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Powell: Time for the climate of science education to change

An empty classroom at the start of a

An empty classroom at the start of a three day weekend at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach. (Nov. 10, 2011) Credit: Daniel Brennan

We've all heard time and time again that the United States lags behind other industrialized countries in science and math. And president after president has instituted their own version of education reform, although none seems to have improved this plight.

But it doesn't stop us from trying.

Yet another set of guidelines, geared specifically toward science, was announced on Tuesday. They were compiled by a The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the non-profit group Achieve. The national recommendations, which are the first of their kind since 1996, are voluntary but 26 states, including New York, are considering adopting them.

Called “The Next Generation Science Standards,” they advocate largely for a more stream-lined approach to teaching science. For example, less material should be taught to allow for more in-depth coverage; instruction should place emphasis on critical thinking instead of memorization; the foundations of the scientific process should be emphasized earlier on.

Additionally, they propose that ideas like climate change and evolution be added to curriculum as early as middle school. So do we. Surely, this will draw critics and backlash, given that in some areas those ideas aren't taught at all.

It would be a shame if the approach, which is valid, is undercut by the suggested topics, which are hot buttons in the culture wars.

The guidelines have their flaws, as all educational reform plans do. Some states have a harder time making the leap than others. Not all teachers, students or school districts are the same and the process toward higher achievement will be slow.

But it is important that we start making a focused push to raise the bar for science.

My hypothesis? The sooner we start the sooner we see results.