"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Will Common Core Science Standards Embrace Standards of Scientific Practice?

First the good news.  Some things are still free of controversy. A verb is still an action word.  A noun describes a person, place or thing.  The area of a rectangle = LxW.  The mathematical order of operations remains PENDAS. Developing common core standards for math and language arts was made a little easier by the fact that so many things in these subjects are already commonly understood or accepted as absolute truths.  Not so for history or science.  Not by a long shot.

Hot Air reported that climate science is the most controversial subject in school.  Developing Common Core standards for science may prove a lot more difficult for the consortia, IF they concern themselves with accuracy. 

The influence of politics on science has been around for centuries (think Galileo and Darwin).  Policy based on science seems like a good idea, until the science you base your far reaching policy on is proven wrong.  This concern directs funding from government into science to guarantee that they will not be caught with their pants down in the future. This should  provide a catch 22 for developing policy based on science. The political funding of science tends to bias the scientific results so that they support the policy.  That is, until someone else shows where the science got it wrong. Then the scientific debate turns primarily political, as has happened with climate change. 

It is extremely difficult to structure experiments perfectly and the threat of bias always looms in the laboratory.  Any scientist worth his salt will never declare that his results are absolute and final. This allows him or her to save face if a colleague later proves the conclusions wrong, but more importantly it allows them to ask for more money with a straight face.  There is always something else to be learned. The game that is played in science is using the money to point the direction of that future research. This relationship makes finding those commonly understood standards in science much more difficult.  Even something most high schoolers take for granted today, the elements of the periodic table, has a history fraught with controversy, false claims and surprises. (Check out The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean if you'd like to read more.)

Despite all the controversy it turns out  science standards have already been developed by several national bodies. Draft science standards could be released as early as April by these organizations. Some parents will probably not like what they contain. 
"Parents are as outraged today about the way schools teach climate science as they were then about the way schools incorporated evolution into their curriculums."
If they want to get it right, the powers that be should be concerned about what they say and how parents feel about it. Past actions do not give much hope, however, for those people wanting to get it right. 

Tina Korbe at Hot Air concluded with this interesting observation:
"In a state of nature, government doesn’t exist, but the parent-child relationship still does. The decision of the people to form a government does not nor ever can obliterate the parent-child relationship or the obligations it creates. The family exists prior to government and, so, will always be the fundamental unit for organizing society. Parents have the right and responsibility to educate their children. That some parents do not take seriously that responsibility might be a reason for the next-nearest to a child to step in and fulfill the responsibility, but it’s not a reason to deny parental rights."
Given the uncertainty and controversy inherent in science, this is one subject that may most readily lend itself to local control. Concerns that disparate students assembled in college who come from different local science backgrounds will have a difficult time coexisting is a misguided worry. This scenario is actually something that should be wholeheartedly embraced by the scientific community. Their annual meetings are a chance to share results and challenge each others' thinking, because sometimes that is the only way truly great discoveries are made. How sad it would be if we started giving future scientists the idea that we already know it all and there is little we can still learn.

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