Research & Commentary: Common Core Science Standards

Published April 16, 2013

A consortium of consultants and science educators has released its final draft of what it plans will become national education standards for K-12 science. They are titled Next Generation Science Standards but are also Common Core science standards because created by the same groups and designed to fit with Common Core math.

Forty-five states already have adopted math and language arts Common Core standards, grade-by-grade lists of what each student must know to be deemed proficient by the government in each subject. Most states rushed to adopt them in 2009 and 2010 because the federal government required them to do so for a better chance at winning a Race to the Top stimulus grant.

Common Core proponents say their nearly national spread allows families to move between states and maintain curricular stability and allows comparisons of student achievement across states using the same measures. It also prevents states from degrading their standards, since they no longer control them. Clear, uniform, high-quality standards are necessary to create the proper expectations for schools and teachers to aim at.

Individual liberty advocates counter that centralization in education is as foolish and damaging as centralizing the economy. They note the ideological tendencies of science education toward politics as a substitute for actual science, particularly in the area of highly debatable global warming alarmism, which is falsely assumed as reality in these standards. The standards also promote a simplified understanding of science and are still incoherent despite revisions, according to several sets of reviewers. They ignore central scientific concepts and push a progressive teaching style that has been proven to erode student learning, especially for disadvantaged students.

The following documents offer more information about the Common Core science standards.


Climate Change Science Poised to Enter Nation’s Classrooms
New national science standards firmly embed global warming in the public school curriculum and are likely to curtail climate-alarm skepticism among students, reports Bloomberg Businessweek. Major textbook publishers expect some 40 states to adopt the standards. They are already incorporating into science curricula the standards’ emphasis on manmade environmental dangers, so states that don’t adopt the standards will likely end up using the Common Core science curriculum anyway..

Chemistry, Physics, Biology Groups Respond to Science Standards
Although the Common Core draft science standards have improved, science teachers and organizations say, many weaknesses remain, Education Week reports. This includes a lack of math content and specificity, missing chemistry concepts, and extremely unwieldy language. Many people interviewed worried most elementary teachers cannot handle the science emphasis, as many do not have a strong science background.

Science Standards 2.0
The second draft of Common Core science standards is “ambitious, but seriously troubled,” write pro-Common Core Fordham Institute researchers Chester Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee. The standards as currently written would lower states’ already awful science standards, the pair writes. The draft ignores essential science content, expects kids to know things in later grades it hadn’t required teachers to teach in early grades, emphasizes habits and activities rather than actual knowledge, and dumbs down essential, science-related math. In short, the draft standards’ bad qualities outweigh the good.

A Science Teacher’s View: The Backward-Engineered Common Core Science Standards
A teacher who worked on her state’s science standards with the Common Core brigade explains how the process shortchanged learning in favor of creating lists of testing items. The standards aim to teach children a disconnected collection of things to memorize for state tests rather than a cohesive understanding of science and the world. She concludes the science standards would damage science education in the United States.

States Soon to Weigh Science-Standards Adoption
The number of states likely to adopt Common Core science standards after they are published in March 2013 is above 30, reports Education Week’s Erik Robelen. States will likely adopt them using their “normal protocols” rather than lighting speed, which happened with the math and English standards because the federal government pushed those through grants. The standards cement evolution and human-caused global warming as central topics for K-12 students, which some state officials said will make them controversial. Even states that don’t adopt the standards will probably use a “bastardized version” of Core-aligned textbooks, and nearly all teachers will be trained in them because of their reach, says Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

Whose Next Generation of Science Standards?
This article reviews the history of science standards in the United States and discusses the background of the Common Core science standards. Its author, Jack Hassard, argues the standards represent a cadre of elites pushing their agenda on the rest of the country.

Public School Science Standards: Political or Pure?
In this lecture at the 24th Annual Educational Policy Conference of the Constitutional Coalition in St. Louis, Dr. E. Calvin Beisner lists three major concerns he has over how the forthcoming Common Core science standards treat evolution and climate change. He says the standards are not neutral toward religion, which will lead to indoctrination, not education; fail to distinguish historical from experimental science; and fail to distinguish for students the various definitions of evolution, leading them to assume the word always denotes the same thing. The standards typify “post-normal” science — that is, the promotion of a political agenda under the guise of objective science, Beisner says.

Response of Citizens for Objective Public Education, Inc. (COPE) to 2012 Draft of National Science Education Standards
The Common Core science standards address religious questions, then provide atheistic/materialistic explanations rather than more appropriate religiously neutral explanations, write the leaders of Citizens for Objective Public Education in their critique of the standards. The standards promote a religion courts have defined as secular humanism, which leads children to accept only empirical knowledge, whereas other disciplines teach there are many different ways of knowing. The standards also make no distinction between historical and experimental science, exclude religious groups from their diversity requirements, and make no attempt to comply with First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and religion. The standards abandon the scientific method and convert science into an enterprise that rules by alleged consensus, which then purports to speak for all scientists. This seems to convert science from an enterprise that investigates into one that seeks to make social policy.

Next Generation Science Standards Fall Flat
Common Core draft science standards do not include chemistry as a separate subject but instead distribute it throughout other subjects. In so doing, the standards drop essential science content, writes former chemistry professor and science editor Harry Keller. The standards also fail to require any chemistry labs, which is odd given their focus on experiential learning, and entirely distort the point of science, which is learning from tested experience. Its format pushes a teaching method similar to that of the failed 1940s progressive science that focused not on learning but on the “social, personal, and vocational needs of the student,” he writes.

Commentary & Feedback on Draft II of the Next Generation Science Standards
Scientists, mathematicians, and curriculum experts reviewing the second Common Core draft science standards conclude they are vague, omit large sections of crucial content, and emphasize failed progressive pedagogy over the actual science knowledge students need. The authors give examples of the many crucial omissions, such as acids and bases in chemistry. They believe the standards would burden and confuse teachers rather than providing a useful, clear framework for teaching what students should learn in science classes. The standards confusingly expand ineffective ways of learning science and compress the actual knowledge essential for student success, the authors conclude.


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If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected]