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The Roundup

Oklahoma’s Science Standards Criticized—Again

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Posted 02.14.12

Last month, we wrote about an Oklahoma lawmaker’s attempt to limit the teaching of evolution (and other science-related subjects) in the state’s public schools, requiring teachers and administrators to promote “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Oklahoma isn’t alone in this endeavor; three other states have filed legislation (six bills total) similar to Josh Brecheen’s, R-District 6, Senate Bill 1742. Critics are now claiming that their “assault” isn’t just on science but on education as a whole.

In addressing why “anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education” for a story in The Guardian, Katherine Stewart wrote on Sunday:

The other significant twist has to do with the fact that the new anti-evolution – make that anti-science – bills are emerging in the context of the most vigorous assault on public education in recent history. In Oklahoma, for example, while Senator Brecheen fights the forces of evolution and materialism, the funding for schools is being cut, educational attainments are falling, and conservative leaders are agitating for school voucher systems, which, in the name of “choice”, would divert money from public schools to private schools – many of them religious.

Meanwhile, a study released at the end of January by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals the most American public school students aren’t proficient in science at the level expected for their age group.

The Fordham Institute graded states on their public school students' science proficiency in "The State of State Science Standards."

Researchers for “The State of State Science Standards” wrote:

A majority of the states’ standards remain mediocre to awful. In fact, the average grade across all states is—once again—a thoroughly undistinguished C. (In fact, it’s a low C.) In twenty-seven jurisdictions, the science standards earn a D or below.

Oklahoma’s grade is “F.” Researchers berated the state’s poor science standards:

The Oklahoma science standards are simply not OK. Woefully little science content appears, and what is present is often flat out wrong, oddly worded, or not up to grade level. It is difficult to see how any curriculum that emerged from these standards (assuming that one could accomplish that task on such a basis) would not be fatally flawed. Oklahoma’s motto is Labor omnia vincit—labor conquers all things—but this document would sorely test that maxim.

Researchers offered four explanations for states’ poor performance—the first of which was “an undermining of evolution”:

While many states are handling evolution better today than in the past, anti-evolution pressures continue to threaten state science standards. …(C)onspicuously missing from the vast majority of states’ standards is mention of human evolution—implying that elements of biological evolution don’t pertain to human life.

In Oklahoma, they noted:

The treatment of evolution—the central principle of life science—is essentially absent. Biological evolution is reduced to “diversity of species”; the term “natural selection” appears once in the standards (in high school biology), while the term “evolution” cannot be found at all. The closest Oklahoma comes to teaching evolution is this fourth-grade standard, which appears in earth science, not life   science: “Fossils provide evidence about the plants and animals that lived long ago.”

Other problems include “a propensity to be vague,” “poor integration of scientific inquiry,” and a failure to link mathematics and science. It’s the Fordham Institute’s hope, researchers wrote, that schools will, in the “not-to-distant future” adopt more rigorous scientific standards. But some say they can’t do that while simultaneously legislating against evolution and pushing public school students into private institutions.

“If you can’t shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools,” Stewart wrote. “It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether.”

Holly Wall, News Editor