The national “Next Generation Science Standards” are moving into the last phase of review. Future American students will be studying less science, not more.
Biology consists of seven subdisciplines: zoology, botany, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, ecology, evolution and molecular biology. The NGSS only addresses three: ecology, evolution, and molecular biology. Over half of biology will be discarded.
The rationale for this is the old education school argument that American science has tried to teach “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Their solution is to just teach a few ideas “deeply.” But using the magic of “inquiry learning and questioning,” our students will then be able to somehow fill in all the missing science they never learned.
Of course, you can’t solve a chess problem if you do not know how to play chess. And you can’t fix a car if you don’t know how a car works. And learning to play chess doesn’t make it easier to fix a car.
The ed school folks designing the NGSS appear clueless to the fact that all future citizens need to know how their bodies work as we handle medical decisions throughout life. Studying just ecology, evolution and molecular biology will not help students understand kidney symptoms or make nutrition decisions. If they know nothing about the life of plants, animals and microbes, just how will ecology and evolution be meaningful—because it is animals, plants and microbes that have ecological relationships and evolve?
Everyone needs to graduate from public schools knowing how their body works. Our ongoing failure to teach detailed human anatomy is one major factor contributing to every man, woman and child in America costing $2000 more every year in medical and health insurance costs compared to other developed countries. Citizens in Germany know their anatomy and physiology enough that they can refer themselves to a specialist without going through a general practitioner. Other developed countries spend at least three times more course time on science than do American students and they are rapidly pulling away from the U.S. in science patents and other measures of scientific achievement. The only reason the U.S. scientists still win science Nobel Prizes is that it takes a 20-40 year lag to assess winners and our current winners were trained long ago when the U.S. science curriculum was more substantial.
The promoters of these federal science standards claim that they are supported by the science community, just as they claimed for the earlier reforms of AAAS “Less Science Not More” and the National Science Education Standards of the late 1990s. But these prior “standards” were primarily written by education specialists. Most scientists did not pay much attention to K-12 curricula and the many who did point out that “less science is less science” were ignored.
If Kansas continues down the road to approving the NGSS, we can expect a range of reactions in Kansas schools. Some affluent schools can maintain some academic freedom and ignore the standards because their students all perform well and might possibly have made the 100 percent AYP mark. But most schools with some poverty students struggle to make the needed assessment scores and school administrators restrict teachers to teaching-to-the-test. It is the testing that give the standards “bite.”
No Child Left Behind has not gone away under the recent Kansas waiver, but has merely been renamed. Of the four waiver provisions, raising test scores and narrowing the gap between high and low performers remain test-driven criteria. Testing the standards drives teaching. That means that for most Kansas schools, adopting the NGSS will mean the elimination of animals, plants, anatomy and physiology, and microbiology from the biology classroom.
In addition, the “inquiry” process so lauded for producing scientists ignores the fact that most of our students will not become scientists. And those that do will not study the four missing subdisciplines.
Why would the Kansas State Board of Education continue on a path to approve the NGSS?
The KSBE has had a solid majority of pro-evolution members for several years and this will continue. If Kansas did not adopt the national standards, our state standards would be up for its regular cyclical review. While I cannot read Board members minds, I can only speculate that the majority does not want to have a state-level curricular discussion that could open up the topic of evolution again. In a state where botany and zoology are at the base of our agriculture, and anatomy/physiology and microbiology ignorance drive up health care costs, avoiding publicity about evolution is a poor reason to abandon teaching the critical biology desperately needed by our next generation of Kansas students.