Cost can be a barrier to new science standards

Cost can be a barrier to new science standards

(Mont.) For many states, politics and controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards doom the chances of successful Next Generation Science Standards implementation. In Montana, the cost incurred by districts in addressing the engineering portion pushed the state to introduce its own standards.

The new standards, which bear a striking resemblance to NGSS, were taken up during a Montana Board of Public Education meeting last week with favorable response from board members.

“Montana is a frontier state—most of our schools are rural—so it can quickly become cost and resource prohibitive for small districts to integrate engineering standards within their science instruction,” said Emilie Ritter Saunders, spokesperson for the Montana Office of Public Instruction. “Our team of content standards experts reviewed a variety of standards, including NGSS, in developing science standards for Montana.”

Created by a consortium of 26 states and adopted in 18, the NGSS has been a source of contention in many parts of the county at least in part because of its inclusion of evolutionary theories and global climate change. Education officials in Wyoming and West Virginia, for instance, faced public criticism for removing teachings of human contributions to climate change, fearing negative impact on the states’ fossil fuel industry.

Hawaii, the most fossil-fuel-dependent state in the nation according to its own reports, announced earlier this year that students would get hands-on experience learning about clean energy during lessons on the human impacts of climate change.

According to officials in Montana—one of the states that helped develop NGSS—climate change and theories of evolution were not divisive points when considering adopting the standards. Rather, the engineering component built into those standards was expected to be too large a financial burden for districts.

In the science content standards introduced to the board July 14, education officials appear to have maintained many aspects of NGSS. One section added by Montana officials that is specific to their state is the contributions of American Indians and their use of scientific knowledge and practices.

Under NGSS, engineering practices will factor into science education across grade spans as they relate to physical, earth and space sciences. In high school, for example, students should be able to demonstrate that they can break down a complex real-world problem into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering, perhaps following lessons in the natural sciences.

Because it is so ingrained within the fabric of NGSS, materials, including future textbooks, will have to include aspects of engineering. Additionally, teachers would likely have to receive more training and may need supplemental materials, which can add up quickly for cash-strapped districts.

Aware that cost could become an issue, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has provided guidance to districts on pooling resources to support teacher training and share information.

Some experts, however, question if budget impacts are an issue.

“[NGSS] doesn’t necessarily require special materials, and it doesn’t require special laboratories, so there’s nothing in the NGSS engineering practices that would cause a school district to incur extra expenses from what I can see,” David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said in an interview. “The expense districts are going to incur as they implement NGSS is heavily around getting their teachers the necessary professional development so that they change the way they teach.”

Although purchasing new books can be costly, the engineering standards themselves are not a major concern, said Nathan Olson, spokesperson for the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Rather, it is training teachers so that they feel comfortable teaching the subject differently that will pose some difficulty.

“Engineering is infused throughout each of the core areas, so new textbooks, say for biology, will have to include any engineering infused into its performance expectations,” said Olson, whose state adopted the standards in 2013. “Professional development for engineering and other aspects of the NGSS is currently a pressing need.”

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