For the first time in 15 years, several dozen science teachers from across Arizona convened to re-write the state’s STEM standards, laying out a vision of how Arizona’s youth can acquire the skills of tomorrow. In the educator version of the standards, students would demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving abilities amid complex challenges; collaborate across diverse teams of individuals; and have the skill-set to engage with complex technologies. Most importantly, these standards would prioritize evidence-based, proven scientific facts.
But when Superintendent Diane Douglas and the state Department of Education made a final set of revisions, they rolled out a set of standards that diverge far from fact. These standards look more like they outline the scientific education vision of yesterday.
In the revised standards, intelligent design is now on equal footing with natural selection, flying in the face of a 2005 federal court ruling that “underscores intelligent design is a religious position, distinct from the material that should be covered in a science class.” These revised standards suggest that our students should learn theories related to the expansion of the universe instead of the Big Bang — favoring biblical explanation over long-proven facts.
Superintendent Douglas justifies this by claiming that “we have to allow our children to explore all type of areas.”
This is wrong. Ideological bias has no place in science and results in long-lasting consequences for our youth. In a postsecondary climate where professors use evolutionary basics and build on these in coursework, our youth will be left at a permanent disadvantage.
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world. Intelligent design has not presented a credible scientific case.
Such ideological bias serves only to set our state back further in a global workforce that demands students offer a core set of 21st century skills. And we simply cannot afford to fall further behind.
According to Vital Signs, a national dashboard of STEM achievement sponsored by Education Commission of the States, Arizona lags below the national average in science and math proficiency at all grade levels. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are also 43rd in the nation based on the number of STEM degrees and certificates our youth have earned.
To ensure that our children can be competitive in the workforce, it is clear that we need to strengthen science teaching and learning.
The Arizona Science Center — and museums and community-based organizations across the state — are taking on the challenge, offering the project-based experiences, design challenges, and informal, free-choice learning opportunities that equip our students with skills for success.
We recognize a real opportunity to shape Arizona’s future — but need our state Department of Education to join us in this effort, assuring the rigor of science teaching and learning. Rigorous science education does not abandon scientific fact.
Students need core scientific concepts to advance through the STEM pipeline and attain a new array of transformative careers. And our state standards must outline the skills, knowledge, and concepts that our students need for success in the 21st century – not the 19th.The future of Arizona depends on it.
Chevy Humphrey is the Hazel A. Hare president and CEO of the Arizona Science Center
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.