California Science Standards Raise Serious Questions

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
California Science Standards Raise Serious Questions
Author(s): 
Molleen Matsumura
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
1
Year: 
1998
Date: 
January–February
Page(s): 
4
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
In 1989 the state of California adopted the California Science Framework (CSF), which has been a model to other states developing science curriculum standards. Anticipating the well-known Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the more recent National Science Education Standards (NSES) published by the National Academy of Science in 1996, the CSF emphasized that the goal of science education should be deep understanding of major scientific concepts, rather than memorization of numerous facts. The inclusion of evolution as a major concept in the CSF — which represented a victory over strong political opposition — has also influenced education in other states. Because California is one of the largest markets for textbooks, the inclusion of evolution has made it possible for schools all over the country to use textbooks that cover the subject.

California is now in the process of writing Academic Standards to provide the basis of statewide assessments in all subject areas. For 1998 the Academic Standards Commission has assigned committees to concentrate specifically on developing standards in science and social studies. Each committee will develop a draft for review by the full commission, which will then submit a proposal to the State Board of Education. Each step of the process presents new opportunities for opposition to evolution.

Even before the science committee released a first draft for public comment, they had been visited by Commissioner LaTanya Wright who "encouraged the committee not to dismiss the issue of creation. She contended... both [evolution and creation] should be included (or excluded) from the standards... [and] that creation be included in the standards 'on a parallel track'." Committee members responded by discussing both legal issues and the nature of science, then passed a motion (with 8 "yes" votes and 2 abstentions) to exclude any aspect of creationism in the standards. The draft released for public comment in the last week of April included evolution at the middle and high school levels and in biology and geology. Many NCSE members wrote to the committee or attended public hearings to express their support for the inclusion of evolution in the standards.

NCSE anticipates struggles in the months ahead. The presence of a "creation science" supporter on the commission is just one cause for concern. Another is that, while the Science Committee has thus far included evolution, it has disregarded important features of the existing curriculum framework. In her April 27 letter to the Standards Commission, NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott commented, "It appears that little from either the CSF and other model state standards, or the national Benchmarks and the NSES has seeped into the Draft Content Standards." Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Science, told the commission that the current standards fail to discuss "the methods of scientific inquiry and reasoning," and do not "meet or exceed" national standards. If the Science Committee can abandon the conceptual approach of the California Science Framework, the full commission and Board of Education could go further and yield to political pressure against evolution.

NCSE will continue to work with other science educators and concerned organizations to advise the Academic Standards Commission on the importance of evolution education.

[See a full report of the March 17 meeting of the Science Committee at http://www.ca.gov/goldstandards/Meetings/Minutes/SciMinutes/Mar17.html.]