Here are a couple of letters science teachers have sent to State Superintendent Brad Smith regarding the Common Core (NGSS) Science Standards.
Dear Supt. Smith:
It has come to my attention that you are under the impression that science teachers unanimously believe the Next Generation Science Standards are what Utah needs. I would like to go on the record as a Utah 6th Grade Science teacher that does not believe we should adopt the NGSS for Utah. I would like to share with you some thoughts I have about the proposed standards and I hope you will take the time to read this. I appreciate you doing so!
I have personally written letters to every state school board member, my principal, and my superintendent whom I gave permission to forward my letters to other individuals with interest in this subject including the Governor’s office. I have also attended a public meeting put on by the USOE and voiced my concerns publicly in that meeting. All of the middle school science teachers in my school (6th through 8th Grade) have also met with a local school board member, and our state school board representative, Terryl Warner, where our concerns were shared and documented. I have spent nearly 20 years in a 6th grade classroom. Five of those years in an elementary setting, the rest in a middle school. I currently teach science exclusively with the exception of one period a day when I teach reading. I have a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and was part of the committee at the Utah State Office of Education in 2013-2014 to write the 6th Grade Science OER (Open Educational Resource) Book. I share that with you only to show that my experience with 6th grade science is extensive.
I first previewed the drafts of the proposed new standards in September 2014 at a conference at Weber State University. At that time, we were told that the changes to the standards were made by a large group of teachers and experts in Utah. We were not given copies of the drafts and it wasn’t until they became public that I was then able to do a google search on the actual verbiage of the new standards to find that they are in fact word for word exact copies of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with different numbering. It is disturbing to me that the USOE presented these new standards to a group of current Utah science teachers as being written by Utah teachers when clearly they were not. Since that time the state office has admitted that the drafts are indeed word for word copies of the NGSS and teachers only helped in choosing root questions for them and which standards would go with which grade levels.
I am not opposed to making changes to the current standards. With that being said, I was surprised by the fact that virtually all the science concepts we have been teaching in 6th grade are not part of the new standards with the exception of heat energy. The new standards are very environmentally heavy and move from talking about microbes, heat, light, sound energy, space and astronomy to mostly global warming and human impact on the environment. My concern about this move in 6th grade is two-fold. First, the concepts currently being taught in 6th grade are exciting to the students. They are engaged in the many hands on labs that naturally fit with the current standards. This piques an interest in the sciences that is healthy and strong for students moving into secondary education. In my opinion the new proposed standards are not exciting topics for 11 and 12 year-olds, nor are the students mature enough at this age to sift through all the information and misinformation that is out there about global warming (One of the performance tasks required in the new drafts). It’s not that I don’t think students should learn about these topics, it’s that I don’t believe it should be in the 6th grade curriculum. I think it’s important to note this because I believe the Next Generation Science Standards were not written by anyone who has spent the last 20 years in a room full of 6th graders. If we are trying to prepare students for future science and engineering jobs, adding performance tasks and engineering objectives to the current content would seem much more appropriate to me. This could easily be done if the new standards were truly written by a team of Utah teachers, Utah college professors, and Utah scientists with input from Utah parents. Second, changing the content so drastically puts a huge financial strain on Utah 6th grade teachers. Elementary level teachers are not given a budget for science, (even if they teach in a middle school setting). ALL 6th grade teachers in the state of Utah will have to start over buying science lab materials using money from their own pockets.
Lastly, my biggest concern with the NGSS is that key science concepts are missing that will leave gaps in learning. Why is matter and energy repeated throughout 6th-8th grade as almost an overkill of that subject whereas other key science concepts are completely removed from the new standards. This is very concerning to me as a 6th grade science teacher. Please talk to more science teachers around the state about their opinions of the proposed drafts. I am sure there are more than you think that believe adopting the NGSS is not the direction we should be going.
Thank you for your time to read and consider my thoughts,
Morgan Middle School 6th Grade Science Teacher
Morgan County School District
Dear Mr. Norton
My name is _____ I am an elementary teacher in southern Utah. In the past I have taught 5th/6th grade science. I am only a part time teacher so you can understand that I would be concerned with the State superintendent knowing my name so I would appreciate it if you removed my name when you passed this on to him.
Dear Superintendent Smith,
I have taught 6th grade science for the past two years, the new science standards that Utah is trying to adopt are not a good fit for Utah. I and at least one other 6th grade teacher that I know of, did the survey and expressed our concern for the new standards. So your understanding that most science teachers like the new science standards which come from the NGSS is incorrect.
I have several problems with the NGSS that are listed below.
1) They are a one size fits all set of standards, they do not take in consideration Utah’s unique geology, agricultural economy, & its people.
2) They have severl political standards such as “6.2.4: Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century”, “6.4.1: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment” and “6.4.3: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems”. These are very odd requirements to put in a 6th grade science standards. These belongs in a college level environmental debate class not in a 6th grade classroom.
3) I have seen the other NGSS standards for the lower grades and they do not allow a teacher to delve deep into each concept. They require a very shallow teaching of the standards. I understand that the theory behind this is that each year will build on the previous year. That is not how younger minds work. Students need an understanding that they can take with them to high school. They need to be exposed to the basics of many different sciences. If we did a scope & sequence that would work better then this.
4) The man who brought us this, Brett Moulding, is the same man who brought us the last set of standards that everyone complains about. If the last set of standards were not acceptable why would we take his word that these ones would be any better.
5) I know that many people are circumspect about the Fordham Institute report on the NGSS Standards but isn’t it worth a second look. This report for 2013 states that Utah’s current science standards are superior to the NGSS that the USOE is considering. Why can’t there be an open debate between representatives on both sides? Instead of just shoving one opinion to the side. That goes against scientific inquiry. All sides must be heard before an assessment can be made. Here is the link to that report http://edex.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/publication/pdfs/20130612-NGSS-Final-Review_7.pdf
These 5 reasons are just scratching the surface about what I feel is wrong with the new Utah science standards, but i know that you are a busy man so I thought these would be worth thinking about. I am doing this anonymously because of the tensions that are surrounding this and other common core standards. I don’t have faith that those of us that have a different opinion will be allowed to voice our opinions without repercussions. I love teaching, I love helping young people discover their potential but these standards are stiffing my ability to do just that. I will never sabotage my students learning for a political agenda but I think that we all want the same thing. We want what is best for our students so we need to come together and figure that out. It would be hard, long, & arduous but worth it in the end. Thank you for your time.
Southern Utah 6th grade teacher