GUEST OPINION: 3.26.14

By on March 25, 2014

JACKSON, WYO – Scientists, not politicos, should decide science standards in education

In the midst of efforts to create an educational accountability system to produce excellent teachers, schools and students in Wyoming, the state legislature has voted to compromise science standards for K-12. And the Wyoming State Board of Education is wondering if it can do the right thing while not running afoul of legislators who write the board’s budget.

It’s a mess.

The legislature approved a 2014 budget bill footnote – and Gov. Mead signed it – that prohibits the Wyoming State Board of Education to spend funds to review the Next Generation Science Standards. These particular standards are off the table because of politics, to satisfy people who fear climate science and who don’t accept evolution and, apparently, Wyoming’s rich fossil record.

Parents, teachers and everyone else interested with giving Wyoming students an excellent education should be alarmed. First, a majority of legislators think academic standards should be adjusted to accommodate politics. Second, they think it’s appropriate to dictate those politics to the state board of education process of reviewing standards. Third, the message to our students is that a head-in-the-sand posture is appropriate for the very real and serious problem of climate change.

The state board of education met by phone on Monday and wondered if they couldn’t look at anything similar to NGSS, or if they can work around it and adopt something they would call “Wyoming Standards.” If they defy the legislature, they damage legislative relations, and it’s likely the action would be blocked in a review process by the governor and Management Council of legislative leaders. They did vote down the idea of taking NGSS off the table entirely.

Board members will gather in Casper in a few weeks to continue trying to figure out what they can do and what they want to do.

If they have to choose between standards and politics – and if they choose standards – they will have strong support in Wyoming and elsewhere. More than 12,600 people have signed a petition I wrote that asks the SBE: Please adopt new, 21st-century science standards for Wyoming students that are as comprehensive, thorough and peer reviewed as the Next Generation Science Standards.

Ironically, footnote author Matt Teeters, a Goshen County Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, has supported the educational accountability effort. However, on Feb. 21, he told the House he objects to standards that treat manmade climate change as settled science. As an energy-producing state, he asked, “Are we going to concede that?” He also objected to the teaching of evolution. I am struck by the notion that empirical evidence is a thing the State House can decide to accept or ignore.

NGSS for K-12 students were developed by the National Academy of Sciences and by teachers, the science and business community and others in 26 states. Ten states have adopted NGSS so far. The climate science portion is, according to the American Meteorological Society, “firmly rooted in peer-reviewed scientific literature; as science, it is as sound as other NGSS subjects, such as earthquakes and the solar system.” It is settled science, except among a few outlying deniers.

Science education standards should be written by scientists and educators, not politicians who want to please everyone. Wyoming students deserve access to high quality education based on 21st century science, so they can be ready for college, career and climate science, as much as students in every other state. We would reject political censoring of history. We should reject this, as well.

The SBE process of review is sound and comprehensive, and it includes ample opportunity for comment from the public, legislators and their constituents. That’s where they can express whatever doubts they have that the climate is changing or that evolution is the biological model for life on Earth.

Teeters told a reporter that he was afraid that climate science could lead to carbon emission controls and constraints on our fossil fuels industry. A scientist lets facts point the way to solutions. Denial and ignorance — so much for educational excellence!

He and other legislators who voted for this footnote come from agricultural communities that understand the value of best practices, based on science and research. They don’t close their eyes, cross their fingers and just believe everything will work out.

If there is a way to extract and burn fossil fuels while protecting our environment, the only way we’ll find out is to start from solid evidence-based science. That’s the future we should be aiming for, not business as usual, crossed fingers and a hobble on our SBE.

That’s what we tell the SBE. Now, what do we tell the legislature?
Sign the petition (it’s not too late) at http://act.engagementlab.org/sign/CP_NGSS_boe/

You can also contact the board directly and ask to move forward in adopting NGSS as standards in best interest of Wyoming kids. Call 307-777-6213 or send comments to the SBE secretary, [email protected]


About Marguerite Herman

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