Posted by: Dave Moursund
Tagged in: Improving Education
We are in the midst of a strong movement to create precollege Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in language arts, math, and science. Two of the arguments that support this movement are:
- Students in different parts of the country should have equal opportunities to get a good education and should be expected to meet similar academic standards.
- High standards help to drive educational improvement.
The Fordham Institute has recently published its “grades” of the current science standards in the various states. The following report discusses the general idea of science standards and includes the 2005 and 2012 Fordham Institute grades for each state.
Fordham Institute (1/31/2012). The State of Science Standards 2012. Retrieved 2/5/2012 from http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/the-state-of-state-science-standards-2012.html.
Page 7 of the report lists all of the states and their grades for 2005 and 2012. I was not pleased to see that Oregon (where I live) received an F for each of these two years. The national average was a low C.
The website listed above also contains 2011 state-by-state grades for U.S. history standards. Oregon has a grade of F, and the national average is a D.
These “grades” are based on an analysis of the state standards. They are not based on actual performance of students in the various states. However, quoting from the 2012 report:
The 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found barely one-third of fourth graders in the United States at or above the “proficient” level in science, with those proportions slipping to 30 percent in eighth grade and a woeful 21 percent in twelfth grade. Another recent study reported that just 30 percent of our high school graduates are prepared for college-level work in science.
The popular media carries many stories about how poorly the U.S. is doing relative to other countries in science and math. These are grist for the political mill and for all who want major improvements in our educational system.
As you know, the totality of collected human knowledge continues to grow at a rapid pace and is extremely vast. The 20 or so years of formal education that it takes to earn a doctorate in a relatively narrow area of study produces a person with a relatively high level of expertise in that narrow area. Even that does not suffice in many areas of research. Post-doctorate studies are now commonplace in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) areas.
This situation of an overwhelming and steadily growing amount of accumulated knowledge in hundreds of different academic disciplines (thousands of different specialties) leads me to think about what we should be trying to accomplish in our precollege educational system.
Who should decide what students are to learn and how well they should learn it? Clearly answers about what students will learn and what level of expertise they should attain in each area they study will vary from country to country.
Should it vary from state to state within the U.S.? Certainly—state history provides a good example. Or, how about education for students growing up in a sparsely populated rural area versus education for students growing up in a highly populated urban area?
My conclusion is that as people try to make international comparisons of educational systems, they are faced by the complex problem of deciding what to compare. It is not surprising that people decide to do comparisons in science and math—surely science and math education are the same throughout the world.
Hmm. Are the science and math educational needs of students through the world really all the same? Surely not! Well, how about at the state level within the U.S.? I'll leave you to your own devices in trying to answer these types of questions and to provide solid evidence to support your position.
My point is that it is very difficult to decide how to allocate the quite limited amount of formal schooling time that students have. We can develop criteria to decide whether the science education goals in one state are "better" than those in another state. We can develop a set of national goals/standards and use them to compare performance of individual students, schools, school districts, and so on. As the Fordham Institute studies show, different states will set different goals/standards. And, of course, states will vary in how well their students, individual schools, and school districts meet the goals/standards.
What You Can Do
Here is some food for thought. We know that there are large individual differences among students. These differences come from a combination of nature and nurture. To what extent do we—as a world, nation, state, or community—want our schools to focus on making all students as nearly alike as possible in a limited number of academic areas? What are your personal beliefs, and how do they play out as you continue your own lifelong education and help in the education of others?
You have varying levels of expertise in the many different endeavors that you undertake and you routinely interact with people in this same situation. Do you routinely detect ways in which our educational system has let you down and/or let down the the people you interact with? If so, how much blame do you place on "the system" versus on yourself and other individuals?
Will our current national efforts in high-stakes testing and setting more uniform standards in math, language arts, and science, help solve the "flaws" in our current educational system? What things do you, personally, do to help correct the flaws that you perceive?
Please consider discussing these questions with students, preservice and inservice teachers, administrators, parents,and others who play major roles in our educational system.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you:
Effective study skills. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/effective-study-skills.html.
Personalizing educational content and delivery. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/personalizing-education-content-and-delivery.html.
Self-assessment instruments. See http://iae-pedia.org/Self-assessment_Instruments.