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Saturday, February 4, 2012
Fordham Rips Hawaii Science Standards: “The Ignorance on Display is Shameful”
By Andrew Walden @ 2:10 AM :: 6734 Views :: Energy, Environment

by Andrew Walden

Released January 31 by the Thomas B Fordham Institute, “The State of State Science Standards 2012” doesn’t pull punches in its analysis of the Hawaii Department of Education’s much-ballyhooed ‘academic standards’.

The authors explain: “American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed.”

Hawaii was among the states receiving a “D” grade. The Hawaii DoE was awarded 3/7 for “Content and Rigor”, and 1/3 for “Clarity and Specificity.” Hawaii is by now used to receiving low grades by honest education analysts. But in four pages of analysis, Fordham’s researchers dug into the reality of the Hawaii DoE with the kind of alacrity and specificity which many previous reports have avoided. Fordham explains:

The Hawaii science standards are a case study in half-loaves and inconsistencies. At times the K-8 standards are reasonably rigorous and thorough. But the high school material in the Aloha State is woefully inadequate, including only rare islands of content floating in a sea of omission, confusion, and plain inaccuracy….

…glaring content gaps and omissions become increasingly evident as the grade levels progress. The inadequacy of the writers’ knowledge is distressingly evident in high school, when scientific content across nearly all disciplines is rife with misconceptions and errors. For physics in particular, the ignorance on display is shameful. Other disciplines, regrettably, fare little better….

…the high school material in the Aloha State is woefully inadequate, including only rare islands of content floating in a sea of omission, confusion and plain inaccuracy.

The Maui News reports:

In a section discussing Hawaii's physical science content, the report quotes that high school content as saying: "Describe different examples of entropy. The student: Describes different examples of the flow of energy coming from an energy source, demonstrating that while the total energy of the universe remains constant, matter tends to become steadily less ordered as various energy transfers occur."

In commenting on that, the report says: "Anyone who attempts to introduce the concept of entropy out of the blue, with no prior discussion of the laws of thermodynamics, succeeds only in demonstrating that he or she has no idea what entropy means."

The report did credit Hawaii's high school chemistry standards as "generally clear, thorough and appropriately rigorous."

In other areas, the report was less complimentary. For Earth and space science, it says Hawaii's content is "particularly thin and underdeveloped, with but a few brighter spots here and there."

And, for life science, the report says: "Given the pedagogical opportunities presented by Hawaii's history of unique ecosystems largely overwhelmed by invasive species, the middling treatment of life science represents a missed opportunity.

"In the early grades, the content is thin and averse to specifics. In 7th grade, the notion of genes residing in chromosomes - and being responsible for heritable traits - appears, but there's nothing about genes and how they work. Fossils are also introduced in 7th grade as 'providing evidence that life and environmental conditions have changed over time,' but the standards say nothing about natural selection or common ancestry until high school."

The report also was critical of the clarity and specificity in Hawaii's science standards.

It says: "Getting from one end of the Hawaii standards to the other feels like a fruitless journey. There is some mention of important technical and scientific terms, but just as much unspecific muddle. The clarity of the material is eroded by poor grade-by-grade development and weak presentation of the sciences as logical, structured bodies of knowledge. Typos and sloppy writing abound, which further obscure the intended meaning of the standards in many places. The treatment of dynamics commits far too many of these sins, with content that is disorganized and out of sequence."

The report appears to sympathize with students attempting to learn science in Hawaii's public schools.

It says: "Students in high school chemistry, for example, are asked to 'calculate the number of moles needed to produce a given gas, volume, mass, and/or number of moles of a product given a chemical equation.' What this means is impossible to discern."


Full Text: Hawaii Science Instruction

For more information or to see the report, go online to

Maui News: Hawaii’s plan for teaching science gets a ‘D’ 

Star-Adv: 'Errors' mar school science criteria

The Atlantic: American Schools Are Failing Miserably at Science Education


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