The following is a news release/opinion piece approved by the Florida Citizens for Science board and submitted to newspapers across the state for their publishing consideration.
We need a better road map to science education success
Florida students have a destination they’re driving toward: a diploma that signifies they’re ready for the challenges ahead, equipped with all the experiences and knowledge that will help them be successful. Their teachers guide them to that goal, but to be truly effective as educators, they need an accurate education road map that outlines what needs to be taught. Ask 20 physics teachers what knowledge and skills are imperative to cover in their courses and you are likely to get a variety of responses, agreeing in some areas but diverging in others. This is not an ideal situation since that would mean a graduate in Polk County might then possess a higher or lower skill set than a Duval County graduate. That’s where the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards come in. Unfortunately, Florida’s standards in science are a weak road map to science literacy success. Our students deserve something better and there is a way to accomplish that.
Florida’s science standards were revised in 2008, replacing a previous set that were grossly substandard. A lot of hard work was poured into our new standards, and those who produced them should be commended. It was a monumental task tackled by enthusiastic professionals. But their working conditions were far from ideal. The time frame from start to finish was much too short and the busy framers and writers worked on it part time in addition to their own occupations. The result was an improvement over the previous standards, but it was later discovered that errors and oversights had crept in. Florida’s science standards fell short of the world class product everyone wanted. The goal was an A. We wound up with a C (link to report PDF), according to an official review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
That leaves Florida with a dilemma. Keep in mind that student assessments are developed based on adopted science standards. This means that standards drive what happens in the classroom. How do we get our science standards to an A? One possible solution that we here at Florida Citizens for Science advocate lies in the efforts of the National Academy of Sciences to create Next Generation Science Standards (information available here and here). This project is similar to Common Core standards in mathematics and English/language arts that Florida has already signed on to. So far, 26 states are participating in the NGSS development, which recently passed the framework stage and is about to dive into the standards’ writing stage. The states-led project has the full support of the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Nationally recognized experts and world class scientists are engaged in this. Unfortunately, Florida isn’t involved.
If Florida joins this project now, we’re not obligated to commit to NGSS adoption when it’s done, making it a low-risk venture. But not joining means missing out on the opportunity for Florida educators to influence the final product. Working with others states will spread the financial load, making the effort a lot cheaper for Florida’s taxpayers. We encourage the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Board of Education to put our state in the forefront of this worthwhile endeavor. A poll released in March showed that an impressive 97 percent of voters believe “that improving the quality of science education is important to the United States’ ability to compete globally.” It would be foolish to “circle the wagons” around a current state standards/assessment system that is not providing students what they need. Anything that allows us to compare learning gains across districts and states helps us to understand how to better support science learning. Scientifically literate graduates are an essential part of Florida’s future. We owe them the best possible science standards. Let’s not fail them!