Proposed Changes to Science Education, and What You Can Do About Them

by Jamie Vernon | Oct 15, 2019

High school student holds a molecular model (Shutterstock)

Jamie VernonState and local legislators across the United States are threatening science education and alarming teachers by pursuing legislation that challenges fundamental scientific concepts, such as evolution and climate science. So-called “academic freedom” bills would urge teachers to treat these topics as controversial. The seemingly innocuous proposal to teach both sides of the controversy is a familiar strategy to inject unscientific arguments in textbooks and classrooms. 

“In 2019, a handful of legislators scattered across the country introduced more than a dozen bills that threaten the integrity of science education,” reports Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), in Scientific American

The NCSE website tracks bills that threaten science education. It shows that in 2019 alone, bills were introduced in Montana, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Virginia, South Carolina, and Florida to influence how scientific topics are taught in schools.  

For example:

  • In Montana: House Bill 418 sought to clarify the state’s position on climate change to include the statement “human emissions do not change atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions enough to cause climate change,” and that educational materials on climate change should state as much. It would have required the superintendent of public instruction to report on climate change curriculum in Montana’s public schools.
    Status: Expired in committee

  • In North Dakota: House Bill 1538 would allow teachers to “teach strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories and controversies.” This allows a teacher to present information for and against scientific evidence, when most of the scientific community agrees there is no controversy.
    Status: Withdrawn from consideration by the bill’s chief sponsor

  • In Iowa: Two bills, House File 61 and House File 428, sought to influence the state’s science standards, known as the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, which Iowa adopted in 2015 to set learning expectations in grades K–12. The standards are aligned with the content and structure of the National Research Council’s Framework for K–12 Science Education. The NGSS include teaching lessons related to climate change and evolution. House File 61 would require the state’s board of education to “not adopt, approve, or require implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards,” while House File 428 would revert the standards to pre-NGSS standards.
    Status: Both bills expired in committee

These types of bills are not new and none of them became law in 2019. But we have seen some become law before, such as the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008. These bills are viewed as attacks on the integrity of the science education. Proponents for sound science standards argue that these proposals and laws must be challenged. Sigma Xi is a non-partisan organization that does not advocate for specific legislation or specific candidates. It is within our mission to advocate for the public understanding of science, and these types of bills—regardless of who introduces them—are a threat to that cause.

American Scientist November-December 2019 coverYou can help teachers and students continue to have access to credible scientific information. On Giving Tuesday—December 3, 2019—Sigma Xi will hold a fundraiser to give one-year subscriptions of its award-winning magazine American Scientist to high schools in states where bills threatening science education have been introduced. The schools receive the magazines at no cost. 

Last year, our goal was to raise $5,000 to send magazines to schools in 10 states, and support swelled to more than $15,000. That paid for subscriptions at 650 high schools in 22 states. The schools were selected by public nominations. This year, our goal is to raise $30,000 to keep the subscriptions going for all 650 high schools and to double the number of schools receiving the magazine. American Scientist  is written by researchers who are working in science, technology, engineering, and math and has been a trusted STEM resource for more than 100 years. 

You can give now to help start the momentum for this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign, or watch to give on December 3. 

It is critical that our young people have enough accurate information and confidence in science to pursue research careers or to become citizens who understand and value the scientific process. They will struggle to do this without access to reliable scientific information. On December 3, we need your help to continue supporting teachers, students, and science education.  

Jamie L. Vernon, PhD
Executive Director and CEO, Sigma Xi 
Publisher, American Scientist 

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