The Next Generation Science Standards released this April have been approved for adoption by education officials in at least five states in their entirety, despite the fact that they include topics that have drawn controversy in the past: climate change and evolution. Lauren Morello of Scientific American reports that the standards, which are an attempt at the first major overhaul of US science curriculum in 15 years, were developed by a group representing 26 state education authorities as well as science and education-related non-profits.
Rhode Island, Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland and Vermont have all approved the standards and five more – California, Florida, Maine, Washington and Michigan – are set to consider them in the coming months. Supporters of the standards want to see the swift pace of adoption maintained, in part to limit the opportunity for those who oppose the standards on political grounds to organize resistance to their adoption.
"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 U.S. 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.
Although attempts to pass legislation that would allow creationism – or intelligent design as it is also known – to be taught in science classes in public schools aren't new, in recent years the same means have been used to limit the teaching of climate change science. As Berbeco explains, climate change science critics and intelligent design supporters have frequently joined together in order to increase their political clout and up their odds of success.
Of course, even in some states where education officials approved the standards, getting them into the classroom will still require a fight. In Kentucky, for instance, the standards were unanimously approved by the state Board of Education, but will now be open to public comment and will need to go through a legislative review before they're fully adopted.
Robert Bevins, a toxicologist and president of Kentuckians for Science Education, an advocacy group formed in February in part to push for the adoption of the standards, says that he is gearing up for a hard fight. "Kentucky has a love–hate relationship with science," he says, noting that the state has a thriving coal industry that has opposed greenhouse-gas regulations and is also home to the Creation Museum near Petersburg.