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As publishers plan to implement NGSS science standards, textbook market will likely take the reins of education.
The New Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a project commissioned by about the half the states to re-write K-12 educational standards for science and mathematics in America, is now complete. It’s now up to the individual states to adopt or reject them. But since major textbook manufacturers are already gearing up to conform their curricula to the “latest and greatest” in science education, the decisions made by state and even local authorities may ultimately make little difference.
Ostensibly intended to improve the quality of science education in the United States, the standards were based on the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education and developed over the past year with several opportunities for public input. Many of us who participated in the surveys found very little opportunity to make meaningful comments on the content. The surveys tended to focus more on the ease of understanding the teaching points rather than their validity.
The standards were supposed to build an understanding of the nature of science, teaching students to use evidence to deduce scientific explanations of the natural world—surely a laudable goal. Unfortunately, as was evident during the development period, the standards—like most mainstream scientists today, as well as popular figures like Bill Nye—failed to distinguish between observational (experimental, operational) science and historical (origins) science. Thus, for instance, molecules-to-man evolution (a never-observed phenomenon) was presented alongside observable phenomena like natural selection and speciation without distinction. And the standards asserted that evolutionary history could be documented through anatomical similarities and the fossil record.
The standards and the textbooks to be modeled on them are to be designed to show the teacher how to ask the “right” questions to enable students to look at the “right” evidence to reach the desired conclusions designated in the standards.
Now that the standards are completed, not only are evolution proponents who wish to neutralize the opportunity for students to reach alternative conclusions pleased, but so are believers in man-made climate change, such as the Alliance for Climate Education.1 The standards and the textbooks to be modeled on them are to be designed to show the teacher how to ask the “right” questions to enable students to look at the “right” evidence to reach the desired conclusions designated in the standards.
The conclusions elementary students will need to reach in order to meet the NGSS education standards—whether adopted by their states or just infused into their curricula by textbook companies—include, for instance, that belief that “Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).” And students who meet NGSS standards will need to accept evolution as “the central organizing idea in the biological sciences.”2
Though each state will decide whether to adopt the standards, major textbook companies that implement the NGSS guidelines into their curricula may become “the tail that wags the dog.” This process is already underway. For instance, Pearson science editor Kelly McGrath says, “With the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, we will need to revise our coverage of climate change and many other science core ideas, to reflect the depth of coverage in the new standards and the shift to focus on scientific practices.” And Richard Hull, executive director of the Text and Academic Authors Association, welcomes the opportunity to marginalize and minimize the possibility of the controversial aspects of topics like evolution and climate change being discussed. Pleased with the new standards, Hull told FoxNews, “The influence of political and religious views on evaluators and adopters in state education departments should be minimized by these new standards. Students who are educated in accordance with them will have a far better chance for success in college courses and in competition on the employment market than those steeped in creationism design, new earth theory, and other alternative accounts.”
Thus, states may inadvertently invite the standards by default. States and teachers may fall into the trap of believing that students must accept evolutionary ideas and abandon their ability to think independently about controversial subjects in order to succeed in life academically and economically. Citizens in each state still have an opportunity to influence the decisions of their legislators. It is vital that those states that have already codified academic freedom to protect their teachers and encourage the development of discernment and critical thinking skills among students take care not to lose the gains they have already made.
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