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'Next Generation Scientific Standards' May Face Tough Battle With Politics

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A new set of science standards released by Achieve, an educational nonprofit, could transform American science education -- if politicians can keep their distance.

The "Next Generation Science Standards" took two years to create, and are the result of a drafting committee of 41 members -- including Nobel Prize laureates, National Research Council members, science education researchers and standards and policy experts. The voluntary plan (which does not carry the force of law and is not endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education) included input from 26 states, with 21 states saying they'd seriously consider adopting the standards. However, the final product includes information on global climate change and a preference for evolution over creationism -- two of several concepts that could lead states to reject the new standards on political grounds, The Verge reported.

In response to the plan, each state can decide which of the standards to adopt -- if any at all.

Education Week noted that the biological evolution standards consider evolution fundamental to the life sciences. While most scientists agree, a 2012 Gallup public opinion poll suggests Americans are still split on the evolution of life and a divine creator’s place within the process. Currently, five states are considering legislation that would allow students to challenge universally accepted scientific theories.

As educators debate the new standards, the plan's assertion that human behavior and activity have had "major effects" on global climate change has proved to be an easy focal point for right-wing criticism.

Education Week notes:

That language, also included in earlier drafts, has come under fire from Joy Pullman, an education research fellow at the Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank in Chicago that has been critical of claims about the human role in rising global temperatures. She maintained that the standards seem intended to incorporate “alarmist global warming [ideas]” into the science curriculum.

Those against the new standards could also broaden their opposition on the grounds that the voluntary program could interfere with state governments' responsibilities to educate, and fund the education of, their citizens.

Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of the Texas State Board of Education, told the Texas Tribune that her state is unlikely to adopt the standards, since it just recently adopted and implemented a separate set. In another statement, Cargill said the state would consider the common standards, but likely still write its own policies.

We write our own standards here in Texas,” she said.

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