Saturday, June 08, 2013

Interim Ed Committee to Discuss Science Standards

 “Evolution and climate science are politically controversial, 
but they are not scientifically controversial,” 
---Robert Bevins, president of 
Kentuckians for Science Education
Last week the Kentucky Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). But all is not well. An Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting being held Monday June 10th at 1 p.m. ET in room 154 of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort has worried some members of the scientific community who fear that funding for the standards may be gutted.

Chairing the public meeting is creationist State Senator Mike Wilson who is apparently having a hard time believing the piles evidence that human activity has impacted the Earth and its weather.

Will Wilson try to derail the progress Kentucky has made in improving its academic standards?

Wilson is being supported by the conservative Bluegrass Institute, which purports to be a research-based think tank, but whose activities are directed by creationist Jim Waters.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday has asked superintendents to contact their legislators before the committee hearing and express their support for the NGSS. "I don’t want to waste the work of teachers and [the Department of Education] the last three years. I need your help to contact legislators. They’ll do the right thing if they have accurate information."

This from KSBA:

New science standards, 
update on online testing 
topics for Monday interim ed committee hearing
 A few days after the Kentucky Board of Education signed off on proposed new teaching guidelines about science, the first panel of the Kentucky General Assembly will take up the matter that has generated some controversy.

The Interim Joint Committee on Education released its agenda on Friday for its first meeting between the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. The meeting will be Monday, June 10 at 1 p.m. ET in room 154 of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort.

Two primary items make up the agenda for the committee that will include the memberships of both the House and Senate education panels: College and career readiness standards required under Senate Bill 1 (the 2009 school accountability system reform law) and an update on issues related to the new student and school progress assessment system.


In particular, the committee will hear four areas relating to implementation of Senate Bill 1:
·        Alignment and adoption in relation to the National Governors Association/Council of Chief State School Officers Common Core Standards
·        Training of teachers, administrators, and university teacher preparation professors
·        Authority of school councils in relation to determining curriculum and instructional materials to implement the standards
·        Status of proposed science standards

Felicia Cummings-Smith, associate commissioner of the Kentucky  Department of Education, is slated to make the agency’s main presentation. The agenda also calls for testimony by former University of Kentucky President Lee Todd.

The last of the items, the proposed science standards, has drawn considerable attention following the publication of an article by Senate Education Committee Chairman Mike Wilson (R-Bowling Green) in which he questioned portions of the guidelines covering evolution and global warming. 

Last Friday, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said he expected significant pushback on what is now being called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards at the meeting. He asked the state’s superintendents to contact legislators in advance of the meeting to explain the standards already in place – English Language arts and math – and to urge no retreat from the adoption of the measures that allow academic progress of Kentucky students to be compared to peers in other states.

The “Common Core State Standards” first adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education and now in use in more than 40 other states have come under increasing criticism in 2013, frequently over claims that they represent federal meddling in local and state policy decisions – claims that Holliday has called “misinformation.”  In at least three states, legislators have halted state spending to implement the standards or passed bills that require a new review before they are further incorporated into classroom instruction.

The new science standards, approved Wednesday by the state board of education, still face a review period and public forum before a formal review by two legislative panels.

Assessment update

The remainder of the committee’s meeting is to receive an update by KDE Associate Commissioner Ken Draut on the new student and school progress assessments.

Draut is slated to testify on the problems in May with the online end-of-course exams in four high school subject areas, the use of web-based assessments on the ACT test and a report on the constructed responses items included in the test.

At this time, staff of the Legislative Research Commission say they have not been told of any plans for live or taped KET broadcasts of the committee meeting.  

This from the Courier-Journal by way of KSBA::
New Kentucky academic standards for science 
advance despite critics
The Kentucky Board of Education on Wednesday approved new academic standards for science education in public schools, including updates on evolution and climate-change that have drawn the ire of conservatives.
The standards, passed on a 9-0 vote, result from 2009 legislation to overhaul content in core academic areas and more closely align curriculum with entry-level college requirements. Board member Judy Gibbons was absent.

