Archive for Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Report: Science instruction disappearing in elementary school, but not science grades

November 13, 2012


— The Kansas State Board of Education heard a report Tuesday that as many as one in five elementary teachers in Kansas and surrounding states are reporting science grades on student report cards, despite the fact that they don't spend any time teaching the subject or testing pupils' knowledge in it.

George Griffith, superintendent of the Trego school district in western Kansas and a member of a Kansas committee helping craft new national science standards, said he conducted a survey of more than 900 elementary teachers in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska. The survey was conducted as part of Griffith's doctoral dissertation.

Griffith said teachers responding to the survey said they reported grades in science because there was a spot on the grade card for it. But the teachers felt so pressured to increase performance in the high-stakes reading and math tests that they have cut back or eliminated class time for science.

"I identified that a little over 55 percent of our K-6 teachers have decreased science education," Griffith said. "The average was between 30 minutes to an hour per week that they have cut it, with the main reason that they want to focus on reading and math assessments."

"I can understand their concern," he said. "Those are the key things we want to focus on, and that's important. Some of it was top-down from administration; some of it was the teachers' belief system, that they felt they needed to put that much time in."

Griffith said he has presented his findings to national organizations of science teachers, and he said few people are surprised to learn what he found.

"This seems to be an ongoing theme around the country," he said. "It's not just in Kansas."

Since the passage of the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2001, federal funding for Title I schools — those that serve high concentrations of low-income families — has been tied to student achievement on reading and math tests. States were required to adopt standards for reading and math, and all schools were required to meet increasingly higher benchmarks each year for the number of students who scored proficient or better on standardized tests in those two subjects.

Kansas recently received a waiver from No Child Left Behind, meaning schools here no longer need to meet those benchmarks. But they will still be held accountable for student performance in reading and math, only by different measurements that look at more than just the raw number of students who score above a certain level.

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education is also in the process of updating state standards for science by taking part in a multistate project known as the Next Generation Science Standards.

That project is being led by the National Research Council. Griffith is part of a committee appointed by the state board that is reviewing and offering feedback on drafts of those standards.

Board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said he wanted more details about teachers who still give grades in science without offering instruction.

"That is unconscionable. It reflects a lack of integrity and it is not appropriate for Kansas students," he said.

Evolution debate

In recent years, debate over science standards in Kansas has ignited heated debate over the teaching of evolution, with groups representing religious conservatives pressuring the state to downplay the importance of evolution by allowing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design.

But it now appears unlikely that the evolution debate will get much attention in the current process.

Matt Krehbiel, the state's science program consultant who is heading the Kansas review team, told the board Tuesday that there is little interest in challenging the new standards' treatment of evolution as one of the key, unifying principles of science.

"The committee, by consensus, told me that the way evolution is handled on these standards is appropriate," Krehbiel said.

Krehbiel added, however, that the standards themselves will have little impact on how science is actually taught in classrooms.

"At the risk of being potentially misquoted, they don't make any difference at all because standards don't teach students," he said. "It's our teachers that teach students. And so certainly how we implement these standards could make a difference. But the standards themselves won't make that difference. it's the teachers in the classroom that make the difference. The curriculum that surrounds the standards is always a local decision."

Krehbiel said the next public draft of the new standards will be available for review and public comment in mid-December. Earlier, it was expected the draft would be available in mid-November, but Krehbiel said the schedule was pushed back, in part because of delays caused by Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast.

Anti-bullying policies

The Kansas Association of School Boards issued a sharp response Tuesday to a report by a Kansas University professor who said most school districts in the state are not complying with state or federal law requiring them to adopt policies to combat bullying in public schools.

Robert Harrington, a professor of psychology and research at KU, reported to the State Board of Education in October that fewer than half of the school districts in Kansas meet those legal requirements.

Harrington has written extensively on the subject of bullying and has developed a certificate program to help schools address the problem.

His report last month prompted the state board to ask the school boards association for more detailed information.

In a four-page memo written by a staff attorney for the association, KASB said Harrington's findings "flabbergasted the KASB staff and individual school district staff members in attendance at the meeting and have created a wave of consternation and disagreement with such findings ..."

KASB noted that Harrington's findings were based on a survey he sent to public school districts. If a district did not respond, KASB said, he counted the district as not having a policy in place.

KASB also surveyed its own members about their bullying policies. "All districts responding have expressed disagreement with the results of Dr. Harrington's study, have provided that they are currently in full compliance, and are often doing significantly more than the statutory requirements dictate in hopes of eliminating bullying behaviors in their districts," the memo stated.

When reached for comment, Harrington referenced the U.S. Department of Education's anti-bullying website, which summarizes state laws on the subject.

