Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Norman Herr

biography of speaker


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Mr. Carroll: Professor Herr gives the next presentation.

Mr. Herr: Mine is coming from a teacher's perspective. I'd like to address pitfalls and issues that teachers face in science standards. I'd like to respond to this in an historical perspective to understand the confusion teachers may feel as well as opportunities we have in education reform. Back in 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education released A Nation at Risk. It had flowery language I'd like to quote phrases that some of you may remember in the report. It stated "The educational foundation of the society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity as a nation and as a people." Then with some analogies to the cold war, we see "If an unfriendly foreign power attempted to impose on America the mediocre performance that existed today, we might view it as an act of war. As it stands we allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have been committing an act of unthinking unilateral educational disarmament." In response to this, the Commission established a number of goals for educational reform. It's good to look at the goals we had in the past and realize that we aren't reinventing the wheel. The 4th goal reads as follows. "By the year 2000 the U.S. Students will be first in the science and mathematics achievements." We have about 6 months or so. Although many educational reform movements can be traced back to this report of A Nation at Risk, it's important to understand the genesis of this report. Where it came from. Prior to the work of the Commission, numerous reports were prepared by the National Assessment of Educational Progress referred to a number of times already today. All of these said American students were performing poorer than their counterparts of industrialized nations. It's important to realize those assessments themselves and the standards they developed, and those standards became assessed by the NAEP or TIMSS studies. So the reform movements by this A Nation at Risk report came from some standards themselves. The Standards were evaluated and assessed and we realized we were doing a pretty poor job. I think one of the most important things about the standards today is for additional reform in the future. This is the beginning of more reform movements that will happen particularly if we fail to meet the standards we set. Unfortunately probably one of the chief levels we want.

But since these earlier sets say we are not performing as well as other countries, (Inaudible), your response to such research have reports developed by blue ribbon committees in science teacher and schools throughout the country. I'd like to review a couple. Today's schools are for the advancement of science projects. Also with the National Science Teachers Association Scope Sequence and Coordination Project and with the national research projects. In many schools developed standards and the district standards are aligned with the nation standards of the past. Project 2061 tended to emphasize process the California Science Standards go on content. It causes teachers to see this as odds with the recommendations of the national commission. It reflects how to implement. If the national and State recommendations conflict. Who do I listen to? There is the issue of depth versus breadth. It says if we want students to learn science and mathematics well, we must radically reduce the amount of material being covered employ the over-stuffed curriculum places a premium in committing term and algorithms and understanding.

It would appear from the statement and specific information at conflict. Teachers might assume you have to go with 2061, (Inaudible) or with the California Department of Education. Not both. The teachers need to help harmonize these perspectives. 2061 argues that a curriculum shouldn't be a mile wide and an inch deep. It focuses on development of higher thinking skills through intense focused activities. A lot of people see breadth and depth as different. We need to acquire different information. They state high school students should know how to solve problems involving the forces between two electric charges or the forces between two masses of distances of universal gravitation. One may teach a chapter on gravity or electricity and never have time to correlate the principles. However by contrast a teacher that applies math standards might be inclined to teach either gravity and avoid electricity or vice-versa and allow time to go deep into (Inaudible). The students in that class will have major gaps in the understanding. By keeping the other standards in mind, I believe the content demanded by the State Standards, this is a floor, not a ceiling. Even though it is still broad. I think it's best understood by going deeper in the few areas required. For example, if a student understands the geometric basis of the inverse square law, Newton's law of gravitation, it will be easier for them to remember another law. Perhaps teacher guidance, the inverse square law will apply to other sources of energy such as light magnetism or sound. Memorizing separate laws, students will be able to predict such relationships based on physical and geometric principles.

