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California Adopts Common Science Standards By Unanimous Vote

The state board of education in California voted yesterday to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, bringing to six the number of states to take such action.

California, the nation's most populous state, joins Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, Kansas, and Kentucky. (However, in Kentucky, the standards are still in the midst of a regulatory process that includes legislative review.)

All of these states were among the 26 "lead state partners" that worked with several national organizations to develop the standards.

"The adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards in California mark a crucial step in making sure our students are prepared to succeed after they leave our classrooms," said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent, in a news release. "Scientific information and technology have changed remarkably since the last time California updated its science standards, and how and what we teach have to change with them."

The new K-12 standards were issued in final form in April. Key elements of the standards include providing a greater emphasis on depth over breadth in science education and asking students to apply their learning through the practices of scientific inquiry and engineering design.

The standards, however, have not come without criticism. For one, the treatment of teaching about evolution and climate change has come under fire from some quarters. Also, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based think tank, argues that the standards omit too much important science content knowledge, and that the heavy focus on science and engineering practices overshadows the learning of core content.

The next step in California, according to the news release, is the appointment of a strategic leadership team to develop a plan for implementing the standards. This includes a timeline for implementation, adopting a science framework, developing student assessments, and devising strategies for school districts. Once the team completes its work, the strategic action plan will be presented to the state board of education for approval.

[UPDATE: 11:12 a.m. The California publication EdSource Today highlighted another issue in its reporting on the action yesterday by the state board. The state board put off a related decision until its next meeting in November, the story explains, on whether middle-school science should continue to be taught by discipline—earth sciences in 6th grade, life sciences in 7th, and physical sciences in 8th—or reconstituted in new integrated courses. At three regional forums, EdSource Today notes, many middle school teachers said they opposed an integrated approach, though the state's Science Expert Panel is recommending it.]

Here's our handy map of adoption states, updated to include California.

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