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Warning: If You Believe the Fordham Foundation on Their View of Science or NCTQ’s View on Teacher Education, You Should Check Your Eyesight. Really.

On this blog, I have reviewed earlier reports put out by these two oxymoronic organizations, the Thomas Fordham Institute: Advancing Education Excellence (Fordham), and The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). You need to know that these are ultra conservative organizations, and that the National Council on Teacher Quality was formed by the Thomas Fordham Institute.

In this blog post I want to argue that the reports issued by these organizations on the science standards and on teacher preparation are nothing short of conservative propaganda put out by organizations with ties to each other.

Fordham Foundation Report on Next Generation Science Standards.

Here we go again. The Fordham Foundation’s gang of seven has released it “Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards.” The same group evaluated the NGSS when they were first published in June 2012. The gang of seven does not seem to have 20/20 vision when it comes to research. Instead they have an unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education which restricts and confines them to an old school view of science teaching. Science education has rocketed past the views in two earlier reports issued by Fordham about science education standards, as well as the NGSS. You can read my earlier reviews of Fordham’s lack of knowledge about science education here and here.

For Fordham to have the audacity to continue its effort to promote an honest discussion of science education is a sham. According to this final report, the gang of seven used the same criteria is used to evaluate the science standards in the states. They grades the states using A – F rankings, and according to their criteria, most states earned a D or F.

You need to understand that they, like many of the other conservative think tanks, believe that American science education “needs a radical upgrade.” The gang of seven has consistently kept to this mantra, and in this final report of the NGSS, they find that we are in the same state, and that the NGSS gets a grade of C+.

First of all, you need to realize that Fordham has their own set of science content standards (General expectations for learning). Follow this link and then scroll down through the document to page 55, and you will find their standards listed on pages 55 – 61. When I first reviewed Fordham’s evaluation of the state science standards and the NGSS, I was shocked when I read the criteria that they used to analyze science education.

I found that the Fordham standards are low level, mediocre at best, and do not include affective or psycho-motor goals. I analyzed each Fordham statement using the Bloom categories in the Cognitive, Affective and Psycho-motor Domain.

Ninety percent of all the Fordham science criteria fall into the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the cognitive domain. Indeed, 52% of the statements are at the lowest level (Knowledge) which includes primarily the recall of data or information. Twenty-eight percent of the Fordham science statements were written at the Comprehension level, and only 10% at the Application level. What this means is that the authors wrote their own science standards at a very low-level. In fact of the 100 statements only 10% were at the higher levels. No statements were identified at the synthesis level, which in science is awful. Only one science standard was found at the highest level of evaluation. Cognitively, the Fordham standards are not much to write home about. And it is amazing, given the low-level of the Fordham standards that any state would score lower than their own standards.

Then they used the same criteria to check the final version of the NGSS.

In my analysis I gave the Fordham science standards a grade of D. For them to use these criteria to judge the NGSS is absurd.

Yet, they keep saying that science education is inferior, and after a while, people begin to believe them. For me, the gang of seven is not qualified to evaluate science education. Yes, they have credentials in science and engineering, but they are woefully inadequate in their understanding of science curriculum development, or the current research on science teaching.

Many of the creative ideas that emerged in science teaching in the past thirty years represent interdisciplinary thinking, the learning sciences, deep understanding of how students learn science, and yes, constructivism. The Fordham group appears to have had their eyes closed during this period. Don’t believe their report.

NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep

The National Council on Teacher Quality report on Teacher Prep is more of an assault on teacher education and not an honest and ethical evaluation of teacher education programs. Like the Fordham Foundation, they are research challenged, and cherry pick statements out of context from educational research. Their research methods are not only challenged, but avoid the most important aspect of research in any field, and that is peer review. The only peers that review their reports are in-house employees.

In this report on teacher preparation, the NCTQ is an “exhaustive and unprecedented” overall rating of 608 institutions. Don’t be fooled by the extensive use of graphs and tables. The methodology used to generate these is essentially flawed. Its standards are lumped into four buckets (their term): Selection, Content Preparation, Professional Skills and Outcomes.

But here’s a big problem. Instead of working with its subjects of study, the universities that have teacher education programs, the NCTQ relied only on a paper trail discovered online or in catalogues. It did not visit these campuses to find out about teacher education on the ground. In fact, many of the schools simply did not want to cooperate with the NCTQ. As a result NCTQ had to used the open records law to get much of their information. And as the report indicates, most institutions did not supply the “necessary syllabi” to do an adequate job assessing the institutions. They also had trouble getting the institutions to give information on student teaching and student teaching policies.

The entire NCTQ report is based on “document requests.” They even resorted to legal action to get forms from colleges and universities. Can you imagine social science researchers taking legal action against students because they wouldn’t answer any of their interview questions?

The NCTQ has taken the liberty of evaluating the nation’s teacher preparation institutions without making site visitations, interviewing professors, students, and administrators.

Yet, the NCTQ claims to have done an independent review of teacher education in America. Nonsense. The report overwhelms in terms of charts and diagrams. The problem is that the research method is limited in terms of making valid and honest evaluations of teacher education.

What do you think about these two conservative think tank reports? Do you accept the grade of C for the NGSS, and think that most of teacher education in America is anemic?

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Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a former high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University. While at Georgia State he was coordina...