Good job, Alabama

Alabama public schools get to have real science teaching!

The state Board of Education voted unanimously today to replace old standards that some teachers say were behind the times the moment they were approved.

As evidence, they point to their students’ biology textbooks, many of which currently come with warning stickers that call evolution “a controversial theory.” The state’s old science standards say students should “wrestle with the unresolved problems still faced” by evolution.

“You might not accept it, but that doesn’t change the fact,” says science teacher Ryan Reardon, who isn’t a fan of the old standards. “Talking about evolution in a classroom is controversial, but there is no controversy about how all the organisms on the planet are related to each other.”

Reardon teaches at Jefferson County International Baccalaureate, one of the nation’s best public schools. He also helps write textbooks, and he and other science educators say Alabama’s old standards were dated and thin on evolution. Not so the new standards, which call it “established scientific knowledge.”

“We were really pleased to see that,” says Minda Berbeco, program director for the National Center for Science Education. She praises the shift to what she calls “a really positive, pro-science perspective.”

Well done Alabama! Well done science educators who spoke to the Board of Education and edited the draft standards.

Perhaps the biggest change in the new standards comes in a third area — the “doing of science” itself. There’s more focus on hands-on exploration, unifying concepts like cause and effect or structure and function, and a favorite of Reardon’s: data analysis.

“I’m [going to] let the data smack [them] in the face,” Reardon says of his students. “I’m [going to] ask them what that suggests, and then I’m [going to] ask [them] what the ramifications are.”

This may be the biggest selling point with teachers.

“So with the new standards, students are [going to] be able to experience science and not just solely learn about it from a textbook, lecture or a worksheet,” said Alabama’s Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Brown, at a recent public hearing.

Educators hope the emphasis on process and thinking will help kids better grasp all subjects, politicized or not.

Speaking of education, could I ask NPR to stop writing its stories with the dialogue in the vernacular? There’s no good reason to do that, and plenty of good reasons not to.

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