Education Week - April 20, 2016 - (Page 18)

COMMENTARY W By Matt Gandal ith the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, our country is entering a new chapter in education reform. After 15 years of work by states and school districts to raise standards, disaggregate data, and close gaps, the federal government is taking the foot off the gas and leaving even more decisions to the states and to local school officials, including those about measures, metrics, incentives, and interventions. For those of us who have been working with states for many years toward the goal of college and career readiness for all students, this is a period of great excitement and, admittedly, some trepidation. Excitement because there's a real opportunity for states to build on the good work that's been done, make midcourse corrections, and spark much-needed innovation. Trepidation because if state leaders and advocates aren't careful, more than a decade of important work to establish more meaningful, rigorous expectations for our schoolchildren could be undone. Although the No Child Left Behind Act outlived its relevance, let's not overlook the significant progress that states made during its time frame. As recently as the early 1990s, very few states even had standards. Expectations for students varied district by district and school by school, which led to great inequities and achievement gaps. One prominent 1994 study showed that students earning A's in their courses in high-poverty schools were actually achieving at the same level as those earning D's in low-poverty schools. Translation: Disadvantaged students were held to much lower standards in their classrooms, and the impact of this was borne out by lower college-going and college-success rates. By the late 1990s, most states had established statewide standards and assessments to raise the floor for all students, but the quality and rigor of those expectations was, at best, mixed. In 2004, Achieve, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and the Education Trust released a seminal report that called on states to align K-12 standards with college and workplace expectations so that high school prepared students for the real world. This sparked a round of work by states to recalibrate their standards in accordance with higher education and employer expectations. "College and career readiness" became the goal for all students, and states sought to align their standards with that target. In 2008, this served as the impetus for the Getty Are We Serious About the Goal of College and Career Readiness for All? PAGE 21 > MATT GANDAL is the president and founder of Education Strategy Group, a consulting firm specializing in K-12, higher education, and workforce solutions. Previously, he served as a senior adviser to then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and as the executive vice president of Achieve. Teaching Evolution Is Not About Changing Beliefs reationists are right-in some cases. They are not right that the world is only 6,000 years old, nor that our species descended from two innocent ancestors in an Iraqi garden. They are not right when they suggest that studying evolution force-feeds an antiChristian religion down their kids' throats. But creationists are right when they contend-as they have for more than a century now-that their kids should not be subjected to hostile religious indoctrination in public schools. Those of us who want to promote more and better evolution education might worry that this sort of admission will help creationists maintain their political stranglehold on comprehensive science education in schools. But it won't. Teaching students evolutionary theory is not in and of itself religious indoctrination. Federal courts have endorsed the notion that evolution is not a religion time and time again. In the 1982 case McLean v. Arkansas, for instance, Judge William Overton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas declared, "[I]t is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion." Indeed, the notion that evolution is a religion defies common sense. How could a religion have no beliefs about the supernatural? No rituals? No moral commandments? The fact that evolution is not a religion, however, does not mean that it does not have religious implications for followers of some religions. As the atheist mathematician Jason Rosenhouse of James Madison University explained after spending time with creationists, "Evolution forces a profound rethinking of traditional faith." So it is understandable that creationists are cautious about a subject that may have religious implications for them. Creationists are right to complain when their children are forced to believe something that violates their religious creeds. Public school teachers should never push children toward or away from any particular religious belief. Those who have a religious belief have the right to decide if something has religious implications. For example, to many people a ham and cheese is just a sandwich. But it is also clear that this particular sandwich has religious implications for lots of people. Should children be forced to eat a ham and cheese if it violates their religious beliefs? Of course not. And, crucially, it is the religious believers themselves who should decide if something has religious implications, whether it be a science or a sandwich. Students do not need to believe that humans evolved from other species. It is enough for students to understand why scientists support that theory and the evidence on which scientists base that belief. Students do not need to say, "Natural selection is one of the most important ways species came to be differentiated." It is enough for them to say, "Most scientists think natural selection is one of the best explanations." There is already evidence that such teaching can work. Researchers in Arizona discovered that high school students could improve their understanding of evolution without changing their beliefs about it. Ronald S. Hermann of Towson University, in Maryland, argues that this "cognitive apartheid"-separating that which is believed from that which is not believed-happens all the time in science classes. Students who don't want to believe evolution can and do still learn about it. At the university level, too, David E. Long of Morehead State, in Kentucky, found that students in undergraduate biology programs can understand evolution and the evidence for it while not compromising what they believe to be true about creation. In the end, creationists are right-sort of. They are not right when they try to water down science curricula by teaching intelligent design. They are not right when they try to reduce the amount of real evolutionary science taught in public schools. They are right, however, to protest if public schools impose religious beliefs on their children. By teaching comprehensive science curricula that includes evolution and teaching students to confront subjects they may not agree with, schools are not trying to change beliefs. Understanding is enough. n Getty C By Adam Laats & Harvey Siegel " Students who don't want to believe evolution can and do still learn about it." But students can learn subject matter that might conflict with their religion without compromising their beliefs. Evolutionary theory is a building block of our understanding of life. As the best existing scientific explanation of the way our species came to be, how evolution works is vital for all students to understand. Students should not have the right to opt out of learning about a central tenet of contemporary science. But if students have religious objections to the theory's implications, the public school has no right to insist that they believe it-that is, to regard evolutionary theory as true. 18 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 20, 2016 | ADAM LAATS and HARVEY SIEGEL are the co-authors of Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation (University of Chicago Press, 2016). Laats is an associate professor of education and history at Binghamton University-The State University of New York. Siegel is a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 20, 2016

Education Week - April 20, 2016
Charters Help Alums Stick With College
Cruz’s K-12 Agenda: Pro-School Choice, Anti-Common Core
National Count of Special Education Students Shows Uptick
New Online Tool Expands Access To School Climate Measurements
Table of Contents
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Caution Urged on Measuring Social-Emotional Skills
Studies Affirm Role of Emotions In Students’ Transitions
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Needs for ‘Resourcefulness,’ Equity Probed in Maker Ed.
Digital Divide Evolves in Fla. Schools, Study Finds
Ind. Scholarship Law Aims to Entice Top Students Into Teaching
Blogs of the Week
Testing Issues Generate Heat in Legislatures
Sparks Fly as Congress Reviews ESSA Rulemaking Process
MATT GANDAL: Are We Serious About the Goal Of College and Career Readiness for All?
ADAM LAATS & HARVEY SIEGEL: Teaching Evolution Is Not About Changing Beliefs
Q&A With StoryCorps’ Dave Isay
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
CHARLOTTE DANIELSON: It’s Time to Rethink Teacher Evaluation

Education Week - April 20, 2016