Monday, January 08, 2007


School Daze

Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and Representative Vernon Ehlers, Republican of Michigan, have co-authored an act (the language of which can be found in this pdf file) known as The Standards to Provide Educational Achievement for Kids (SPEAK). As explained by a press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, under the act:

... voluntary, nationwide U.S. content standards in science and math would be developed by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), with public input. States choosing to adopt the new standards would then receive federal funds to implement them and to enhance data systems related to No Child Left Behind goals.
The AAAS supports the general goals of the act:

Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061 at AAAS, added that the Dodd-Ehlers proposal is well-timed. "As a nation, we're in an excellent position to identify a uniform and coherent set of science and math standards because a sound knowledge base already exists, and AAAS stands ready to help," Roseman said. "Fortunately, planners won't need to start totally anew."
By which she means:

While supporting a single, nationwide set of science and math standards, AAAS -- the world's largest general scientific organization -- urged policy-makers and educators to begin with existing guidelines, which already provide a model for the nation's best state-level standards. For example, existing guidelines include standards set forth by Project 2061's Benchmarks for Science Literacy, the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards (NSES), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The 2009 NAEP Science Framework synthesizes and updates the physical, life, and earth science standards found in Benchmarks and NSES and could serve as a starting point in science.
On the other hand, the Cato Institute is against it. While that is not always an automatic reason to support something, in this case the opposition seems particularly troglodyte. According to Andrew J. Coulson at Cato@Liberty, one room schools under the tutelage of the average American parent (heavens knows how educationally advanced they are) would be better at preparing the nation's youth for 21st Century science than professional educators with national resources. Well, at least that was what he appeared to be saying but the article was such a blizzard of buzz-words that it was hard to tell if he had any point at all except "government bad!"

It was somewhat amusing, however, to see small government types grousing about the fact that the bill would leave it up to the states to decide whether or not to adopt the standards:

It isn’t as though you’ll be able to walk into your local school and opt in or out. What the bill’s authors mean is that it would be voluntary for state school boards or state school superintendents. Once they decide, you, me, and Dupree don’t get a say.
And here I thought they were all for keeping decisions away from the Federal Government and giving them to the states. Go figure!

Anyway, this being Washington, there will likely be many a slip 'twixt the trough and the pork. No doubt there will be a concerted effort to put some "teach the controversy" or "critical analysis" language in the biology standards. Still, this is something that may be a positive development. Lord knows American science education can't get much worse.

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