What do Massachusetts and Minnesota have in common? They each have science standards that set a high bar for what students are expected to learn at each grade level. Such standards form the scaffolding on which educators write curricula and teachers plan lessons, and many experts believe them to be closely linked with student achievement.

Unfortunately, the quality of most state science standards is “mediocre to awful,” in the words of one recent report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C. Several states present evolution as unsettled science—“according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection,” say New York State's standards. Wishy-washiness is also creeping into the way schools teach climate change, as some parents pressure teachers to “balance” the conclusions of the majority of scientists against the claims of a tiny but vocal clan of skeptics. We can't have a scientifically literate populace if schools are going to tap-dance around such fundamentals.

Now a group of 26 states has collaborated with several organizations on ambitious new standards, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, that all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, will be able to adopt starting early next year. The first draft, released in May, explicitly included evolution and climate change. A second draft will be available for comment this fall.