According to proposed new national science standards released Tuesday, climate change- an often touchy topic in the political world- will be taught more deeply in the classroom.
Developed over the last year and a half by California and 25 other states along with several scientific organizations, the Next Generation Science Standards represent the first national effort since 1996 to alter how science is taught in classrooms across the country. The multi-state consortium is proposing that students learn fewer concepts more deeply and not merely memorize facts but understand how scientists actually investigate and gather information.
“What’s important here is that the standards will give students a deep understanding of how science and scientists actually work,” said Phil Lafontaine, a California Department of Education official who helped create the proposed standards. “It’s not just what we know but how we came to know it.”
Each state will decide on its own whether to adopt the benchmarks, which are based on a 2011 framework by the National Research Council. In California, they will be reviewed by a panel of science experts, with public hearings set to begin later this month in Sacramento, Santa Clara and Riverside. The state Board of Education is expected to vote on them in the fall, with partial implementation scheduled for 2014-15.
The new standards come amid widespread concern that American students are falling behind global counterparts in their mastery of science and math, which are seen as critical fields for future economic growth.
“In the next decade, the number of jobs requiring highly technical skills is expected to outpace other occupations,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. The new approach “will help students achieve real-world practical skills so they can help maintain California’s economic and technological leadership in the world.”
A recent U.S. Department of Commerce study found that over the past decade, job growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics was three times greater than that in other fields.
For the first time, the proposed education standards identify climate change as a core concept for science classes with a focus on the relationship between that change and human activity. According to the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education, two-thirds of U.S. students in a 2011 survey said they are not learning much about the topic.
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