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U.S. Should Adopt Higher Standards for Science Education

Americans have grown accustomed to bad news about student performance in math and science. On a 2009 study administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 15-year-olds in the U.S. placed 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries. On last year's Nation's Report Card assessments, only one third of eighth graders qualified as proficient in math or science. Those general statistics tell only a piece of the story, however. There are pockets of excellence across the U.S. where student achievement is world-beating. Massachusetts eighth graders outscored their peers from every global region included, except Singapore and Taiwan, on an international science assessment in 2007. Eighth graders from Minnesota, the only other U.S. state tested, did almost as well.

What do Massachusetts and Minnesota have in common? They each have science standards that set a high ba r 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.

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TAGGED: EDUCATION, SCIENCE


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