Anyone interested in a comprehensive look at the current state of state science standards?
The National Center for Science Education just announced a report entitled "Why Science Standards are Important to a
Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up" that has been published in the
journal Evolution: Education and Outreach.
So how do state science standards measure up? It was nice to read the following about the current standards in Kansas:
[The current standards] are excellent overall, easily earning an A. Given Kansas' history, we should be prepared for them to be altered again in the future. In each past episode, the combined efforts of activists, scientists', and educators' organizations at the local, state, and national levels were crucial to restoring good science standards, and doubtless, they will be again.
Rest assured that supporters of REAL science
in Kansas are well aware of our State Board's see-saw tendencies. We'll be ready for the next challenge when it presents itself.
Frustratingly, the report cites previous studies that have found little correlation between good science standards and the quality of actual classroom instruction in evolution. In other words, despite the best efforts of professional science educators to craft standards that accurately portray evolution as the central organizing principle of modern biology, there is no guarantee that local science teachers will teach evolution effectively.
Given this unfortunate reality, do science standards really matter?
The authors answer that question with a clear "Yes."
Even if a good treatment of evolution in state science standards does not guarantee that evolution will be taught well, it provides a critical resource for teachers who want to teach evolution correctly. The clearest example is that a good treatment of evolution in the standards provides important support for biology teachers facing protests from creationist students, parents, and administrators who want creationism taught, or evolution not taught, in life science courses. However, it is also an important support for combating two other problems, experienced by many science teachers who contact NCSE for advice: parents who want their students to be able to "opt out" from evolution-related lessons and creationist teachers of non-science subjects who attack evolution in their own classes. Both of these phenomena have the same educational impact as attacks on or omission of evolution in science class; they leave students ignorant or misinformed about evolution. However, administrators often deal with the latter situations differently, reasoning that if science teachers are not actually being prevented from teaching as they deem appropriate, it is best to keep everybody happy by allowing creationist students to opt out and other teachers to criticize evolution if they want to. A good treatment of evolution in state science standards can help to persuade administrators that the teaching of evolution is not a matter for political negotiations between parents and teachers with different interests but a clear educational necessity. Students simply should not be allowed to opt out of material that the state considers essential (Scott and Branch 2008), and non-science teachers should not be allowed to contradict or undermine this material in their own lessons.
Overall, this report describes some promising improvements in state science standards over the last decade. At the same time, it emphasizes that for some states - most notably Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia - there is still a lot of room for improvement.
Ultimately, the supreme adaptability
of the anti-evolution movement ensures that supporters of REAL science
will have plenty of work to do in the years to come.
posted by Jeremy Mohn