Now, students who learn a concept deeply will be able to apply it broadly. We should be suspect there when a curriculum stresses depth but produces no breadth. In addition, teachers should be careful not to sacrifice depth of understanding to cover all the standards. We must remember one of the definitions of the term to cover means to obscure from view. We don't want to cover the curriculum in that way. A personal anecdote, I taught for a number of years in a small Christian high school. A nice advantage of a small school is I taught all the AP courses I want. Those courses are standards-driven. Very high standards and wonderful classes to teach. About this time of the year the students take the AP exam. One student came up to me and said I really, really, really want to pass the AP biology exam so I never have to take biology again. (Laughter) I think we need to keep that in perspective. We need to cover the bases. We need the understanding. We want them to be life long learners. The second issue is integrated science. The common core of learning in science and technology and mathematics should be on literacy. The science mathematics and technology and between those areas and arts and humanities and vocational subjects.

On project 2061, the National Science Teachers Association through the Scope Sequence and Coordination Project provides through the science courses that has been involved with that. In fact even our own California Commission on Teacher Credentialing retired the former credentials and the physical science credential and brought in a new science credential (Inaudible) one of the main reasons we did this is a felt the teachers needed a broader base. Now teachers who are trying to get a science credential have to have a broad background. They can't get credentialed until they take geology and so forth. I see Bob Park nodding his head as well. Teachers often see the new standards at odds with the new science movement. It stretches thematic interdisciplinary learning movement and to arrange according to the standards. 6th grade focuses on life science and physical science, the science project doesn't give emphasis to a particular grade. Again that raises questions as to how to raise the integrated standards that has gone so far in the State of California already.

Now, if the standards are assessed through this program. The curricula probably need to change. Many schools do not emphasize the subjects. Many recognize the State Standards have a positive effect on performance and they must be linked to rewards. I have done research in comparing honors programs and student population as well. Since 1956 it sustained about an 8 % annual growth rate. It has been done by private organization by the college board and participating college and schools. One of the interesting things here is the students have a very tangible reward. A standing reward and GPA assessed on a grading point average for AP courses. In my studies which intrude approximately 1,000 in the country, this standards based system promoted significant professional growth and development on the teachers across the board. The most important is teaching the program because they are now playing the role of a coach because they had to prepare the teachers to do well on this exam. They had to work hard and prior to that point a set their own standards. Before that they were abnormally low because of kicking back. The other interesting thing I found is that the standards will definitely affect the curriculum when they had a tangible reward associated. In the early '80s, the biology exam had no test questions related to science experimentation and professors of colleges said we can't grant you credit because we realize you have no ash contrary experience employ the teachers are saying that's not assessed on the AP exam so I won't teach it. Only that which will be assessed. In the mid-80s they introduced a laboratory component on the exam. My studies showed 98 % of the teachers changed their curriculum to employ the component. When there is an assessment vehicle, you can expect it to be changed. Legislature is starting to see the standards produce meaningful changes and not just the district. You can talk to any student and they are bored taking STAR exams because they don't see personal value to it. You might expect to see change then. One of the reasons the scores are low is the students don't see the value of the exams. Apparently there is a proposed bill, 25-40, they require those students be required in 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 based on State Standards. Now, I think it raises an interesting question. If the State Standards are reduced for grade levels, what happens in science where perhaps the subjects aren't tested, for example in 8th grade they cover a variety. The State Standard emphasizes physical science. You test physical science and how will it affect physical science? I just wanted to raise these questions. The final thing I want to talk about that comes up is (Inaudible). In 1996 the State national research council composed a national standard. The teachers who compare these standards notice they are different. They are both referred to as standards. The national are self described as a new way of teaching and learning about science. It reflects how science itself is done as inquiry and a way of learning about the world. The California Contents are free from pedagogical bites. Again teachers may perceive with the national standards. While the State Standards emphasize only content, the national address delivery. Framework will do that shortly. Teachers might falsely assume the emphasis my imply pedagogy is not personality. I know it's all important. If you are loading the students with information that is students will understand. A good teacher demonstrates and a great teacher aspires. A true teacher might look at education and inspire the students to learn more after they graduate and are free from assessments. If you want them to be life long learners and going back to what I referred to before, apparently it didn't have a life long impact because she went on to be a physician. The real goal is what happens after they leave the classroom. We want life long learners. The pedagogy should inspire them to learn more after they leave our classes.

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Contact the organizers

Postal and telephone information:

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education

College of Science and Mathematics

California State University Northridge

18111 Nordhoff St.

Northridge CA 91330-8235

Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)

FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)