Report of the Texas Earth Science Task Force
Texas State Board of Education
November 5, 2004
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you briefly this morning about the continuing activities of the Texas Earth Science Task Force, an entity you created to evaluate the earth science content in our state's secondary curricula and report back to you with recommendations about how to return earth science to its proper place within the Texas high school science curriculum. Dr. Ed Roy asked me to represent our group before you today.
The task of the Task Force is not yet finished. All of you are aware of the singular importance of earth science and technology to our state's economic infrastructure, an importance far greater than that for any other state in our country. You are further aware of the enormous importance of earth science to understanding our physical environment in a time of global climate, atmospheric, and oceanic change and challenges to our soil and water resources. And you are no doubt aware of the excitement that earth science--which includes space science and ocean science--offers to children, teaches them amazing new knowledge about Earth and space, engages them in exciting and challenging activities, inspires their imagination and creativity, and ultimately motivates them to succeed. You heard abundant testimony to that effect at several recent Board and committee meetings, and I believe you are all committed to returning earth science to the Texas secondary curriculum in some fashion.
Now we need to move ahead. The members of the Earth Science Task Force agree with your decision to create and begin implementation of a new fourth-year science requirement. This was, after all, one of our recommendations. We are firmly committed to working within the prospective four-year science framework, which means, of course, that we want earth science to be taught in a student's fourth year of high school, since the first three years are taken by IPC, biology, chemistry, and physics. Specifically, we have abandoned our desire to have earth science share core curriculum status with IPC, chemistry, and physics. Speaking for myself, I believe that you made the correct decision, since GMO--the current Texas secondary earth science course--is frankly just not being taught at the same level as chemistry and physics, for it does not offer the same amount of conceptual rigor, abstract understanding, and computational practice as those other courses, qualities that students destined for a highly technological work force require. It also omits space science, an essential part of Earth Science. The ESTF plans to remedy this situation.
I wish to emphasize that my evaluation of the effectiveness of GMO is based on my experience observing the class being taught and my personal examination of its content. The GMO TEKS are good but incomplete, lacking instruction in space science and other specific topics. GMO can be taught and sometimes is taught as a rigorous course in the manner described by earlier ESTF presentations, but in my experience it is usually not presented in this fashion. Far fewer students take GMO in Texas compared to the four standard science courses, something the ESTF wishes to change. Finally, it has always been the stated intention of the ESTF members to revise the curriculum and TEKS of GMO/ESS to strengthen it and ensure that it is just as rigorous and popular as chemistry and physics, and this would not be necessary if GMO was presently fully satisfactory.
Several weeks ago, core members of the Earth Science Task Force traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with other earth science curriculum specialists to begin planning the completion of a national earth science course and curriculum. These were, beside myself, Ed Roy, Stan Pittman, Kenn Heydrick, Chris Comer, and a new member, Kathy Ellins of the University of Texas at Austin Institute for Geophysics. The first stage of earth science reform has already been completed by earth science curriculum specialists who met in Colorado in 2001 and wrote the Blueprint for Change: Report of the National Conference on the Revolution in Earth and Space Science Education. This report describes the fact that earth science education is undergoing a remarkable transformation: Long perceived as a "minor" science in contrast to physics, chemistry, and biology, earth system science is emerging in both public perception and active science research as a profoundly important field. Our lives and future depend on the depth of our understanding of our home planet, which we can no longer take for granted. The report describes what must be done to bring relevant earth science instruction back into K-12 education in the most efficient and pedagogically-appropriate way possible. It is now our task to make these ideas and goals manifest by creating a new earth system science curriculum in Texas and the nation using all the wonderful modern technologies and resources at our disposal.
The Texas Earth Science Task Force was one of four state contingents to meet and plan the new curriculum. The meeting was called Revolution II and paid for by a grant from the National Science Foundation for science education reform. The other three states were California, New York, and North Carolina, plus other national leaders in earth science joined us. Of all the fifty states, only New York has a long history of teaching the earth sciences in a way equal to the life and physical sciences, and their educational results have been outstanding. North Carolina has just implemented a similar plan after 14 years of effort to accomplish this; they explained how they eventually succeeded. Except for these two states, earth science is omitted or downgraded in other state's science curriculums, a lamentable situation, since earth science is recognized to be equal in importance to life and physical sciences by scientists and national science organizations. California and Texas, the two states with the largest student populations and therefore the most to gain, are at the same stage of this reform--the beginning. Texas, far more than any other state, relies on the earth sciences for its economic well being, and we should be a leader--not a follower--in the effort of earth science curriculum reform and instruction. It is our job to see that this happens.
The Texas contingent gave a dynamic presentation in which we reviewed the history of earth science curriculum reform in Texas and the events of the past year. We put together an impressive plan to remedy our current situation, complete with timeline, responsibilities, and goals to re-integrate earth science into Texas K-12 science instruction. We are creating a coalition--named the Texas Coalition for Earth Science Education and Enterprise (TCESEE)--to promote earth system science in Texas public schools (Education) and disseminate knowledge of earth science in support of Texas citizens and the Texas economy (Enterprise). Our goals state that the dissemination of earth system science among the students and citizens of Texas will greatly aid the state's society, business community, and enterprise culture, help to keep Texas science and technology talent within the state, and aid in preserving the state's natural areas and environmental integrity by engendering an appreciation for natural Earth areas and Earth processes. TCESEE will be headquartered in Dallas at the Geotechnology Institute of Brookhaven College.
