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Evolution in the NRC Framework

A Framework for K-12 Science Education — a new publication from the National Research Council offering "a framework that articulates a broad set of expectations for students in science" — emphasizes evolution as one of the "disciplinary core ideas" of the life sciences. "A core principle of the life sciences is that all organisms are related by evolution and that evolutionary processes have led to the tremendous diversity of the biosphere," the framework explains, adding, "Biological evolution explains both the unity and the diversity of species and provides a unifying principle for the history and diversity of life on Earth." Evolution and related topics such as deep time also appear appropriately in the material on the earth sciences.

The framework is intended as the first step in the development of common state science education standards. Over the next year, a set of science standards based on the framework will be developed by content experts from states across the nation, coordinated by the educational non-profit organization Achieve. The new standards are expected to be released in late 2012, according to a July 19, 2011, press release from Achieve. States will individually decide whether or not to adopt them; forty-four states and the District of Columbia have already adopted similar common state education standards for mathematics and English language arts.

Discussing public feedback to a draft, the framework notes that "a small subset of responders ... wanted to eliminate evolution" — a desire that was not heeded. Helen R. Quinn, who chaired the committee that developed the framework, recently told the Symmetry Breaking blog that evolution and climate change — which she described as "at least by some people, considered controversial, although scientifically they're not controversial" — will be included in the new standards. She added, "we can say scientifically that this is what the science says and this is what students should know, and the standards will be written based on that. Then the states will have to decide what they do about adopting them."

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who is thanked for her assistance in the acknowledgments to the framework, commented, "I'm delighted to see that the framework treats evolution in a scientifically and pedagogically appropriate way. I confidently expect that the standards based on the framework will follow suit. And I'm hopeful that these new national science education standards will be widely adopted — eliminating the sort of divisive, distracting, and unnecessary fights over the place of evolution in state science standards that we've seen too often, in places like Florida, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas, over the last decade."