Nebraska's newly minted science standards for public schools are “clearly inferior” to standards developed by a coalition of states and national organizations, a nonprofit education policy think tank said Thursday.
Iowa's science standards also fall short of those standards, which are called the Next Generation Science Standards, according to a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based in Washington, D.C., and Dayton, Ohio.
The Next Generation Science Standards, however, aren't that great either, the report says.
The report will surely stir debate as states consider whether to adopt the guidelines to steer science instruction in their public schools.
A Nebraska official says the state's poor showing reflects, in part, a divide with Fordham over the purpose of standards.
The National Science Teachers Association, which helped write the Next Generation standards, issued a statement Thursday saying it “strongly disagrees” with Fordham's report.
The Next Generation standards, released in April, are similar in purpose to the Common Core math and language arts standards. They are a state-led attempt, aided by the National Research Council, to develop common standards for what American kids should know and learn about science in kindergarten through high school.
Although their authors hail them as internationally benchmarked and rigorous, the standards only earned a “C” grade from Fordham reviewers.
Nebraska's science standards, adopted in 2010 by the Nebraska Board of Education, earned an F. Iowa's rated a D, Only five states and the District of Columbia received A's. California topped the list.
Fordham regularly reviews state standards for content, clarity and rigor. The organization favors standards with greater specificity and more content. It has supported the development of the Common Core standards.
“American science education at the K-12 level needs a radical upgrade,” the report says. “And in our estimation, such an upgrade begins with dramatic improvements in the expectations that drive curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment in this crucial realm.”
Fordham reviewers knocked Nebraska's standards, saying they “lack sufficient depth and breadth at every grade span, and critically important areas receive woefully inadequate attention — or are completely absent.”
The word “evolution” is missing entirely before high school, and its coverage in the high school standards is “woefully inadequate,” reviewers said.
There are no separate standards for high school chemistry or physics, and one scientific law, Coulomb's law, was misstated in Nebraska's standards, they said.
Jim Woodland, director of science education for the Nebraska Department of Education, said some of the criticism is unfair.
“I don't disagree that we can improve our science standards,” Woodland said. “But there's some philosophical differences in the way that we wrote our standards, and Fordham gives us lower scores for that.”
Nebraska educators set up the state's standards as a minimum. They include biology and physical science standards for freshman and sophomore years in high school, but they don't include standards for chemistry and physics, which are taken junior and senior years,
To some degree, he said, the poor grade reflects Nebraska's decision to keep standards less specific and leave the detail work to the school districts. That decision reflects a Nebraska philosophy that districts should retain local control over curriculum — the details of what's taught and when.
Woodland said Nebraska educators will review the state's science standards in a few years, and they will take a hard look at the Next Generation standards as a part of that process.
Reviewers criticized Iowa's standards as vague and lacking detail.
Iowa was one of the states that participated in drafting the Next Generation standards.
Officials in the Iowa Department of Education plan to convene a task force to determine if Iowa should switch to them.
“The next step is to have that task force really look at these standards closely and decide if these are the right fit for our state,” said Staci Hupp, department spokeswoman.
Twenty-six states developed the standards in partnership with the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the nonprofit education association Achieve.
Contact the writer: