Remarks to AARS subcommittee on Next Generation Science Standards. Sept 11, 2013

(Apologies for taking so long getting this up)

My name is Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education. I have a PhD in Toxicology from the University of Kentucky, and have taught college biology at Georgetown College.

As an educator, I taught introductory biology courses for both majors and non majors, as well as some advanced courses. Because of this, I see the fresh graduates of Kentucky’s school systems.

My experience has been that most students have had the joy of learning science beaten out of them. Too many lists of vocabulary words and too little hands on practice. Too much rote memorization of surface facts, too little deep examination of topics for understanding.

Far too many students are simply unprepared for college, and professors spend valuable class time (a semester might consist of forty five hours of lecture time) bringing students up to speed. Students need remedial work in non-remedial courses. The education system is not producing as many scientifically literate students as it should be.

As my former students have gone on to careers in medicine and science, many of them have come back and told me that they now realize how unprepared they were when they first came to college. They were at a disadvantage, and while they fought and won the uphill battle, many realize that they simply have to do too much catch up work.

One thing they talk about is that many of them had never heard anything about evolution in public school, and nearly nothing about climate change. They are disappointed that they were not even exposed to two major topics covered in every biology department of every college or university with a decent reputation. Even the small religious schools of any note though many keep quiet about this, so as not to draw fire from donors.

The Next Generation Science Standards are designed to fix this problem. Because the standards are open and flexible, they are likely to be more successful than stricter standards made up of lists of vocabulary and formulas. Being able to use and apply a formula that you are unfamiliar with is more valuable now than quick recall of the formula without understanding what it includes.

This change in teaching practices is at the root of the Fordham Institute’s criticism of the NGSS. The Institute prefers shallow examination of many content areas, focusing on vocabulary and memorization of facts, while the NGSS is designed to go deeper into fewer areas, giving students tools to understand any concept in any field they are exposed to.

The writing of the NGSS was performed with the input of many education experts and scientists, and as I am sure you are aware, when people with strong opinions have to come to a position that is satisfactory to most, some people will not be happy. Fordham is not happy, but most educators are.

Other individuals are unhappy with the importance given to climate change and evolution. After reading through the entire NGSS document, it became clear that claims of 130 mentions of weather, climate and global warming were greatly inaccurate. I would like to give copies of my study on this issue to the subcommittee after my remarks, and will make the study available on our blog later today.

Using the advanced search feature of adobe acrobat, I found 125 uses of these words. Of these, only twenty six actually refer to human caused global warming. In fact, there was only a single use of the phrase “global warming.” Eleven mentions of weathering were made, meaning erosion, which is only tangentially related to climate change.

The others refer to weather, with kindergarten and elementary school students learning how to read a weather map and what to do if there is a tornado. A fair number of mentions of climate are focused on discussions of deserts, or what features make up climate.

No mention of climate change is made in the elementary years, except to say that it isn’t a topic that would be assessed. Only five sections, four of which are found in high school, one in middle school, out of the seventy six items on the table of contents actually deal with human caused climate change.

Those items dealt with, I urge you to consider Kentucky’s reputation.

Kentucky is viewed as a developing nation within the United States. We are considered an ignorant backwater. Of course, we know that this isn’t true, but that is what outsiders believe.

If Kentucky votes down the NGSS, this will be a major embarrassment. No body politic has voted against the NGSS so far. If Kentucky is the first, know that we will be a laughing stock. We will be a Flintstones state. We need to improve our reputation.

Kentucky should be known as the place where some of the more complex issues of genetics were discovered, not a place that rejects modern science out of personal preference.

Kentucky students will not be taken seriously when applying for college out of state. Our graduates will be mocked when they look for jobs out of state, asked if this is the first time they have worn shoes. Our state will not recruit high paying industry or technology jobs. Our economy will suffer as our education system falls further behind.

The NGSS won’t fix everything. Proper funding, supplies and up to date textbooks are needed for schools. Competetive salaries for teachers. A scientifically literate and curious society. This is one step, but it is a vital one.

Thank you.

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About Robert Bevins

I am a toxicologist/cell biologist, and am preparing a downloadable study guide for biology students, and in the past have taught at Georgetown College as both part time and full time faculty. The views expressed here are my own.
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One Response to Remarks to AARS subcommittee on Next Generation Science Standards. Sept 11, 2013

  1. Brandon Nuttall says:

    I had a physics class at EKU (way too many years ago). The professor passed out a sheet of equations with the syllabus and said he would attach that same sheet of equations to every test he administered. His message was that he wanted us to develop an understanding of what the equations meant and how to use them to solve problems. He didn’t want us to be bogged down in memorization. That was one of the most fun classes I ever had and, yes, I still remember many of those equations.

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