Alabama Science Course of Study, A Perspective

The Alabama State Department of Education has posted an invitation for public comment on the current draft of the 2014 Alabama Course of Study: Science.  If you don’t know much about educational jargon, the main content of this document is the instructional standards for Science classes K-12.  All members of the public are invited to provide feedback on any part or all of the draft document between now and January 30th.  After reviewing the document, with special attention to the middle school standards, I have several first impressions and comments to post here:

1. To my trained eye, these standards are exactly on par with the Math and Language Arts College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS).  They call for high expectations centered on doing Science.  In case you missed it, we have allowed science class (among others) to become an exercise in taking notes about science-y things.  In my opinion if you aren’t doing, you aren’t really learning.  Especially in Science.  Major kudos to the authors/editors of these standards.

2.  The Course of Study includes more than just the standards.  I am also impressed by the relevance of each overview section.  The comments and suggestions regarding instructional approaches reveal that the authors know both the content area and what is most developmentally appropriate for the grade levels they are describing.  I’m still looking, but I have yet to find a pedagogical idea with which I disagree in the grade spans of my expertise.

3.  In case you missed it, Alabama has been arguing about Common Core for a while – as have many other states.  As I have written before, one major difference is thatomat Alabama has in substantive and meaningful ways made the Common Core standards our own.  When the state department of education insists on calling our standards CCRS (not CCSS), it’s not a trick of syntax.  Its is because they are our standards now.  To the best of my knowledge, these Science stanards were written entirely by Alabama educators.  And they read very much like the Math and Language Arts standards.  The reason for that is simple.  Experts wrote them.  If we thought the Math or Language Arts standards were not good for our students, we would not be supporting them.  And the Science standards we wrote entirely on our own would probably not look so much like them.

4.  It seems to me that many have been so caught up in all the permutations of the argument about Common Core that they have missed an important point: our students need us to teach them in different ways than we were taught.  They need us to expect more from them.  Teaching them the way we were taught will not prepare them for college and life adequately.

In case you are wondering, this is just one man’s opinion.  I also reserve the right to keep looking and find things to dislike about the proposed course of study.  I will not be shy about expressing any concerns I do develop.  In the meantime, here are a few suggestions.

A.  Read the course of study yourself.  At least read the section that applies to the grade your child is in right now.
B.  Give feedback about any concerns you have.  I have known Dr. Bice for several years.  I have observed that he takes the opinions and concerns of others very seriously.  If you just want to fuss, that might be a waste of your time.  Constructive criticism will not be.
C.  Consider whether the school where you were or where your child attends treats science instruction like the very important part of learning it is.  Do students do science or do they take tests about it?  If it is not what it should be perhaps it could be better with your help.

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