The page summarizing Kansas suggests that Kansas laws fall short of meeting federal standards in several key areas.

That summary can be found here.


Jean Robart 5 years, 7 months ago

What ever happened to well rounded students and a well rounded education. We really had it good when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s.

fearsadness14 5 years, 7 months ago

think of the times. Science was probably one of the most important topics! I can't speak of the environment, but from what I would surmise, with the wars ending and the cold war sparking up along with the space race, I'm sure that there would be an increased focus on a science curriculum. Also, I know from my family that music and the arts were also given a much greater focus. Oh how I wish I could have seen those days!

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

What happened is we decided to test the crap out of students over superficial understanding of math and reading in an impossible effort to make sure all students were exactly average. Testing companies, charter boosters, and other parties with a financial interests took advantage of the opportunity to sell their test preps, model legislation, and voucher-funded schools to the masses. (Cue Dave Trabert to tell us all how terrible it is that our scores didn't improve with all that money we spent and oh, does he have a sweet voucher deal for you.)

But let's not gloss things over too much. You had it good in the 50s and 60s, but not everyone did. Minorities often got short-changed even worse than they do today, and plenty of special needs students were institutionalized or ignored instead of educated.

There's a lot of good in today's public school system. Once they're out from under the mandate to test, test, test, they might be able to focus again on teaching.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Like the first poster, I too went to public schools in the '50s. It was an inner city school. If I ever got into trouble at school, and I would think that must have been every single boy I knew, the last people I would tell would be my parents. Because I would be in even more trouble. At no time would my parents want to hear my side of the story. For them, it was good enough that the teacher thought I had done wrong, therefore I had done wrong. Punishment would be forthcoming.

That's not the sense I get from how things operate today. Too many parents have what I can only describe as an adversarial relationship with both the school and with the teachers. Parents no longer see that the education of their children as a partnership, one that takes active participation and cooperation of the parent. To them, if Johnny is failing, it's because the teacher has failed.

There have been many changes in the years since I went to school. Some of the good changes have also produced some negative unintended consequences. I'm not advocating we go back to the good old days, but somewhere we need to discuss those unintended negative consequences, the breakup of families, the explosion of single head of household families, etc.

I knew it was time to take my child out of public schools when my 10 year old came home one day and said he was bored because they always went at the pace of the slowest learner. Mainstreaming might have advantages for those being mainstreamed, but it's to the detriment of others.

I've never been an advocate of vouchers and that continues today. I support increased spending for schools. Much of what you say is true, chootspa. But you're only looking at half the equation. The unfortunate truth is that both sides of the equation equals a mess.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Sorry to hear that.

More insight on your philosophy, though, about trusting authority figures and punishment.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

I've had a conversation or two, actually hundreds, when I speak of being a parent and am told that they don't have a child, but they do have a dog, or cat, and then they say it's just like having a child. They really mean it. Really.

Being a parent gives you a perspective not only what being a parent means, but a perspective on your own childhood, especially how it relates to the parenting skills of your own parents.

Just one quick example. When I first moved to Lawrence to go to KU, I never cared about the public school system here. I didn't give it a second thought. I didn't know where the good schools were nor did I care. I paid no attention to proximity to schools. Nothing. I moved away and then returned, with a school age child. You damn well better believe I gave considerable attention to where I lived, what neighborhood, quality of schools, ratings both by test and parent surveys. It was by far the number one consideration of where I lived. Not the cost of housing, not proximity to my job, nothing.

Unfortunately, jafs, it's a perspective you will likely never have.

jonas_opines 5 years, 7 months ago

"I've had a conversation or two, actually hundreds, when I speak of being a parent and am told that they don't have a child, but they do have a dog, or cat, and then they say it's just like having a child."

Those people are nuts. It's Much Better than having a child. ;)

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Ah yes, the old "I know better, because I have a child" argument.

Please notice I never said I know what it's like to have children more than people who have them.

That certainly doesn't remove my ability to look at the world, and form reasonable well thought out views on parenting. Otherwise none of us could have opinions about much of what goes on, since we have limited personal experience of it.

Also, of course, I was a child who had parents, had plenty of experience with that, both at the time and throughout my life, and I have numerous nieces and nephews.

I'm sorry to hear that your parents taught you that teachers (ie. authority figures) were always right, and never asked for your side of things. Teachers and authority figures are human beings, and as imperfect as everybody else. I had teachers who taught us things that were simply incorrect, even after having been corrected. Fortunately, my parents taught me to think for myself.

And, I similarly am sorry that you were punished for whatever you may have done, without any discussion of it on your side.

