School kids these days are dealing with all sorts of new pressures—gun violence, fierce competition to get into college, cyber bullying, regular bullying. One of the only parts of school that hasn’t changed much is the material students actually have to learn. But on Tuesday, United States educators unveiled a revamped science curriculum that includes new subjects like climate change and evolution.
Called the Next Generation Science Standards, the curriculum is the first change in science instruction standards since 1996. For context, 1996 was the year that we first sequenced the yeast genome, that scholarly journals went on the world wide web for the first time, and that Dolly the sheep was born. The consortium that created the guidelines has this to say:
Quality science education is based on standards that are rich in content and practice, with aligned curricula, pedagogy, assessment, and teacher preparation and development. It has been nearly 15 years since the National Research Council and the American Association for Advancement in Science produced the seminal documents on which most state standards are based. Since that time, major advances in science and our understanding of how students learn science have taken place and need to be reflected in state standards. The time is right to forge Next Generation Science Standards.
The standards come from a consortium of 26 state governments, and while they aren’t mandatory, they’re strongly recommended. So far 26 states have adopted the standards, while other are sure to resist them. Here’s how the New York Times describes the new guidelines:
The focus would be helping students become more intelligent science consumers by learning how scientific work is done: how ideas are developed and tested, what counts as strong or weak evidence, and how insights from many disciplines fit together into a coherent picture of the world.
Leaders of the effort said that teachers may well wind up covering fewer subjects, but digging more deeply into the ones they do cover. In some cases, traditional classes like biology and chemistry may disappear entirely from high schools, replaced by courses that use a case-study method to teach science in a more holistic way.
As a part of that new method of teaching science in action, educators pushed to include evolution and climate change in the curriculum. Which has some people quite unhappy. Already, conservative and religious groups are speaking out against the changes. The group Citizen for Objective Public Education claim that teaching children about the science of evolution and climate change will “take away the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.”
Others argue that teaching evolution and climate change should be included in a science curriculum because…well, because it’s science. Others claim not teaching the topics would short-change students who might go to college and, introduced to the concepts for the first time, find themselves far behind their peers. Most likely, places where teachers are already voluntarily teaching the two topics will adopt the standards and places where teachers oppose these science lessons will refuse, creating what climate scientists call a positive feedback loop and a country in which only half of the kids will understand that phrase.
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