and teaching problem solving rather than “just memorizing factual nuggets,” the New York Times summarizes.

“That is the failing of U.S. education today, that kids are expected to learn a lot of things but not expected to be able to use them,” said Helen Quinn, a retired physicist from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., who led an 18-member committee that spent more than a year devising the framework.

The committee hopes “to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science,” the report states.

Do our students know too many facts? It makes sense to focus on understanding core ideas and applying knowledge to solve problems, but it sure helps to have some knowledge to apply.

Update: The computer scientists want to add computer science to the curriculum.


Algebra II mandate gains momentum

Algebra II is becoming a required course in a growing number of high schools, reports the  Washington Post.

Of all of the classes offered in high school, Algebra II is the leading predictor of college and work success, according to research that has launched a growing national movement to require it of graduates.

In recent years, 20 states and the District have moved to raise graduation requirements to include Algebra II, and its complexities are being demanded of more and more students.

In Arkansas, which now requires Algebra II for most graduates, only 13 percent of students passed a rigorous end-of-course exam.

“All those numbers and letters, it’s like another language, like hieroglyphics,” said Tiffany Woodle, a Conway High School student and an aspiring beauty salon owner. “It obviously says something. I’m just not sure what, sometimes.”

As part of its push for higher standards to prepare students for college, Achieve has promoted Algebra II. The skills learned in the course are needed for college and in the workplace, the group claims.

But Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale, one of the researchers who reported the link between Algebra II and good jobs, says that just because taking the class correlates with success doesn’t mean that it causes success.

“The causal relationship is very, very weak,” he said. “Most people don’t use Algebra II in college, let alone in real life. The state governments need to be careful with this.”

The danger, he said, is leaving some kids behind by “getting locked into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.”

Does Tiffany really need advanced algebra to run a beauty salon?

Economist Russ Roberts, who’s married to a math teacher, warns of a one-fad-fits-all mandate on Cafe Hayek.

Closing the Expectations Gap

In Closing the Expectations Gap 2011, Achieve reports that its college- and career-readiness agenda has been accepted by policymakers, business and education leaders and the general public.

Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted academic standards that are aligned with college- and career-ready expectations, including many states that have adopted the Common Core Standards.

“States must now ensure that the higher expectations they have adopted in their standards are carried out in related policies such as graduation requirements, assessments and accountability systems that value college and career readiness,” (Achieve President Michael) Cohen urged.

Students who take college-prep courses will be prepared for college or careers, Achieve argues. But last week, its former president, Harvard Professor Robert Schwartz released a Pathways to Prosperity report criticizing moves to require a college-prep curriculum for all high school students. Students should be able to choose a career education path, Schwartz now believes.

College and career readiness is the new norm

According to Achieve’s new Closing the Expectations Gap report, aligning high school graduation requirements with college and career readiness is the new norm.  State leaders began the drive five years ago. Now, of course, President Obama wants all states to adopt new college- and career-ready standards in reading and math.

One standard shall rule them all

Though 46 states and Washington, D.C. are backing the creation of common math and English standards, figuring out what all high school graduates should know is a challenge, reports Politics Daily. Experts are trying to meet an end-of-July deadline.

The goal is for students to be career and college ready, meaning that they could make a C or better in first-year college classes without having to take remedial courses. Expanded groups of experts will set standards for grades K-12 by the end of December.

Federal standards efforts went awry in the past.  This campaign was started by governors.

“What’s really changed is that it’s almost always now teachers who say, ‘When are we going to get over this nonsense that math in Mississippi is different?’ “from math in another state, says Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has “pledged up to $350 million to help develop tests that would measure whether students are meeting the new standards.”

ACT and College Board experts are trying to develop fewer, clearer and higher standards than in most states. They’re looking at freshman course syllabi and exit surveys to determine what students need.

“They’re really looking for what students should be able to do to truly be ready for college,” says (Chris) Minnich of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the groups overseeing the process along with the National Governors’ Association and a Washington-based group called Achieve. “It means taking out some of the things that aren’t really important, including, he says, “whether or not kids should read Shakespeare. Most of the studies say Shakespeare is not critical.”

We’re going to dump Shakespeare? Lynne Munson of Common Core at the eagerness to “throw out possibly the brightest star of our literary heritage and replace it with … well, we don’t yet know.”

Of course, in a few years the loss will hardly be noticed, as someone wise once pointed out: “He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen, / Let him not know ‘t, and he’s not robb’d at all.” (Othello, Act III, scene 3)

Massachusetts’ standards are the best we’ve got, Munson argues. If common standards aren’t that rigorous, why bother?

Gadfly’s Mike Petrilli wants a broad liberal arts curriculum that goes beyond “the utilitarian and narrow drive toward college and work readiness,” which has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans.

While the right celebrates anti-intellectualism, “the left remains uncomfortable saying that there is a body of knowledge that all young people need to master in order to be prepared for life in our democracy.”

Before you know it, Shakespeare’s as dead as a royal Dane in the last act of Hamlet. History, being unessential for college or work, is history.

Getting real-er

More states are linking academic standards and graduation requirements to what students will need to succeed in college and careers, reports Achieve in Closing the Expectations Gap. In addition, more states are adopting assessments rigorous enough to measure whether students are preparing for college and career demands. “P-20” data systems that track students from preschool through college also are spreading.

II Doesn’t Always = II

Algebra II Doesn’t Always = II, reports the Washington Post.  To prepare students for college and for technical careers, 20 states and the District of Columbia now require students to take advanced algebra. But the course content and standards vary significantly from school to school:  One school’s Algebra II is another school’s Remedial Math.

“I want to make sure that if a student takes a course, it’s really a significant course, not a watered-down version,” said Ronald A. Peiffer, Maryland deputy state superintendent for academic policy.

Peiffer said that when the state made Algebra I a graduation requirement in the early 1990s, many schools began offering two versions, the traditional course and one some teachers called “baby algebra.” The state tried to rectify the disparity later, mandating an end-of-course graduation test for Algebra I that students are expected to pass to receive a diploma.

Ninety percent of Virginia’s Algebra II students passed the end-of-course Standards of Learning exam. Students need the course for an advanced diploma, but skip it if they’re content with a regular diploma.

Achieve worked with a group of states to design a national end-of-course Algebra II exam with both open-ended and multiple-choice questions.  It was tried last year in a dozen states. “In some states, only one in five students passed,” the Post reports.