Monday, September 16, 2013

Kentucky's new science standards come with controversy

Science Supporters Urged to Gear Up for Legislative Session 
to not be "drowned out by a smaller, but louder, anti-science crowd"

This from WDRB:
As early as next month, the state's school districts could begin training teachers on a new set of controversial science standards that supporters argue will better prepare students for college, but that opponents claim will place undo emphasis on climate change and evolution.

The Next Generation Science Standards, adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education this summer, could be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.
WDRB 41 Louisville News
But they're could be a legislative road block waiting in the wings. After a legislative panel rejected the new standards this week, Gov. Steve Beshear asserted his executive authority -- claiming he will implement them anyway.

That has led to talk that lawmakers could create some legislation when they return in January as part of an effort to end that plan.

"They've been controversial for both sides," said Martin Cothran with the Family Foundation, a conservative lobbying group opposed to the Next Generation Science Standards.
"We are opposed to the implementation of them because they spend an inordinate amount of time some theoretical issues on climate science and evolution at the expense of basic science," Cothran said.

Dr. Robert Bivens, President of Kentuckians for Science Education, spoke to WDRB News by video call from Lexington -- and says the standards are meant to better prepare students for college.
"A lot of people have said that physics or chemistry aren't actually in these standards, that's simply not true. All you have to do is Google new science standards -- and you will find that it is all there," