Passing Grade for Your State’s Science Standards?

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Louise Mead and Anton Mates of the National Center for Science Education have conducted an in-depth study of state science education standards to find out what kids across the country are learning. In their report, 40 states get satisfactory grades for the way they treat evolution, up from 31 states in a 2000 report.
And this matters, the authors write:

Although a positive treatment of evolution in state science standards doesn’t guarantee that evolution will be taught well, standards do provide a critical resource for teachers who want to teach evolution correctly. Standards are especially useful when biology teachers face protests from students, parents, and administrators who want creationism taught or evolution education suppressed.

Yet there are still a number of problems. Five states, including the obvious culprits of Texas and Louisiana, get Fs for their science standards, while six others receive Ds. Only nine states, plus Washington, D.C., get As— including Florida and Kansas, which were previously both at an F (though, keep in mind, “the Kansas standards have seesawed between abysmal and excellent no fewer than four times in the last decade,” the researchers note).
The survey also shows that while evolution, generally, is covered more extensively than it was a decade ago, the “treatment of human evolution is abysmal,” and many states “do not reference the big bang as the current scientific theory for the origin of the universe.”
What’s worse, creationist language is becoming more common in state science standards—and more sophisticated:

Blanket bans on evolution and policies requiring “balanced treatment” of evolution and creationism have given way to more innocuous language, such as “teaching the controversy,” “critical analysis,” “strengths and weaknesses,” “academic freedom,” and “discussing the full range of scientific views”

A second strain of creationist language is perhaps more dangerous because it is more subtle. This strain directs the student to judge the validity of evolution—to “critique,” “assess,” or “evaluate” it. The Louisiana Science Education Act over-egged the pudding by urging teachers to help their students to “understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”

As Eugenie Scott, executive director of NCSE, concludes in a companion essay:

On the basis of Mead and Mates’s results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue—as science standards continue to be periodically revised—to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards.

Category: Science Education

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  1. […] of chemical evolution.” Regular readers of this blog will recognize the bill—with its “strengths and weaknesses” language—as another attempt to undercut the teaching of evolution and sneak religious ideas like […]

  2. […] in the scientific community.) Regular readers of this blog will recognize the bill—with its “strengths and weakness” language—as another attempt to undercut the teaching of evolution and bring religious ideas like […]

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