By ANNA KUCHMENT - SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN BLOGS
Added: Thu, 02 Feb 2012 03:56:22 UTC
A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute paints a grim picture of state science standards across the United States. But it also reveals some intriguing details about exactly what’s going wrong with the way many American students are learning science.
Standards are the foundation upon which educators build curricula, write textbooks and train teachers– they often take the form of a list of facts and skills that students must master at each grade level. Each state is free to formulate its own standards, and numerous studies have found that high standards are a first step on the road to high student achievement. “A majority of the states’ standards remain mediocre to awful,” write the authors of the report. Only one state, California, plus the District of Columbia, earned straight A’s. Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia each scored an A-, and a band of states in and around the northwest, including Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska, scored F’s. (For any New Yorkers reading this, our standards earned a respectable B+, plus the honor of having “some of the most elegant writing of any science standards document”).
What exactly is going wrong? The study’s lead authors identified four main factors: an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction.
Let’s take these one by one. For evolution, the report points out that eight anti-evolution bills were introduced in six state legislatures last year. This year, two similar bills were pre-filed in New Hampshire and one in Indiana. ”And these tactics are far more subtle than they once were,” write the authors. “Missouri, for example, has asterisked all ‘controversial’ evolution content in the standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that will not be assessed … Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).” Maryland, according to the report, includes evolution content but “explicitly excludes” crucial points about evolution from its state-wide tests.