the Orange County Department of Education, used Wolk’s assertions to place science education in California in a national context (Wolk, 2009).1

Wolk’s first assertion is

The best way to improve student performance and close achievement gaps is to establish rigorous content standards and a core curriculum for all schools—preferably on a national basis.

This is a fine idea, said DiRanna. “It would be unconscionable that we would have schools that would have anything less than high expectations for all students.” But it is an idea “whose promise has not been actualized.” More than two decades after the standards movement began schools are not near to making the changes needed to realize this goal. They have not received enough support to implement good ideas. And no one knows a methodology that is guaranteed to enable all students to master rigorous content standards.

“The objective of high standards was translated into standardization—the idea that schools would look the same and offer uniform programs. But such a goal is impossible to achieve and counterproductive,” DiRanna said. Teachers inevitably have different knowledge and beliefs about how student learning takes place. They may also have mandates from their schools or districts to take different approaches to instruction. For example, some districts may require direct instruction2 rather than inquiry-based learning.

In addition, the K-12 population of students in California is extremely diverse and becoming more so. For example, as noted in Chapter 1, one-quarter of California’s students are English language learners. How quickly students acquire language depends partly on experiences they have outside school, and teachers have little control over such experiences. Yet these students are supposed to meet the same national and local educational goals as all other students. Individual schools and programs need to be different to meet the needs of a diverse group of English language learners, DiRanna said. “Something that is uniform cannot work. We have to sit down and think about how to redesign the way we do school in order to think about addressing these kinds of issues.”

The differences among students also extend to their out-of-school experiences. For example, Dennis Bartels of the Exploratorium observed that the informal science system in the United States is the most robust of any in the world and may account for the relatively high scores of U.S.


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Boldface words in this chapter are defined in a glossary at the end of the chapter.

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