TOPEKA, Kan. – In education circles, 2013 may well be remembered as the Year of Nationalized Learning Standards – and the beginning of the political battles they instigated.
Even while Americans are still debating the merits of the new Common Core math and English standards that are being installed in more than 40 states, a set of nationalized science learning standards is making its way down the K-12 turnpike.
They’re known as Next Generation Science Standards, and they’re already being implemented in seven states and considered in 26 others. The Next Generation-ready states are Delaware, California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
The new science standards could prove every bit as controversial as the Common Core standards they were designed to complement.
The first source of controversy involves the authors of the new standards. Unlike Common Core, which was developed by two private organizations with official-sounding names, Next Generation was developed in large part by the federal government.
Joy Pullmann of The Heartland Institute reports that “13 federal agencies, including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and (the) U.S. Department of the Interior” helped Achieve Inc. craft the new K-12 science content standards, which tell teachers which concepts to teach, and when.
Next Generation is officially being peddled by Achieve Inc. as a state-led creation, but the federal government’s fingerprints are all over the standards.
“Federal agencies are committed to lifting as much of this as we can in partnership with the states,” said Frank Niepold, co-chair of the Climate Education Interagency Working Group at the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
Niepold made that revelation during an April conference call to promote Next Generation, according to Pullmann.
That will make the science standards a tough sell to taxpayers who are adamant that Washington D.C. bureaucrats not be allowed to influence what gets taught in their neighborhood schools.
NGSS introduces evolution to kindergartners
The other major concern is the science standards themselves.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a leading proponent of Common Core National Standards, has questioned the quality of the science standards.
Fordham analysts and other Next Generation critics believe the standards downplay basic science knowledge in favor of “critical thinking” skills and performing scientific activities.
Other critics say the science standards are too ideological.
Next Generation treats man-made climate change as a settled scientific fact, despite the ongoing debate within the scientific community about the role human activity plays in warming the planet.
The New York Times reports the new science standards make climate change a focus of “the middle grades,” which continues into high school, where students will be trained “in more detail about the human role in generating emissions that are altering planetary climate.”
Many school districts already instruct students in the (debatable) science of climate change, but it’s often done voluntarily and relegated to environmental studies classes, The New York Times notes.
As controversial as climate change is, the real firestorm sparked by the new science standards, however, stems from its treatment of evolution. The Times reports, “The (Next Generation) 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.”
The science standards introduce the concept of evolution as early as second grade. That’s a concern to many conservatives who want schools to at least acknowledge the intelligent design theory.
A group of Kansas parents and taxpayers has already filed a lawsuit against the Kansas State Board of Education and other state leaders to keep the new science standards out of public schools.
“The lawsuit argues that the new standards will cause Kansas public schools to promote a ‘non-theistic religious worldview’ by allowing only ‘materialistic’ or ‘atheistic’ explanations to scientific questions, particularly about the origins of life and the universe,” the Associated Press reports.
John Calvert, the attorney representing the Kansas families in the lawsuit, argues that since science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, the Next Generation standards should not present atheistic evolution as the only way human beings came into existence.
“The standards lead the child to believe that evidence for a creator is an illusion,” Calvert says.
Regardless of the outcome of the Kansas families’ lawsuit, it has already accomplished one purpose: Conservatives and traditionalists across the nation are now aware of Next Generation’s contents. That will make it far more difficult for state K-12 leaders to quietly adopt the science standards without public knowledge and input, like they did with Common Core.
Public education is prone to fads, and this current obsession with creating uniform learning standards across all the states is no exception. We believe the so-called experts want uniform learning standards to collect data that will facilitate the creation of personalized learning technology. Once the technology is in place, schools will be able to tailor the education process to each individual student.
What the federal government will do with the data on each student after they graduate is anyone’s guess.
The end goal might be admirable, but it’s coming with an overly expensive price tag: The erosion of local and state controls over public schools.