As is often the case, I'm pretty sure that you continue a similar philosophy with your own children, which is even more sad to me.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 7 months ago

Here's the deal, jafs. When I sent my child to kindergarden, I was send a perfectly normal 5 year old. Someone who didn't act like an adult, someone without the judgement of an adult. I was sending a child who behaved like a, well, child. And the consequence of behaving like a child was that he got into trouble sometimes. Maybe he didn't play nice, or didn't share the ball during recess. As he got older, he continued to behave age appropriate, which again, meant he got into trouble. It's normal. It's to be expected. It's a learning opportunity. So yes, maybe if you misbehave in school, you lose TV for the night.

You seem to be implying that when confronted with the actions of a child and that of an adult, both should be given equal merit, until more facts are ascertained. That's just not the way it works in real life, nor should it. If you break your leg and your neighbor gives you some advice and then go to a doctor who also gives you advice, do you stop to consider who is giving the better advice? Isn't there some presumption on your part that one person's advice is better, more informed than the others?

School isn't a court of law where there is a presumption of innocence. It's a place where children behave like children and adults behave like adults. There is nothing wrong with recognizing the obvious difference.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 7 months ago

Public education was doing fine until radical right elements decided to cut funding and paint public education as this demon failing our children. In fact the demon is the right wing repubs who are failing our children.

They want vouchers which is a money laundering tool that which funnels OUR TAX DOLLARS to wealthy corporations.

These right wing demons are not experts in education nor are they experts at managing our tax dollars or managing government for that matter. For example these demons supported the federally mandated No Child Left Behind leaving the funding to come from state tax cookie jars. Face it politicians are not experts in much of anything that matters to people.

It seems these brilliant demons should know that removing operating funds will make it difficult for any tax dollar funded organization to accomplish the primary goals. For that matter removing operating funds from any business would create plenty of stress.

If people want private schools there are plenty. I want my tax dollars to fully fund public education..... thank you.

tolawdjk 5 years, 7 months ago

Science not being taught in Kansas....color me shocked.

When I was in school, my sixth grade teacher called me one night. Asked me if I had read the chapter that was to be begun the next day. After the shock, I told her I had and was looking forward to it as I found the subject of atomic level chemestry interesting. Her rely was "Good, then you can teach the class on valence levels and bonding this week."

By Junior year, there were four in my chem class. By senior year, I was the only one in my physics class.

So yeah,I can believe Kansas is phoning in on science education.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 7 months ago

It's great being the only one in the class, isn't it? In my senior year in high school, I was the only student in German 3.

I showed up in class, and kept looking around for more students, but there were none. Then, the teacher and I had a short discussion about exactly where I was at in my studies, as I had studied using other books, and under other teachers, and one of them was in another state.

Something became very obvious real quick. My teacher was an earnest German teacher, and I think that was her first year as a teacher. She did know grammar and vocabulary. But she was missing something very important in a foreign language.

She had never been to Germany, and had only studied German in college. My previous teachers had lived and worked in Germany for years, perfecting their pronunciation, before they taught me anything about German. And they were sticklers about pronunciation, they both had insisted that it must be perfect, because if you don't get that right at the first, you likely will never learn it. Plus, if you have that, adding words to your vocabulary is very easy, so as to fill in your knowledge of the language.

So, I was in the unique situation of having German pronunciation that far exceeded that of my German teacher's. In fact, on two occasions, I've overheard people speaking in German, and asked them if they were from Germany.

The answer? "Why, yes! You too?" I could even fool native Germans! Maybe not so much now, I'd have to practice, since it's been years.

xtronics 5 years, 7 months ago

IMO, sending your child to our public schools is a form of child abuse: They end up with the illusion of having an education. All part of the delusion the public is immersed in.

By grade 4, I realized that Lawrence students were 2 years behind children from public school in the Philippines - not rich families. Our children learn to simply give up, if the material is at all frustrating.

There was a comparison study between Japanese and American students - they were given an impossible math problems - the American kids gave up in 30 sec - the Japanese kids worked on it the whole hour.

Overcoming frustration is a key to success - American kids mostly say, "I don't get math" and don't even try. The key to learning is hard work - our new culture is now running from work - looking for a governmental Santa for hand outs. Of course it will end as it has before - our kids would know it if they had real history rather than propaganda.

It continues on to college - We have kids getting government subsidized tuition to take what I would call a recreational degrees that have no hope of gainful employment . Taxes collected on fast-food workers gets passed on to students getting useless degrees - all part of the delusion economy.

melott 5 years, 7 months ago

Part of the problem here existed before the testing standards. In my 1950's elementary school, most teachers covered very little science. I think the reason is that they didn't understand any of it, and were afraid of it. Probably still true, for what I have seen of students preparing for the profession.

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