Modest changes to the NGSS would not be enough

A number of science educators believe that the NGSS has sufficient strengths that any improvements should be made simply by adding to or subtracting from the existing document. For example, as we wrote earlier, a science educator who provides professional learning experiences for science teachers reported that he has seen a large increase in teachers seeking help on how to teach from a more student-centered, phenomena-oriented, inquiry-based approach. In his opinion (and he is not alone), the NGSS has done a service in promoting instruction that helps students learn about science by doing science, so he is reluctant to make major changes.

Even though some science educators agree that certain important ideas are missing from the NGSS, their preferred approach would be to add performance expectations (PEs) as needed (e.g., students should be able to describe the functions of some key scientific institutions, such as the CDC). At the same time, in order to keep the list of expectations to a realistic number, as some PEs are added they believe that others would need to be removed.

On the surface this seems reasonable. Certainly some improvements could be made in this way, and that would be a good thing. However, tinkering with the NGSS would not change its overall purpose (“preparing students for college and careers”), which is too restrictive. That approach also would not incorporate NSTA Position Statements advocating teaching more about the nature of science, and linking science to personal and societal issues.

In addition, the requirement that every lesson incorporate the three dimensions identified in the NGSS unduly limits the curriculum. It is not necessary to “do science” every day, focusing only on the list of topics in the NGSS. Some days students might read a news article and summarize it, or research an unfamiliar topic, like vaping, and write a few paragraphs about what they learned. In fact, reviewing articles and lessons published in professional journals such as The Science Teacher makes it clear that good teaching does not always look like what the NGSS says it should. The NGSS moved the proverbial pendulum in the right direction—doing more science—but moved it to an extreme.

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