2.3 On the impending demise of earth science education at the K-12 level: is Florida telegraphing a national trend?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011: 2:00 PM
604 (Washington State Convention Center)
Paul Ruscher, Florida State Univ., Tallahassee, FL

In 2006, Florida embarked on a new strategic plan for completely overhauling the state's K-12 science standards, by inviting many stakeholders to participate in an open process that resulted in some high-quality re-orientation into four distinct areas of learning: (1) the nature of science; (2) life sciences; (3) physical sciences; and (4) Earth/space sciences. These standards were quite balanced in that they were to provide for adequate instruction in all three broad content areas with overlapping threads related to the inquiry nature of science. Grade level standards resulted for grades K-8 and high school expectations were grouped together to all districts (same as counties in Florida) to structure their high school curriculum according to local needs. This process was designed in part to help the state meet federal No Child Left Behind expectations for measurement, including a science comprehensive test (FCAT) to be taken in grades 5, 8, and 10 (11), that only recently counted as a performance measure for school grades.

The new standards, called the Next Generation Sunshine State Science Standards, were formally adopted in 2008, and it has become immediately clear that they would not be fully implemented, due to a combination of political, socioeconomic, and financial pressures. As a result, practical science reform in the state of Florida seems to have gone off-course, and it is hoped that this experience is not being replicated elsewhere. Among the decisions made so far in Florida that are posing concerns among academic leaders in physical and Earth science education: (1) The Science FCAT has been abandoned in favor of only one end-of-course final exam, in Biology, which must be passed by the end of junior year; (2) High school students need to pass three units of high school science, but only Biology and either Chemistry or Physics are explicitly targeted; (3) Since chemistry is a prerequisite for physics, most students will not be given an opportunity to take physics even if they want to. Earth/space science is being deemphasized in the process; (4) Teachers not certified under established credentialing practices to teach Physics or Earth/space science are being allowed alternative certification, based upon their certification in another field (e.g., biology); (5) The certification examination for Earth/space science, developed for Florida, continues to have a heavy emphasis on geology (over 2/3 of the questions), despite the standards having been revised to balance and inter-weave material from astronomy, climatology, geology, hydrology, meteorology, and oceanography; (6) The development of a new energy-based economy requires a well-trained and well-educated workforce in the SMET fields that is in the process of being watered down.

We will treat each of these problems individually and collectively to try to provide the means for those in other states to help ensure that this is not a national trend as core science standards are being developed. An activist approach by the scientific and educational community may be needed here to help develop a national vision that meaningfully enhances scientific literacy in the geosciences. One possible step is to consider the adoption of the proposed national core standards, which is already at quite a mature stage. Florida's solution provides a less than desirable alternative.

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