An examination of the Next Generation Science Standards by word count and context regarding claims of excessive focus on climate change.
Robert Bevins, PhD (Kentuckians for Science Education)
Mr. Cothran has pointed out that he used a different document in his word search. Rather than the NGSS document, he used the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS). This is a fair point, but it is unlikely to alter my final conclusion. Since the KCAS contain the NGSS, the pages copied and pasted into their proper places, except for the introductions to each set of grade levels, the content and context is largely unchanged.
Further, as these are standards and not curriculum, any argument that vocabulary words are missing is misleading. There are different philosophies on writing standards. In one, every single detail is spelled out, leaving teachers and school boards, and in Kentucky, site based councils, very little flexibility in writing local curricula or lesson plans. In another, goals for student learning are expressed, and it is not possible for a student to reach the goal without learning and understanding the vocabulary and formulas that are “left out.” The destination is the same and there are shared features, but educators have the ability to shape the curriculum to the needs and requirements of their students, the classroom resources available, and any local or regional resources that may be unique.
To quote his response
He also asserted that my word count involved terms related to climate change and that, in fact, the terms I found in my word search were related to climate science in general, but not climate change in particular. What I in fact said was that these were terms related to climate science.
Again, Bevins misrepresents what I said. Here is what I said: “If we had only Kentucky’s science standards to go by, we would have to conclude that climate and weather issues are more important than gravity, photosynthesis, electricity, genetics, radiation and quantum mechanics.” [Emphasis added] I then said, very specifically, exactly which terms I was counting: “…the terms “climate,” “weather” and “global warming” are together mentioned over 130 times.”
His claim goes awry from the start. “Related to climate science” is imprecise language. Air could be said to be related to veterinary science as the animals involved tend to breath air. Direct reference to a concept should be our guideline, not the potential that somebody could draw a weak relation between any one of the possible definitions of one term and another.
It is misleading to claim that “weather” is a term that is always used to refer to climate science. This would be an imprecise use of language. Weather often refers to nothing more than weather as a short term phenomenon.
Similarly, climate is itself is not always a reference to climate science. I’m sure that statement will make Cothran’s head spin, but when climate is used to describe weather over a suitably long period of time, it does not necessarily refer to climate science. Climate science starts, in my opinion, after one studies why a particular climate exists and how it has or can change. Otherwise, a mere description of what cancer is becomes oncology.
Global warming is “related to” and refers to climate science. The looseness of terminology and use of language used by Cothran in making his claims allows him to say that overly broad definitions make him right, while a careful use of language allows individuals to communicate and discuss issues without ambiguity.
Context is important in making these distinctions. Unless context is examined, a word count is insufficient evidence to make a claim regarding actual content. If Cothran’s argument relies on weak evidence, the argument itself can be no stronger than this weakest link. I find it difficult to believe that Cothran was not and is not aware that these terms are overly broad, and the resulting overestimation of the importance of climate science (or climate change) to the standards was his intent. However, as I cannot be certain, I concede that is possible that where I was looking for scientific meaning, Cothran, not being a scientist, is not used to the precise use of language required for discussing scientific topics.
In fact, this is the problem we come up against when a person refers to evolution as “just a theory.” This is sloppy use of language. A theory could mean “hunch,” but in science, it refers to an explanation of an observed phenomenon with broad and significant supporting evidence and no disconfirming evidence. A theory in science is the most exciting and important thing you can discuss.
I did say, prior to those specific claims, that there was “an avalanche of terms related to climate change.” I said that because my assumption was that the reason for having all of those climate and weather related terms in the standards was because of the recent interest in climate change. In other words, the prevalence of climate science terminology was my evidence for an emphasis on climate change in the standards.
Now I suppose someone could argue with my assumption that the reason for the inclusion of all the climate science emphasis in the standards is not due to the interest in climate change (and Bevins tries to do this), but that would be rather hard to believe. It would also not square with the responses by standards supporters to my argument, which was not that I was wrong about the emphasis on climate change, but rather that the standards were, in fact, correct in emphasizing it (through an emphasis on climate science). Just see the two responses that appeared to my article in the Herald Leader two weeks later.
