via reader Rebecca Cole: Michael Janofsky:
The report, released Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggests that the focus on reading and math as required subjects for testing under the federal law, No Child Left Behind, has turned attention away from science, contributing to a failure of American children to stay competitive in science with their counterparts abroad.
The report also appears to support concerns raised by a growing number of university officials and corporate executives, who say that the failure to produce students well-prepared in science is undermining the country’s production of scientists and engineers and putting the nation’s economic future in jeopardy.
Wisconsin’s results are available in a one page PDF file:
The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards announce confidently that they “set clear and specific goals for teaching and learning.” That was not the judgment of our review. They are, in fact, generally vague and nonspecific, very heavy in process, and so light in science discipline content as to render them nearly useless at least as a response to problems for which state learning standards are supposed to be a remedy.
Wisconsin’s school districts are required to devise a curriculum from these very general statements. Advanced science courses are entirely of local design.
There are in toto eight standards, labeled A through H. Only three are concerned with science content (physical science, life and environmental science, and earth and space science). All the remaining five are about process. Required performance standards are given for grades 4, 8, and 12. There is a low level Glossary of Terms, followed by “Terms Unique to Science.” All seem to be derived from the National Science Education Standards.
Samples of vague disciplinary content standards: From Standard D, physical science: D.12.12: “Using the science themes and knowledge of chemical, physical, atomic, and nuclear reactions, explain changes in materials, living things, earth’s features, and stars.” Standard E, Earth and space science: E.4.7: “Using the science themes, describe resources used in the home, community, and nation as a whole.” And E.4.8: “Illustrate human resources used in mining, forestry, farming, and manufacturing in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the world.”
Specificity in the science process standards is no higher. Standard A, “Science Connections.” For grade 4: “When studying a science-related problem, decide what changes over time are occurring or have occurred.”Or, Standard B: “Nature of Science.”B.4.3:“Show how major developments of scientific knowledge in the earth and space, life and environmental, and physical sciences have changed over time.” Interpretation of all such “standards” by teachers across an entire state must inevitably range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
There is no more depth in the Standards for biology, exemplified by these selections, for Grade 12: “State the relationships between functions of the cell and functions of the organism as related to genetics and heredity.” Or, “Understand the impact of energy on organisms in living systems,” and “Apply the underlying themes of science to develop defensible visions of the future.” Local specialists and teachers needn’t worry about biology content in planning to comply with such standards.
Responding to one instruction—E.8.7,“Describe the general structure of the solar system, galaxies, and the universe, explaining the nature of the evidence used to develop current models of the universe”—a reviewer asks,with asperity, “Why not just say ‘Explain astronomy’?” “Science,”we are told in the Standards, “follows a generally accepted set of rules.” Would that we were told what those rules were! More to the point, would that the teachers making lessons, curricula, and tests were given real guidance on those putative rules of science and the degree to which they differ, if they do, from “accepted sets of rules” in other human occupations. Grade: “F.”