Officials worked with 25 other states over the past two years to develop the changes with input from teachers, college faculty, scientists and engineers. Proponents say the standards are key to improving science education, along with career readiness and Kentucky’s economy.

“You are going to always have some areas where there is push back,” said Board Chairman David Karem. “These are not something that just came out of thin air. Real professionals, real scientists, real educators developed these standards, and I think they are legitimate.”

But some opponents say educators are pushing unwarranted assumptions that contradict the beliefs of many across the state.

Senate Education Chairman Mike Wilson, a Republican from Bowling Green who manages a Christian radio station, has criticized the new standards for pointing to human activities as a factor in climate change and to evidence that evolution can result in new species.

Wilson did not return phone calls Wednesday. He had challenged those assertions in a letter to The Courier-Journal last month, calling for a thorough and impartial review of the standards while arguing that political correctness “should never be the arbiter of learning.”

Richard Innes, a researcher for the Bluegrass Institute, a free-market think tank based in Bowling Green, cited concerns that teachers will present man-made climate change as a certainty rather than a theory.

“I don’t think the actual level of science at this time can support such an absolute statement, and that bothers me,” he said.

According to the department, current standards on climate do not explicitly draw a connection to human activities, but the new standards will ask middle- and high-school students to consider human impacts on weather. Evolution has been included in the existing standards since 2006.

During Wednesday’s board meeting, supporters presented an Internet petition with 3,700 signatures in favor of the changes.

Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education, said the standards will improve the outlook for Kentucky students seeking scholarships and improve their careers prospects while helping attract high-tech industry to the state.

Evolution and climate change are “politically controversial, but they are not scientifically controversial,” he said. “They are unified concepts in science that draw from multiple fields to support a conclusion.”

The new standards cover all areas of science education from kindergarten through high school.

Before becoming final, they are subject to the state’s regulatory process, which involves public hearings and a review by the House and Senate committees on education, where critics may seek changes.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said officials carried out the due diligence requested by Wilson. The new standards will reflect the latest research but change little else about how evolution and climate change are taught in the classroom, he said.

“Certainly people can make their own judgments,” Holliday said. “We are not asking people to change their beliefs. We are just asking people to understand the science so they can be successful in entry-level college science courses.”
 This from the Daily Independent by way of KSBA:

Friends of new science standards explain their stance
There may yet be controversy about proposed new learning standards about climate and natural selection for Kentucky public school students, but it wasn’t evident Wednesday at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting.
The board gave second reading to the New Generation Science Standards, part of the new standards the state is adopting to comply with Senate Bill 1, a measure passed by the legislature to require Kentucky students compete with national and international students.

But while some members of the legislature, including Republican Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green who chairs the Senate Education Committee, have questioned the new standards on climate and natural selection, only those favoring them spoke to the board Wednesday.

“Evolution and climate science are politically controversial, but they are not scientifically controversial,” said Robert Bevins who has a Ph.D. in toxicology and heads a group called Kentuckians for Science.

“Evidence does not lie and the results are often not the ones we want.”

Bevins said the board should approve the new standards to make Kentucky students competitive with students from other states and around the world and because a better educated work force will help attract technology- and science- based companies to Kentucky.

Five others also urged the board to adopt the standards, while no one formally addressed the board in opposition.

But Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions said he is concerned about one of the standards dealing with climate and the effect of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

“It doesn’t say it’s a theory,” Innes said. “It says it is to be taught as a fact.”

Innes said there are scientists who remain skeptical about the effects of carbon emissions on global warming and if the idea is accepted as fact it could have a devastating impact on a major Kentucky industry: coal mining.

One of the disciplinary core ideas contained in the high school standards for climate says:

“Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate ...”