Cothran makes two assumptions. One is that all of the uses of these words are in reference to climate science. They can be, but are not always. The second is the one that he is aware of and admits to making.
Cothran seems to think that my point is that there is no interest in climate science. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My point is that it climate science is not over-emphasized, but receives just enough emphasis. Cothran makes it sound as though other concepts are excluded or de-emphasized because they did not show up in his cursory examination.
Climate science is an overarching concept within the KCAS/NGSS because multiple fields of study contribute to it. A discussion of climate science requires understanding of the sun, the atmosphere, the heat storage capacity of CO2, methane and water, the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the various climate types found on the earth, and an understanding of how to approach some of the engineering required to deal with potential issues raised by climate science. The standards were developed to tie different parts of science together, which is an important lesson to learn about science, as well as an effective technique for teaching complex subject matter. There are few other topics as suited as climate science for students to study with the purpose of synthesizing and evaluating this knowledge.
A word search of the KACS for terms related to genetics, “gene,” “trait,” and “inherit” turns up 447 instances of these three words! I picked these words because they are related to genetics, or at least one definition is, but they may have multiple definitions and may turn up in other words.
Using Cothran’s methodology, I have shown that genetics is stressed at an extreme level, which is good for those of us that can teach genetics. However, “gene” isn’t constrained to be the word “gene”, or even just part of the word “genetic,” but it also shows up in generation. Generations are very important to any discussion of the inheritance (one of my words shows up there) of traits (another word I picked). The problem is that it is also part of generate, and students are constantly asked to generate models in the KCAS/NGSS.
The truth of the matter is that genetics is required to discuss the multiple sections on the inheritance of traits in the life science category.
Let’s try gravity. My three search terms are “gravit” (this will catch gravity and gravitate, as well as gravitation), “orbit,” and “attract.” All of these are words that are related to gravity, and my search finds 78 uses of them. Not very useful information, but it is a data point. Reading the physical science and earth and space categories, it should again be clear that gravity will be something students will have to have a decent understanding of, if they are do describe how planets orbit stars or the motion of galaxies, both of which are goals of the KCAS/NGSS.
Photosynthesis is implicit in much of the life science section, but would be part of the physical science section as well. Electricity would be discussed in physical science, especially in sections on energy, but there would be some discussion of it in the life science category. Radiation fits into the energy and matter sections of all three of these categories. As for quantum mechanics, this is a very advanced field of study. For the most part, it belongs in AP courses that supplement the KCAS/NGSS. I only wish that most graduating students would be conversant in quantum mechanics, but few college graduates have that level of skill, not because colleges are not doing their jobs, but because it is a topic mostly addressed in upper level physics and engineering classes. In fact, I haven’t even touched on the engineering category of the standards.
In order to fully correct this post, I will perform the same analysis that I did on the NGSS for the KCAS. The methods will largely stay the same, but I will add an additional criterion. Any use of “weather,” “climate,” or “global warming” that is struck through (
like this) will be counted as not being a reference to human caused climate change. The reasoning should be obvious, as this is material that is being removed and replaced by the NGSS. I will also develop a classification rubric for references to climate science that excludes references that are not clearly pointing to climate science/climatology, and ask for colleagues to refine it so that it is rigorous enough.
Alterations are denoted by the use of green text.
It should be immediately obvious that a word search is not serious research on a topic, especially when climate has multiple meanings that can relate to education. Following are the dictionary ones of climate as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary
1 : a region of the earth having specified climatic conditions
2 a : the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation
b : the prevailing set of conditions (as of temperature and humidity) indoors (a climate-controlled office)
3 : the prevailing influence or environmental conditions characterizing a group or period : atmosphere (a climate of fear)
1 and 2a are clearly useful in a scientific sense, and 2b could be used in an engineering lesson. 3 could be used in reference to the “classroom climate” meaning
Classroom climate refers to the prevailing mood, attitudes, standards, and tone that you and your students feel when they are in your classroom. A negative classroom climate can feel hostile, chaotic, and out of control. A positive classroom climate feels safe, respectful, welcoming, and supportive of student learning.
As there are a variety of ways that climate can be used, it should be obvious that the context in which climate is used should be important.
