INTERVIEW: Dr. Minda Berbeco On Alabama’s New Science Standards

The view from a science classroom at nationally recognized Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Irondale, Alabama. Photo by Dan Carsen.

The view from a science classroom at nationally recognized Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Irondale, Alabama. Photo by Dan Carsen.

Alabama’s State Board of Education on Thursday approved new K-12 science standards that will go into effect next school year. Most science teachers in the state say the new standards are better than the current decade-old ones. We wanted a national perspective too, so our Alabama reporter caught up with Dr. Minda Berbeco, Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education. He asks if she’s surprised there hasn’t been much controversy about standards dealing with politicized topics like evolution and climate change.

For the four-minute on-air version, click here:

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  For the web-exclusive nine-minute interview click here: 

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Key excerpts are below.

Alabama’s Potential New Standards And Science Itself

“… we’re really pleased that there hasn’t been a strong pushback against the science standards, because it’s just science. And sometimes science is ugly, and sometimes science is uncomfortable, but we can’t really change the science. What we can change is the political response. It’s really important that the science is being taught and it looks like these standards are really trying to connect with what science shows, which is nice to see. You know, I always feel like standards could be even better and they could incorporate more concepts and more ideas, but this is a great starting point.”

The Challenges of Teaching Climate Change

National Center for Science Education programs and policy director Minda Berbeco. NCSE photo.

National Center for Science Education programs and policy director Minda Berbeco. NCSE photo.

“First and foremost, because the science is very new, they might not have actually learned about climate change themselves when they were in school, so there’s a big professional development piece. Second, though — and I think we can’t overlook this … because it is politically controversial, teachers are really facing challenges not just from students but from parents getting upset that they’re addressing climate change, and possibly also from administrators. We’ve certainly worked with and talked to plenty of teachers who are really concerned about pushback just for teaching the science.”

Alabama’s Potential New Science Standards Embracing Evolution

“We’re really pleased to see that! Some really significant changes in their portrayal of evolution and certainly around the term ‘theory’ as well. So I think we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Education Reporting’s “Dirty Little Secret”: Standards Don’t Always Trickle Down…

“I think that’s a really good point. You can put anything you want into standards, but when the classroom door closes, the teacher’s in charge. And it’s really up to them to bring in the good scientific material. And this is why professional development is such an integral and central part of if you’re going to bring in new standards. You need to make sure teachers have the training and the materials that they need in order to teach to them.”

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