Will It Matter?

The New York Times reports that new state science standards endorse more rigorous teaching of climate change and evolution. According to one conservative group consulted by the Times, the new standards will disregard creationists’ rights, will “classify them as outsiders within the community.”

But will they?

Happily for religious conservatives, and unhappily for those like me who support more rigorous evolution education, these standards will not make much impact on the ways evolution is actually taught.

Political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer have argued convincingly that state standards have “only minimal impact” on what goes on in science classrooms.[1]  The decisions made at the state level are not nearly as important as the daily decisions made by teachers.

Similarly, science educator Randy Moore has noted that state standards “often mean little in biology classrooms.”[2]

So will these new standards fulfill the hopes of science educators or the fears of religious conservatives?  Likely not.  That does not mean that such standards are useless.  The political process of crafting and wording state education standards can make a significant symbolic statement about the cultural and intellectual values of a community.

However, in terms of transforming teaching on a day-to-day level, these new suggested standards will not likely have the impact journalists suggest.  As long as local communities feel ambivalent about evolution education, teachers will largely avoid the topic.


[1] Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 160.

[2] Randy A. Moore.  2002. “Teaching Evolution: Do State Standards Matter?” BioScience 52 (4) 380.

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