Weather and climate may occur in sections discussing anthropogenic (human caused) climate change, but may also be found as parts of discussions of daily weather, how to read weather maps, regional climate (i.e. desert, rain forest) or historical changes in climate.
In this analysis, I examine the context of the occurrence of each instance of weather, climate and global warming within the DCI Arrangements of the Next Generation Science Standards, which are functionally identical to the proposed additions to the Kentucky core academic standards, excepting a division of middle school material into specific grades, to determine if each use of these words is or is not a clear reference to human influenced climate change, as has been suggested by Mr. Martin Cothran of the Kentucky Family Foundation on multiple occasions, both in newsprint and on his personal weblog.
It has come to my attention that Mr. Cothran’s analysis uses the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS), which includes the entire Kentucky educational standards for every subject. The KCAS science standards sections includes the previous science standards (which have been struck through, denoting that they are no longer applicable) and nearly the entire NGSS. The only parts of the NGSS that I have found missing from the KCAS, upon initial examination, are introductions to the Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle and High School years. All other material in the DCI document, linked to above, appear to be present.
Once I have completed a full analysis, using updated methods to classify struck through material, of the KCAS, I will post an updated version of this paper.
Using the PDF of the DCI Arrangements of the Next Generation Science Standards document, an advanced search for the words “weather,” “climate,” and “global warming” was performed. Each instance of these words was copied into a separate document for coding.
Coding rules: Based on context, score words clearly referring to anthropogenic climate change as related (ACC +), not clearly referring to anthropogenic climate change as not related. This conservative binary system was selected for ease of coding and speed. Section headings were rated as not related unless the heading specifically mentioned anthropogenic climate change in some way. Where a standard specifies that climate change is not a topic for assessment, it was ruled as not being a related (double negative). This method prevents an overestimate of the focus on anthropogenic climate change, but as a strict, conservative system, may be biased towards an underestimate.
|Total||ACC +||Total||ACC +||Total||ACC +|
Table 1: Total and Anthropogenic Climate Change related (ACC+) uses of specified words within the DCI Arrangements of the Next Generation Science Standards document.
Running cumulative totals are listed after relevant quotes from each section are presented in the Appendix, with total counts for K-5, MS, and HS listed after each grouping of grades is completed.
Word counts are inherently unsuited for examining any document unless context is also considered. Mr Cothran’s initial analysis of the NGSS material included in the KCAS document vastly overestimates the importance of anthropogenic climate change in the NGSS document, especially in elementary and middle school grades. In fact, no clear reference to human caused climate change exists within the NGSS sections applicable to the elementary years, and out of the 45 uses of “weather” and “climate” found within the middle school section, no uses of “weather” and only four uses of “climate” are used in the context of anthropogenic climate change.
As my study used the original NGSS document instead of the KCAS document used by Cothran, the reader must extrapolate the results of this analysis to the KCAS document, which reproduces, unaltered, most of the NGSS. An examination of the KCAS will be performed and made available in order to determine if a change in the document where the same material is found will alter the result.
Anthropogenic climate change is stressed in high school, making up two of eleven instances of “weather,” eighteen out of twenty-seven uses of climate are clear references to anthropogenic climate change. The high school section is the only one that includes any use of the phrase “climate change.”
The presence of the word “weathering,” a term used to describe erosion, including chemical and mechanical processes, which has “weather” as a root word, were found by the advanced search and further decrease the value of the original search. This should highlight the weakness of word counts for any in depth analysis. The inclusion of the word “weather” is almost entirely unnecessary to the analysis, and only serves to inflate an already unreliable estimate.
Only twenty-five uses of “climate,” “weather,” and “climate change” were found to refer to anthropogenic climate change out of a total of 124 uses of these words, as found by the word count portion of an advanced search.
This means that 99 uses, approximately 80% of those noted by Mr. Cothran, are not related. It is my conclusion that his claim that the NGSS, and therefore the KCAS, contains an excessive focus on human effects on Earth’s climate is false based on faulty methods, and that his analysis should be discounted. It is much more accurate to note that of the seventy-six items listed on the document’s NGSS table of contents, only five include any relevant discussion of human caused climate change, with one found in the middle school material and four found in the high school material.
(all items are reproduced below the fold in the Appendix)