I recently posted an article about a Walton-funded school board in Arkansas that refused to pay for up-to-date science textbooks that aligned with the state’s new science standards.

Laura Chapman says don’t bother.

Here is her review:

The state of Arkansas adopted Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Their texts are out of date and so are the science texts in many states.

The NGSS standards are so complex that even major publishers are having a hard time generating new texts. As usual, tried and true lessons from the past are being recycled. As usual, field trials of new content and materials are limited by the high costs for the publisher and the cost of revisions that may be needed.. According to EdWeek, districts are having a hard time finding textbooks and other instructional materials aligned with the 2013 NGSS.

EdReports, which claims to be a Consumer Reports for education, is a Gates-funded project. Reviewers for EdREports follow criteria that call for strict alignments with the CCSS and related standards grade-by-grade, and with no content from a prior grade reviewed and reintroduced in the next grade. I have not seen any modifications in the method and criteria for reviewing high school science texts, but EdReports ratings of secondary science tests are expected this fall. https://www.edreports.org/about/our-approach/index.html

Reviews of textbooks are time-intensive and if you are looking for NGSS compliance, the reviews are really complicated. Achieve has also gotten into the reviewing act, but only for a few units, not textbooks.

Teachers working independently have also found that getting NCSS-aligned resources together is hard. According to EdWeek, secondary teachers of science want to see texts and resources that introduce a “phenomenon,” then forward exploration and understanding, then build coherently to deeper understanding through more lessons. I wonder if these teacher-reviewers are assuming that students have encountered science instruction compliant with NGSS prior to high school.

Before high school—K-8— science texts are supposed to align with 381 CCSS standards. Of these, 182 are in math, 96 in ELA reading, 82 in ELA writing, and 21 in science/technical subjects Literacy. All of those standards are supposed to be linked with the 146 core content standards in SCIENCE for K-8. So the standards writers have conjured 527 that are supposed to be met for science-specific learning before high school. If all those standards harbor redundancies, good luck in ferreting them out.

The architecture for high school standards rests on earlier understandings and achievements in; (a) the practices of science, (b) the core concepts within the earth, life, and physical sciences plus engineering…and (c) “themes” that cut across disciplines. That structure has been called three-dimensional. Of course, neither the CCSS nor NGSS offer a roadmap from standards to curricula to tests…but there is plenty of hoopla about new and rigorous standards.

In my experience, writers of standards are almost always serving up more content and connections of “this to that” than can be shoved into texts and other coherently planned instructional materials. I think most experienced teachers want to move well beyond the all too prevalent view of education as text-bound, sage on the stage delivery of content relevant to tests. That view is likely to make science free of the wonderments of eyes-on and hands-on experiments, whether in labs or field work.

According to EdWeek, five publishers have entered the market for NGSS science texts and resources since 2016. Although I have not looked at the texts, there is one constant in marketing these texts: The top line is “100% compliance with the NGSS.” For bells and whistles the ads for these texts make claims on behalf of “real world problem solving,” “STEM careers,” “multi-modality,” “research tested,” “instructional shifts” and the NGSS “philosophy of three dimensional learning.”

I have been through several rounds of textbook writing along with the development with ancillary materials. I have reviewed publications for state adoptions. All that was before the era of the CCSS and not in science, but the challenges of meeting expectations for any marketable and profitable product are usually underestimated…especially by writers of standards who really do want one-size-fits-all education, and now with every dimension of instruction described in computer code and “aligned ” with texts and tests.

Anyone who has worked on the publishing side knows that profits drive what publishers can and will deliver. In the best of worlds, teacher-made lessons and experiments would be central. Texts, resources from the library/media room or accessed online would be backup. All in-class studies would be enriched by demos and meet-ups with living breathing scientists and projects students initiate based on their curiosity and interest.

The end-game of standards-based education was and is standardized learning…with computer-based delivery of instruction envisioned from the get-go. Current hoopla about personalized education is mostly hot air. Unless you are speaking of artificial intelligence, learning is always personal. It does not need to be “ized.”