Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Common Core and Evolution

There has been considerable ink thrown at the new Common Core science standards and not a few people have argued that it forces evolution down people's throats. For example, from a Fox News article on the teaching of the standards in Kansas comes this:
Though the new standards drew some criticism over their treatment of evolution, it wasn't anywhere as vocal or public as in the past. Together, Democrats and moderate Republicans control the board, and social conservatives wanting to inject skepticism of evolution into the standards were likely to have found little support.

The same political factors blunted criticism of the standards' proposed treatment of climate change as an important concept that should be part to lessons in all grades, rather than treated separately in upper-level high school classes.

One of the board's dissenters, Ken Willard, a conservative Hutchinson Republican, criticized the standards for what he saw as their lack of objectivity on both evolution and climate change. The other no vote came from board member John Bacon, a conservative Olathe Republican.
So do the new standards adequately cover the teaching of evolution?  Boy, do they.  Here is what the standards have to say just about common descent:

Students who demonstrate understanding can:
MS-LS4-1.Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on finding patterns of changes in the level of complexity of anatomical structures in organisms and the chronological order of fossil appearance in the rock layers.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the names of individual species or geological eras in the fossil record.]
MS-LS4-2.Apply scientific ideas to construct an explanation for the anatomical similarities and differences among modern organisms and between modern and fossil organisms to infer evolutionary relationships. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on explanations of the evolutionary relationships among organisms in terms of similarity or differences of the gross appearance of anatomical structures.]
MS-LS4-3.Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on inferring general patterns of relatedness among embryos of different organisms by comparing the macroscopic appearance of diagrams or pictures.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment of comparisons is limited to gross appearance of anatomical structures in embryological development.]
MS-LS4-4.Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using simple probability statements and proportional reasoning to construct explanations.]
MS-LS4-6.Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using mathematical models, probability statements, and proportional reasoning to support explanations of trends in changes to populations over time.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include Hardy Weinberg calculations.]

And that is for grades six through eight.  There is no doubt that there is a considerable emphasis on hard science as it pertains to evolution.  For those opposed to the teaching of this subject, this will be a bitter pill to swallow.  This is the kind of stuff I teach in my Anthro 110 class.  It would be nice to see more of my students with the necessary background to understand what I am teaching. 

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