My Turn: Current science standards fall short

For the Monitor
Published: 4/16/2017 12:13:47 AM

What is everyone afraid of? Better science standards? Commissioner Frank Edelblut came under fire for wanting to improve public education in New Hampshire. You would think that everyone would join him in an effort to improve the quality of science standards used in our public schools. What is most shocking is, the ones who are undermining his efforts sit on the New Hampshire Board of Education.

The Common Core Standards were adopted under Gov. John Lynch and were also supported by former Gov. Maggie Hassan. Since 2010 there has been a concerted effort to replace Common Core by parents who have seen the damage in their pubic school. As enrollment in public schools goes down, the number of home-schooling families increase. There is an online petition calling for the end of Common Core in New Hampshire along with a web site and Facebook page dedicated to its demise. Gov. Chris Sununu won by running his campaign promising to scrap Common Core.

There is a real effort among the people of New Hampshire to improve the quality of the academic standards, which in turn improves the quality of our public schools. So why is there opposition from a few appointed members of the state Board of Education?

Sadly, politics plays a big part when it comes to public education. Instead of putting all their efforts behind the new commissioner to continue reviewing standards and testing, political forces want to stop him in his tracks. What are they afraid of? Better public schools for our kids?

The current science standards (Next Generation Science Standards NGSS) adopted by this politically partisan board, were rated at a “C” level by the Fordham Foundation.

What are the more glaring omissions in the NGSS?

1) The deficiency of chemistry standards would not justify even a very basic one- semester chemistry course.

2) Physics is all but completely absent, with an occasional rudimentary nod to a physics principle.

3) The life science standards are lacking a considerable amount of biology, including whole body systems, cell and tissue types, cellular feedback mechanisms, protein structure and function, cell division (mitosis and meiosis), bacteria and virus.

4) Physical science omissions include: Newton’s first law, energy, thermodynamics, Ohm’s law, simple electrical circuits and lab safety.

5) NGSS identified the lack of math content as yet another weak and undesirable component of the standards.

6) The scientific method is absent.

According to Jennifer Helms and Jim Nations, in their critique of the NGSS, “A standard physical science course, typically offered in the ninth-grade year, would include Newton’s first law, energy, thermodynamics, Ohm’s law, simple electrical circuits and lab safety – all missing from the NGSS. So much is missing, in fact, that there is not enough content for what used to be a one-year physical science class. Perhaps the reason for this omission is that this content is the prerequisite to the now nonexistent chemistry and physics course standards. It is no surprise that physical science concepts are so sparse – they are assumed to be unnecessary.

The most conspicuously absent concept is the scientific method. This omission alone should alarm anyone concerned with the quality of K-12 science education and the future of science in general. The scientific method is the logical and rational process through which we observe, describe, explain, test, and predict phenomena. While the scientific process is not always an identical linear step-by-step process in every study, and qualitative research admittedly relies on subjective observations, science still needs an established method by which to inquire, and then collect and analyze data. But this concept is nowhere to be found in the NGSS.”

We can do better than NGSS. It’s a shame that some members of the New Hampshire Board of Education are putting politics over literacy when it comes to science education. I am grateful that Gov. Sununu prioritized public education in an effort to elevate our public schools in New Hampshire. I hope other parents will recognize the political forces working against public schools and instead support Commissioner Edelblut as he works to improve the quality of public education in New Hampshire.

(Ann Marie Banfield of Bedford is the education liaison for Cornerstone Action.)

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