CounterCurrent: Week of 4/11
American science education and achievement has come a long way since the Space Race, but this is a way mostly of regression, not progression. In 1969, the moon landing solidified the U.S. as the indisputable global leader in science education. Now, we’re somewhere in the top ten, as I’ve written about before, lagging behind other advanced economies such as China, Russia, Japan, and India in both science education and student achievement.
This trajectory raises the perennial question: How did we get here? Surely there are many reasons that have worked together to weaken American science over the past decades. One is the irreproducibility crisis of modern science, in which many if not all scientific disciplines are filled with irreproducible, and thus unreliable, science. Another is the poor state of teacher education, especially those who graduate from schools of education.
But even more common, and arguably more fundamental, is the consistent, decades-long decline in American science education standards. After all, if we don’t properly educate our children in the fundamentals of scientific inquiry, how can we expect to produce quality scientists?
The latest failed experiment in American science education is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a popular curriculum designed to complement Common Core math and ELA standards (we all remember how well those went). The NGSS do many things poorly and only a few well, earning them a “C” grade from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the most widely recognized organization that evaluates and grades K-12 science standards. And yet, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the NGSS, and most of the remaining states have adopted NGSS-inspired standards. What gives?
The National Association of Scholars’ latest report, Climbing Down: How the Next Generation Science Standards Diminish Scientific Literacy, presents an extensive critique of the NGSS, including exactly what is contained in the standards (and what is not), and how they adversely affect K-12 science education wherever they are implemented. The report was co-written by Professor of Nursing Jennifer Helms, former NASA education and outreach teacher James Nations, and NAS’s own director of research, David Randall. I myself had the pleasure of editing Climbing Down and can assure you that the report is a must-read for any and all concerned about the state of contemporary science education. The authors write,
Students should be able to engage in thoughtful analysis, sort through evidence, systematically analyze it, and then build arguments based on findings. Moreover, science education should be about discovering truth, not just assembling and regurgitating facts. Unfortunately, the NGSS abandon both. The NGSS severely neglect content instruction, politicize much of the content that remains, largely in the service of a diversity and equity political agenda, and abandon instruction of the scientific method. The NGSS will leave students unable to use the scientific method as a way to approach the truth.
The NGSS are an educational travesty which will do nothing but further cripple American science achievement at a time when we need it most. Even worse, there is no lack of quality science standards in the U.S.—many states simply abandoned them for the subpar NGSS, in large part to save face and properly pursue a DEI agenda in their schools. These states must reverse course and provide proper science education to their students—Climbing Down provides specific recommendations to do just that. In the meantime, we will only see a continual decline in the scientific achievement of our nation’s students.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.
Image: Pixabay, Public Domain