One of the experts who reviewed a draft of our white paper is Dr. Cary Sneider, an architect of the NGSS, and a member of the NGSS writing leadership team. His comments were extensive and generous, and began, “This is a nicely crafted article that should definitely be published.” Here are other highlights:
“I like a lot of what you said about how the NGSS could be improved …. I especially resonate with your comments about distinguishing truth from fiction (and outright lies).”
“A decision that I lament,” he wrote about development of the NGSS, was to leave out a core idea identified in the Framework for K-12 Science Education (the template for the NGSS), namely, ETS2 – Links among engineering, technology, science, and society. “Some of what you say has been left out [of the NGSS] is included in this core idea,” he said, and we agree. In particular our concern that the NGSS has nothing to say about the relation between science or technology and public policy would be addressed had the NGSS incorporated this core idea from the Framework. As leader of the engineering team of NGSS writers, Sneider takes full responsibility for this missing piece, and hopes it will be reinstated when it’s time to update the NGSS.
At the same time, Sneider, a retired researcher, museum educator, and visiting scholar at Portland State University, expressed a number of reservations about the recommendations offered in the white paper. “It takes more than a decade to implement a new set of standards, especially if they are quite different from what was there before. Also, some states have just recently adopted new standards,” he wrote. So, in his view it is too early to make significant changes to the NGSS. Others have made similar comments, noting how long it takes to fully implement new standards.
Some of the missing pieces we identified in the NGSS, Sneider wrote, are intentionally absent, notably discussion of key principles of science teaching. Although he agrees that appropriate classroom pedagogy is essential for effective science education, the purpose of the standards is just to state what students should know and can do at the end of instruction, and not specify any specific curriculum materials or teaching methods, leaving that up to state officials to provide guidance.
Another of Dr. Sneider’s reservations is that “everyone wants to add topics they think are missing,” but authors of the NGSS were trying to focus on fewer important topics rather than on too many topics taught quickly and ineffectively. “Prior standards have had more than any teacher can do in a year,” he noted. Anyone who wants to add new topics to the NGSS during future updates should at the same time identify other topics that should be taken out to make space for the new material. Otherwise, the process that leads to bloated textbooks will just continue. He recommended that we add a section to our white paper about what could profitably be taken out of the NGSS to make room for the recommended additions.
The last area to highlight in his comments is that Dr. Sneider pointed to Appendix H and some of the “foundation boxes” in the main text of the NGSS as places where the nature of science is already highlighted. “I’m not sure why you feel it is not there,” he wrote.
These are thoughtful comments, which we appreciate. There are obviously large areas of overlap in our views of how to improve the NGSS, as well as significant differences. Rather than try to respond in this post to each of the reservations Dr. Sneider expressed, we will simply refer readers to the white paper. We hope that we provide a sound rationale for each of our suggestions, and as we wrote, we believe that our suggestions could be implemented “without significant disruption to the science curriculum.”