In late September I wrote the article The Fine Art of Delay – An Open Letter to the SMUHSD Board. It expressed my frustration that over six months had elapsed and the SMUHSD had not acted on the Board of Trustees meeting agenda item request (made in last March; see My Speech to the SMUHSD Board on NGSS) to discuss the impact of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation on the science curriculum.
I first expressed concerns about the serious negative impact on the regular physics class at Aragon HS in my January 2018 article Attention SMUHSD Parents! State Mandated Testing Negatively Impacts Aragon’s Physics Program.
Superintendent Skelly responded, and he requested that I meet to discuss the issue with the new Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Julia Kempkey (see her bio here; Dr. Kempkey is clearly an accomplished person, holding a “Doctorate of Education degree from UC Berkeley with a focus on technology-infused instruction.”). A meeting was scheduled for October 10th at 9:00 AM.
Prior to the meeting I sent the following email to Dr. Kempkey, the Superintendent, the Board, and the Aragon administration to summarize my concerns. (NOTE – These concerns were laid out previously in more detail in the article links above; those articles were also sent earlier to the people copied on the following email. If you as a reader of this article missed those earlier articles, I suggest reading them first before proceeding):
I tried calling Dr. Kempkey this AM, got her voicemail, and left a message. I am happy to talk to her, but as I said in my email reply yesterday, this should not be yet another reason to delay addressing this issue at a Board meeting.
The District proceeded with a major curriculum change without a standards-aligned textbook and, consequently, required full-time working teachers to develop the curriculum on the fly.
First, NGSS and the framework regarding the three course model (LINK here) has provided specific guidance on how to integrate the Earth and Space Science Standards into the curriculum. Our teachers have created courses based on the state framework as well as common learning experiences for students across the district. I would suggest in addition to reviewing those standards that you review the framework that I linked above as it will provide more in-depth descriptions of the how, what and why of the integration of Earth Science. Our teachers have spent countless hours with the framework and standards to thoughtfully plan and design this transition. As such, the process that SMUHSD used to transition to the new standards was not done in a haphazard manner. The science teachers in collaboration have been working on the transition and implementation of the new standards for the last five years. As a result, the curriculum is aligned with the new standards and will be fluid based on the needs of the students and teachers’ revision. Once the state has finished the review of instructional materials in the near future, the science teachers will begin to review what resources match their revised curriculum.
To make matters worse, at Aragon the new course replaced an excellent one which had been developed over many years by a master teacher AND watered down the physics content significantly by diluting it with earth science questions.
Again, I will refer you to the framework and standards for background on the course. Teachers (who did major in Physics) created this class and would argue that it is not watered down by any means, rather it incorporates effective instructional and curricular changes to meet the needs of students.
That leads me to conclude that the decision was made mainly to comply with a significant, but non-critical, upcoming state mandate and the impact on the students was a secondary consideration.
This conclusion is not based on all of the information and for our teachers, who worked tirelessly to create effective, rigorous and engaging curriculum for their students, this is an offensive statement.
If true, it is this compliant attitude towards the state that needs to change. If the state makes a ridiculous requirement, the proper course is to appeal it, not simply submit. The case should have been made to our state representatives that this could have significant negative impacts and a delay should have been requested until textbooks were available.
I addressed these assertions above.
In my opinion it is the responsibility of the Board to hold a public discussion to determine the answers to the questions above so that the next time something like this comes barreling down the tracks, the brakes are promptly applied to it. The above needs to go into the public record so that the lessons do not have to be relearned yet again in the future
As soon as the board update by our science coordinator is scheduled, we will let you know.
I received final edits to the response above from Dr. Kempkey on 10/19, and, regarding the date for the Board meeting agenda item was told “Most likely, this will occur either later this semester or early in next semester.”
Dr. Kempkey’s comments about the “integration of Earth Science” in her first paragraph above were in response to my remarks during our meeting in which I said that the new physics curriculum was watered down, not because of the NGSS standards per se, but because the District, like many in California, chose to follow an NGSS option of maintaining three core science classes (which follows UC standards) instead of requiring four classes, the fourth being a new NGSS Earth and Space Science class.
I argued, obviously unsuccessfully, that inserting Earth and Space Science into the other three classes (physics, chemistry, and biology), logically means that some material previously taught would have to be discarded. If the full NGSS standards are implemented in four classes, it makes no sense to me that an equivalent curriculum can be fit into three. This is the basis for my statement that the new physics curriculum has been “watered down.”
I also remain the only person in any of the meetings with District staff about this topic who has actually worked through the worksheets distributed last year at Aragon. This year I have only AP Physics students, so I do not know if the worksheets have been improved since the previous year. For the sake of regular physics students, I sure hope that they have.
I stand by my claim based on my background as a Ph.D.-level scientist that the problem sets I saw last year represented a step down in challenge/difficulty from the previously excellent regular physics class at Aragon.
It seems pretty clear that the District is not going to alter course. If Dr. Kempkey or any other administrators at the District wish to elaborate on their positions, my invitation to submit an article to this blog site or comment directly on this article remains open.
Note added on 12/1/2018: Please scroll down to read a comment that I posted this morning on Nextdoor.