Public elementary and high school classes across the US should be teaching students about evolution, climate change, renewable energy and the Big Bang, subjects that some science classes don't currently offer because some people find them controversial. But all of these and more are recommended in a new set of national standards published today by Achieve, an educational nonprofit that has been working for the past two years on a detailed plan to reform American science education.
Called the "Next Generation Science Standards," the plan is not law, nor is it a national policy endorsed by the US Department of Education. It's completely voluntarily and up to state boards of education to decide which if any of the new standards they want to adopt. Still, the plan is the closest thing that the US is likely to have approaching a national consensus on science education, because the federal Department of Education isn't in charge of writing curriculum.
"cover fewer ideas, but go into more depth."
"Today, students see science as simply a list of facts and ideas that they are expected to memorize," said one member of the writing committee, Michigan State science education professor Joseph S. Krajcik, in a statement. "In contrast to that approach education researchers have learned, particularly in the last 15 to 20 years, that if we cover fewer ideas, but go into more depth, students come away with a much richer understanding."
Already, though, earlier drafts of the plan were already rejected outright by the Texas State Board of Education, despite the fact that some teachers from that state were among the 41-member drafting committee for the new standards. Twenty six states helped design the new standards and most are expected to adopt them in some fashion, but it will be years before they make their way into classrooms. It's unclear how many other states will get onboard, but with science education scores in the US falling behind those of other countries, it's obvious that a new approach of some kind is needed.