TCESEE will review the entire K-12 earth science curriculum and suggest additions or revisions as needed. TCESEE will work to have earth science begin or regain its proper place in K-12 science education in Texas within the new four-year science framework recently initiated by the State Board of Education and which will--we firmly believe--be ultimately endorsed and funded by the Texas Legislature. Potential TCESEE members include science organizations, corporations and business alliances, state agencies, universities and academic organizations, and individuals. We are in the process of forming this coalition now.
One important goal of TCESEE will be to help develop a new Earth System Science course designed as a fourth-year high school science course that follows biology, chemistry, and physics, thus completing and reinforcing student instruction in the three great areas of modern science: life science, physical science, and earth system science. Right now, as I have stated, instruction in earth system science is inadequate or lacking in Texas and almost all other states. Earth System Science (ESS) will be a new high school, 12th-grade, capstone science course that combines earth science, ocean science, atmospheric science, and space science in a single course. In one year, high school seniors learn both the basics and special topics of geology, oceanography, meteorology, and planetary astronomy in a course that builds upon the knowledge they learned in their earlier high school science courses of biology, chemistry, and physics, and upon the earth science instruction they received in the K-8 curriculum.
The new Earth System Science course will
- be conceptually, quantitatively, and analytically rigorous, equal in this regard to the traditional science courses high school seniors will have already taken, particularly chemistry and physics;
- use modern educational technologies, computer and satellite imagery, and the Internet;
- make use of interactive computer-based curricula and labs;
- stress inquiry-based learning, critical thinking, and conceptual mastery;
- be systems-based, that is, it will treat earth, ocean, atmospheric, and space processes, phenomena, and products as interconnected systems, so that the interrelationships and feedback mechanisms of natural processes will be apparent to students;
- be designed as a laboratory course directly from the start, with 40% of its activities consisting of hands-on labs, virtual labs (labs performed with computer simulations), and demonstration labs (labs performed by one person, a student or the instructor);
- involve classwork, labwork, and homework that will make use of calculations, graphs, and models to a greater extent than is traditionally done at this level for this subject, so as to maximize computation and quantitative understanding;
- and, finally, will not require special laboratories or expensive new equipment; the course can be taught in any traditional physics classroom/lab that has networked computers with access to the Internet available for students (the networked computers are essential, but these days are almost universally available).
School boards and superintendents may be skeptical of new science courses--especially one they may be required to offer--if the physical demands and therefore expenses are too great, so the course labs and classwork exercises will be designed to work primarily with Web-based computer simulations and consumable lab books and workbooks, although some minor lab supplies, such as rock, mineral, and fossil kits, will be expected and can be easily purchased or may be available from previous years. The greatest new expense--above hiring new science teachers and building new classrooms and laboratories necessitated in any case by the new fourth-year science requirement--will be developing new teachers or retraining current teachers to teach the new ESS course; this will require new professional ESS development programs and ESS certification paths in schools of education.
My particular focus will be to help create the curriculum for this new course with the attributes described above. Later, the national curriculum will be adapted in Texas--by Task Force members working with the TEA science curriculum specialists--to form the TEKS for this new course in our state. Finally, you--the Texas State Board of Education--will examine the new course curriculum to ensure that it meets your expectations for excellence before final adoption. I guarantee that this new course will be the most exciting addition to high school education in Texas in many decades.
The prospect of four years of high school science is undoubtedly a significant change in Texas K-12 education, giving Science the same importance in high schools as that now held by English and Social Studies (four courses of these two subjects are currently required, but only three of science and other subjects). The Earth Science Task Force hopes that many or most students will choose Earth System Science as their senior-year science course, although in many high schools students will be able to choose among several others, including all AP (advanced placement) courses offered by their school and popular courses such as environmental systems, astronomy, and aquatic science. For example, we expect that many students will take AP Biology as their fourth-year course if they plan to enter a health-related profession.
One goal of TCESEE is to ensure that all Texas high schools offer ESS in the future, thus possibly allowing it to become the most popular choice of Texas high school students for a fourth-year science course. To this end, we plan to ask the State Board to require that all Texas high schools offer the new ESS course under the rule 19 TAC Chapter 74, Section A, in the same manner that IPC, biology, chemistry, and physics are required to be offered by all high schools. Again, this rule does not require that a student must take ESS, only that it be available; we agree that students must be able to choose from whatever fourth-year courses their high school offers, only that one available choice be ESS. Creation of a new course will require significant new professional development and certification of teachers in the ESS area; TCESEE will work to implement a plan to increase the availability of ESS training in Texas schools of education. (Frankly, this expertise was widely available in Texas until the late 1990s, at which time the Earth Science requirement in Texas was abandoned.)
I have been asked by several members of the Earth Science Task Force to request that the Board immediately require three science credits for the minimum graduation program and four credits for the Distinguished Achievement Plan (DAP), the former request being the more necessary. Students who take only two science courses will be at a severe disadvantage when they take the TAKS their junior year. The science TAKS assesses the first two years of science, and students taking a third year science course use it as reinforcement to prepare for the exam, so any student under the minimum plan will not have this reinforcement, possibly requiring a TAKS science exam one year after the student's last science course. This problem cannot be allowed to continue.
Finally, on behalf of the Earth Science Task Force members, I have one immediate, substantive request to ask the Board. To clarify the Task Force's position, could you please reauthorize the Task Force's existence and mission with a formal vote. This would include some minor funding as in the past. We plan to ask new coalition members for funding for the ESS project, but we need to start now to meet some immediate goals. If my presentation has inspired you, please reauthorize the Texas Earth Science Task Force.
Texas Coalition for Earth Science Education and Enterprise Last updated: 2005/03/08