Oregon science standards require new teacher certification

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On March 6, Oregon became the tenth state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. These standards elevate the expectations for science learning for school children at all grade levels, but in particular raise the bar substantially in terms of what high school graduates are expected to have learned in a broad area of sciences, some of which are not now adequately covered in Oregon schools.

In particular, there is a substantial emphasis in NGSS on Earth science topics such as the importance of an understanding of climate, and there are opportunities to substantively broaden the teaching of Earth science in Oregon high schools. However, there is no certification at the present time in this important area, and there is very little opportunity for prospective teachers in Oregon to pursue such training in the teacher training programs that exist across the state now in the colleges of education. Oregon is a state with a vast array of ecosystems and natural areas that beg for systematic study from a rigorous Earth science perspective. We also have fascinating weather, geology, hydrology, and oceanography study opportunities, with implications on forestry, agriculture and aquaculture that have economic focus and potential employment opportunities for students pursuing two-year career and technical degrees, as well as bachelor and graduate degrees.

The state will have to invest in a tremendous effort to develop a system where we can quickly develop new teachers and train existing science (or other field) teachers who want to become certified to teach Earth science, in both middle grades and high schools. This will require substantial involvement from higher education to support this initiative, and recognition that Earth science is a valid and important scientific discipline that involves penetrating, quantitative foundational science in the same vein as biology, chemistry and physics. Climate is, after all, a very quantitative and complex topic, and one with an interdisciplinary focus, and understanding of climate change requires detailed study. This may help to explain the relative low acceptance of evidence for human-related climate change in the U.S., compared to other nations.

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