Five US states have adopted science education standards that recommend introducing two highly charged topics — climate-change science and evolution — into classrooms well before high school.
Released in April, the Next Generation Science Standards are the first effort in 15 years to overhaul US science education nationwide. Twenty-six states, working with non-profit science and education groups, developed the guidelines on the basis of recommendations from the US National Research Council. And the measures are being adopted, even in states where climate change and evolution tend to be avoided in the classroom.
In the past two months, education officials in Rhode Island, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland and Vermont have all approved the standards by overwhelming margins. At least five more states — California, Florida, Maine, Michigan and Washington — may take up the standards in the next few months.
“Whew,” says Minda Berbeco, programmes and policy director at the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. “So far, so good.” Swift adoption of the guidelines has been surprising but welcome news for many supporters. Evolution has been a controversial topic in US education for decades, stretching back to the 1925 ‘monkey trial’ in Tennessee, where the state prosecuted high-school teacher John Scopes for violating a statute that barred the teaching of evolution. In the past decade, those who oppose evolution have sought to enact ‘academic freedom’ laws that would allow creationism to be taught alongside evolution.