I Beg to Differ

I follow a huge list of blogs–not as regularly as I used to, but I still check in every once in a while. I should not check out other blogs. It just leads to trouble, and trouble leads to blogging. 🙂  One blog I follow is the one maintained by Rodel

I take exception to some implications in their most recent post. I am the world’s biggest cheerleader for my home school (H. B. du Pont Middle School), my school district (Red Clay), public schools in Delaware!!!!, teaching (woo-hoo!), DSEA members (Yay, Team!), and Delaware SCIENCE EDUCATION. My friend Patt told me once that I positively glowed when I talked about science teaching and science kits and The Delaware Science Coalition. Yeah. It’s fun to be around people like me–really exciting!

Anyway,… Maybe I did not understand what will be happening in the next year or two, but, a Rodel staff member named Brett–a regular writer for their blog–makes it sound like it is high time for Delaware’s science education programs to undergo total revamping and that the new Common Core Standards, including a whole slew of curriculum changes, may be just what the doctor ordered. I would beg to differ.

Read on–first Brett’s post, and then my response. 

With ELA and Math Underway, Science Standards Up Next

By brett on December 30, 2011 in Federal Education News, Standards & Assessments

As a former 5th grade science teacher, I’m extremely heartened to learn that Delaware will join a coalition of 26 states developing Next Generation Science Standards – which will outline the essential knowledge and skills all students need for success, particularly in the evolving global economy.

I distinctly remember scouring the web late into the night for engaging and rigorous lessons around topics such as the scientific method, life cycles, and electricity – only to find ideas that were either lacking alignment or not tailored to the needs of students in my classroom, particularly English Language Learners.  This reality required me to modify the vast majority of materials and assessments – representing a huge loss of time that could have been better spent on my students.

This initiative, similar to the Common Core with ELA and math, will no doubt change this reality and yield benefits far beyond the more rigorous standards themselves.  They will give educators an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across state lines and provide the incentive for the best lessons/units to rise to the top – yielding enormous benefits for all students.

The process, which began with the release of A Framework for K-12 Science Education by the National Research Council in July 2011, will provide numerous opportunities for continued input and development and should conclude by the end of 2012.  We look forward to seeing the great work of educators throughout the state as they develop these next generation science standards and begin to incorporate them into their daily instructional practices.

Now, me:

I feel compelled to remind folks here that we have had outstanding STANDARDS-BASED science education in Delaware public schools for more than the past decade. In every K-5 elementary classroom and middle school science classroom across this state we have had top-notch, state-of-the-art, year-long science programs. The curriculum is universal–the 3rd grade kid inDovergets the same science as the kid in Delmar and the kid in Claymont. I should know because I and plenty of other Delaware teachers took five years out of the classroom to help design and complete the project that put nationally-recognized, world-class science into our schools.

Plus, it was a fabulously collaborative effort. Delaware teachers, science educators, DEDOE, and education liaisons from local major corporations like Dupont went to great lengths to set Delaware K-8 classrooms on a path to excellence with a $5.7M National Science Foundation (NSF) grant awarded in 1997. This was HUGE money in those days. The group spent the next five years building a world-renowned inquiry-based, hands-on science program for all elementary and middle schools in 14 participating school districts. The group was also responsible for the training and additional professional development for all science teachers that was built into the grant. 

Every teacher responsible for science instruction–all K-5 classroom teachers and all several hundred middle school science teachers in this state–were required to use the new curriculum and could not get the new curriculum without rigorous training (12-30 hours for each kit, depending on the kit) in content and pedagogy. The program was and continues to be supported by the Delaware Department of Education. Training continues at both the district and state levels.

The program, known as the Delaware Science Coalition, is housed at DOE’s John Collette Center in Dover. John was instrumental in getting the program funded and on track.

I have been a dedicated middle school science teacher since 1989. Gone are the days of me going to the grocery store, hardware store, and drugstore just to pull together all of the materials I needed to do hands-on science. I got rid of textbook-based science years ago. Who wants to read about science when you can DO SCIENCE??? Delaware teachers get 3-4 wonderful science kits per year. The kits are distributed and maintained under the auspices of DEDOE from the warehouse in Dover. The kits were developed by theSmithsonian Museum and the Lawrence Hall of Science at Berkeley. They come fully loaded with almost everything required to complete 8-9 weeks of science instruction. The program begins in Kindergarten.

Gone are the days when a teacher might have to poke around to find science lessons or reading materials or ways to enhance a concept. It’s all in the kits, and more. The training program is what really makes the whole thing work.

The kits, the curriculum, and the training are all based on national science standards, and have been updated over the years. The curriculum is spiraling–2nd grade “Soils” builds on K’s “Solids and Liquids; 4th grade “Land and Water” builds on 2nd grade “Soils”; 6th grade Earth History (set in the Grand Canyon) builds on 4th grade “Land and Water.” 