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the standards might be inferred as claiming fact, but don’t explicitly say human activity is the indisputable cause. “The current science standards address weather and climate and the mechanisms that are responsible for both,” she said. “Any connection between human activities and these mechanisms are not explicit in the standards but might possibly be inferred.”

Rodriguez said the standards on evolution or natural selection are the same as existing standards.

Wilson, the Republican senator, recently wrote an op-ed for The Courier-Journal questioning whether the new standards would offend those whose religious beliefs include divine creation. He also questioned the validity of the scientific theory.

More than one board member, however, pointed out Wednesday the new standards are a reaction to SB 1, which was authored and pushed in the Republican Senate.

Board Chairman David Karem, who once served in the General Assembly, said the standards reflect what he heard from conservative lawmakers for years.

“There was a constant push — and sometimes from the most conservative members — to be sure we could compare ourselves against other states,” Karem said.

The standards were developed by Kentucky and 26 other states and educators in those states and not the federal government, Karem said.

The science standards will eventually be written into a new regulation by the Legislative Research Commission and a period of public comment will be available before the regulation is presented to lawmakers.

Standards for English, language arts and math are already in place and being used in Kentucky schools.


Richard Innes said...

The first sentence in Standard ESS3.D in the NextGen Science Standards says:

“Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming).”

This standard presents, not as theory, but as an uncontestable fact something that the real science isn’t ready to support.

Climate science is on-going and constantly being modified. The NextGen Science Standard needs to be changed to allow our teachers to properly teach that reality.

For just one, very recent example of how the greenhouse gas issue is far from solidly established, check out this press release from Waterloo University in Canada: “Global warming caused by CFCs, not carbon dioxide, study says.”

I’m certainly not saying this Waterloo U. paper is the last word. It's just another piece in an evolving situation. However, under ESS3.D, could a teacher who pointed to this new research in his or her class be subject to sanction for teaching outside of the standards? Is that really what we want?

Should test writers be creating questions that may require students to consider something as a fact when the research base isn't strong enough to support that?

My point is that real science takes many years and looks at many different sets of research before establishing something as scientific fact and law. This important concept is something our teachers should be teaching our students about science.

Teachers also should be teaching about the problems of trying to say that correlations in data prove causations. It’s a lesson I suspect more than a few scientists missed in their education programs.

I suspect that virtually all of the climate research is correlational in nature (that includes the Waterloo U. example above) because we simply do not have a separate, split sample world where we can do definitive, random-sample testing of cause and effect on a highly complex climate system that actually seems to have a huge number of impacting variables.

Shouldn’t we set ESS3.D up in a way that allows our teachers the flexibility to fully examine with their students what the constantly appearing evidence shows is far from a settled issue? Properly taught, there can be some great lessons on how science works here.

But, forcing our teachers to teach something as fact when the real research is still unsettled is highly inappropriate, don't you think? In fact, that is nothing more than “political science.”

Anonymous said...

Maybe if the included some zip lines it would make it acceptable.

KY science teacher said...

Richard Innes needs to familiarize himself with the architecture of the standards. What he quotes isn't actually a student performance expectation; it is from the Disciplinary Core Idea that provided the background for writing the standards themselves.

The actual STANDARD associated with this idea reads "Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century." It specifically asks students to consider natural as well as human factors.

If we're going to have a discussion of the standards themselves then we need to make sure everyone knows what is or isn't an actual student performance expectation. Only the items in the white boxes at the top of each page are the expectations for students.

Richard Day said...

I can't prove this - although Richard could provide us with donor lists if he wanted to - but I suspect the real problem here is that contributions to the Bluegrass Institute is up over the past few years and some portion of that new funding is from pro-coal interests who would have us believe that there is such a thing as clean coal, and that jobs for eastern Kentuckians in the industry will abound.

For an intelligent person to deny humans have impacted the earth requires a certain amount of willful ignorance. I suspect this is simply political advocacy.