Climate Action Families


Finally! Climate Change Introduced to U.S. Science Curriculum

Good news and bad news:

The good news is that U.S. students will for the first time receive instruction on climate change following the adoption last Tuesday of new science education guidelines. The guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution, the central organizing idea in the biological sciences for more than a century. (Even though some extreme right-wingers choose to deny that reality.)

The bad news is that states are not required to adopt these standards, even though 26 states, including Arizona, California, Iowa, Kansas and New York, have committed to seriously considering them.

The Next Generation Science Standards are the first broad national recommendations for science instruction since 1996. They were developed by a consortium of 26 state governments and several groups representing scientists and teachers.

The consortium said the guidelines were intended to combat widespread scientific ignorance, to standardize teaching among states, and to raise the number of high school graduates who choose scientific and technical majors in college.

This is critical for the economic future of America, as the U.S. continues to lag in comparison to other countries: in a 2009 global education survey, for example,  Shanghai ranked number one, while the United States came in 26th, out of 65 places worldwide in combined scores for math, science and reading.

One reason for this is that in many states, extensive scientific instruction does not begin until high school. A recent survey of 923 elementary teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 80 percent of those teachers devote less than an hour a week to science, and another 16 percent spend no time on science.

In many ways, these science standards resemble a separate set of guidelines known as the Common Core, which are changing instruction in  English Language Arts and Mathematics: the idea is to  impose and raise standards, with a focus on critical thinking and primary investigation. To date, 45 states and Washington D.C. have adopted the Common Core standards.

Similarly, these new science standards also emphasize hands-on learning and critical thinking, rather than memorizing facts.

From The Guardian:

“Climate change is not a political issue and climate change is not a debate. It is science. It is strongly supported heavily research science, and our hope is that teachers will not see this as a political issue or a political debate,” [Mario Molina, deputy director at the Alliance for Climate Education] said.

He said the new standards will help guide teachers on teaching climate change. However, it was critical that science organisations offer support and resources to teachers who may not be as familiar with climate change as with other areas of science.

Predictably, there was immediate opposition to these new standards.

From The New York Times:

For instance, as the standards were being drafted, a group called Citizens for Objective Public Education, which lists officers in Florida and Kansas, distributed a nine-page letter attacking them. It warned that the standards ignored evidence against evolution, promoted “secular humanism,” and threatened to “take away the right of parents to direct the religious education of their children.”

There will be resistance, predictably from states such as Oklahoma and Texas, but at least this is a step forward.

What do you think?

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