I am made nervous by the intent of statements in this post like the following: ” This initiative, similar to the Common Core with ELA and math, will no doubt change this reality and yield benefits far beyond the more rigorous standards themselves.  They will give educators an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues across state lines and provide the incentive for the best lessons/units to rise to the top – yielding enormous benefits for all students.”

More rigorous than what? Than ASCS and NSF-designed and monitored national science standards? And, why on earth would we want educators collaborating with others to CREATE new lessons and units forDelaware classrooms??? What? Have me and my colleagues sit around and go back to writing curriculum? Why? Why on earth would I want to do this when we already have one of the finest science programs that money and time can produce?

I am not opposed to tweaking the standards or for looking for ways to accommodate particular learners and their differentiated needs. I am not opposed to us taking a close look at the kit program–making some adjustments, and tightening up on initial training as well as enhancing additional training related to science process skills and science literacy. But tossing what we have and going with something brand-new and teacher designed is not the way to go 

A valid goal would be to return to the time when we gave science education in our public schools its due, instead of putting it and social studies on the back burner in favor of more time for just reading and math. Modeling for teachers how they can utilize science instruction to meet ELA and math GLE’s, standards, and objectives would be another great goal.

Babies and bath water seem to come to mind here. 

Do I misunderstand? Am I missing something here? My colleague, Tonyea Meade, the DEDOE Science Associate, was a Science Coalition Specialist for her school district during the 1997-2002 NSF grant program. I served in the same way for Red Clay. The two of us need to talk.

This entry was posted in "Reform Experts", Accountability, Curriculum, Education Reform, Literacy, Professional Development, Quality Teachers/Quality Teaching, School Improvement, Science Education, Teachers and Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to I Beg to Differ

  1. John Young says:

    The Common Core Standards and the tests in development to support them are coming to save us from certain failure. Why would you beg to differ?


  2. Frederika says:

    I am not opposed to common standards. I am not necessarily opposed to common curriculums. The entire state has successfully shared the same K-5 science curriculum since 1998-2000; middle schools since 2000-2002, and beyond. I think it is a damned good idea to have some uniformity across a district and even aciorss a small state like Delaware, AND, as along as it is great curriculum with input from teachers.

  3. John Young says:

    Well, this is a robust issue. With your qualifiers of great curriculum with input from teachers…it certainly is more palatable. One of my objections is policy based and the role of federal gov’t in process. The use of policy and competition as incentive to coerce states to join forces just rubs me wrong a bit. I have a little 10th amendment problem, mixed with homogenizing regional differences that make America great into a common set of standards or curriculum. My degree is in history (and an MBA) so I can more see common standards/curr in math and science, but not so much in social science…..

    Just see a whole lot of federal intervention in the last 10 years and very little academic progress in our nation. The form the crux of my skepticism about RTTT and many of the initiatives to change pathways to teaching, leadership, etc. The one thing untried is stability and resources…we just seem to double down on crazy change with inadequate resources all driven with a maddening level of impatience….Delaware is right in the middle of that mess, IMO.

  4. Uncle Bob says:

    Comeon, John. You just need to get granular. Or, maybe see things from the 30,000 foot view. Not sure. I get those two confused. Maybe get jiggy wit it…

  5. John Young says:


  6. gg says:

    Suddenly there is all of this focus and attention on STEM. I keep wondering why people have lost sight of the science we first built into elementary schools. That’s the S. It’s been there all along–wlel, since the late 90’s. And, some of it includes engineering. Like 5th grade Motion and Design where kids build and test their own cars according to certain design specifications–how much more engineery do you wnat?

  7. Hey Frederika, it’s Eddie! Allow me to interject my 3 cents into the whole Next Generation Science STandards (NGSS) discussion. I’m one of the five people who will be working on rolling out the NGSS framework to Delaware. First, unlike Common Core, NGSS is not part of Race to the Top, so once the standards are drafted, states will be voluntarily adopting them (different process from Common Core, where states accepting RTTT funds had to take Common Core “as is.”) I’ve read the frameworks cover to cover, and the biggest thing I’ve noticed about them is the heavy emphasis on engineering. Many of our elementary units are suited to the NGSS, some just need some supplementation (but as we know, the biggest challenge of elementary science is for teachers to have the opportunity to teach the curriculum, not so much what is in there). Our middle school units may need some finessing (word?). Again, not so much with content, but with direction. The major emphasis seems to be on scientific thinking and habits of mind (and rest assured, the framework states explicitly that there is no one “scientific method”!) If it helps, I am encouraged by the NGSS. IT’s not a new thing, just the next step. Regards!

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