What’s Wrong with the Next Generation Science Standards?

If you follow NCSE, you know that we are big supporters of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Unlike many state science standards that are simply a list of scientific topics, the NGSS challenges students to seek out and evaluate evidence, build scientific arguments, and engineer solutions. It is straightforward about the science and unabashed about the scientific consensus. They don’t use the term “change through time”; they say “evolution”. They don’t question the scientific consensus on climate change; they ask students to dive into the evidence for it. They ask students to do what scientists do, and they are unapologetic in their accurate approach to the science.

So why are so many states balking at adopting the NGSS? Well, it's that unabashedly accurate take on the science–all science–that has become a liability for the standards. Misrepresented early on as federal climate change standards (which they are not), the NGSS have been targeted ever since. And it is this targeting that have made them a political hot potato.

If climate change is such a problem for science standards, why even mention it at all? Because just like evolution, gravity and the big bang, climate change is science–you can’t just ignore the parts of science you don’t like.

When The New York Times published a piece by the editorial board this past weekend on climate change education, it specifically called out the NGSS for its good coverage of climate change, which should be a coup for the standards. But in fact it's to their detriment, only further linking them solely to climate change, rather than to a larger set of standards that address everything from molecules and organisms to energy and engineering design.

It would be a shame if students across the country were denied good quality science standards simply because the science makes us uncomfortable or doesn’t fit our personal political perspective. This is the crux of all science denial, and we see it regularly trickle down from our political and social conversations into classrooms across the country.

It would have been a travesty to exclude climate change from the NGSS to make the standards more politically palatable.  But due to the inclusion of climate change and the resulting political firestorm, students everywhere may suffer from the wholesale rejection of good quality standards to appease a vocal minority of science deniers.

Image by Phil Roeder via Flickr