The Evolution of National Standards

Scopes TrialThis week 46 states and the District of Columbia embarked upon an effort to create a set of national education standards for students from kindergarten through twelfth grade .  Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the goal is to design a uniform set of expectations of what all students should know, as opposed to the hodgepodge of state standards that currently hold students in Maryland, for example, up to a radically different set of expectation than students in say Mississippi or Maine.  A single national set of standards would hopefully end this discrepancy and make American students more competitive in the world marketplace.


I must admit, I have very mixed emotions about this.  On the one hand, I experienced first hand the way that No Child Left Behind and the drive for increased standardized testing was used to bludgeon my students and fellow teachers.  On the other hand, it occurs to me as a science teacher that the idea of setting a single uniform standard for what educated students aught to know, may be one way to finally end the debate over teaching creationism versus evolution.


Currently, much of the debate is being driven by anti-evolution activists who are working on the local level to pressure and in some cases actually take over state and individual school boards.  This tactic has been particularly effective in Texas.  As recently as March of this year, members of the Texas Board of Education inserted language into the state’s science standards designed explicitly to cast skepticism on the theory of evolution


This is especially significant because Texas is the one of the largest textbook markets in the country.  Textbook publishers wishing to successfully market their science books, often feel compelled to design and write texts that will not offend Texas, their biggest customer.  The result is that a few anti-evolution activists in a key state are able to effectively dictate what children in the entire country learn, or more importantly, don’t learn.


Much of the attention being generated by the idea of national education standards is centered on English and math standards, but it is not unreasonable to assume that any standards adopted would have to include science standards as well.  In fact, an article in Education World lists the standards being considered by subject area.  The section on Science standards, specifically life science standards for high school students, specifies that, “As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of biological evolution.”  The words Creationism and Intelligent Design are noticeably absent. 


I’m not so foolishly optimistic to think that this will completely stop anti-evolutionists in their tracks, but it is interesting to note that the only states whose governors are not endorsing the effort are Texas, Alaska, Missouri and South Carolina.  Perhaps Governors Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Jay Nixon and Mark Sanford, three out of four of them Republicans, can see the writing on the wall.


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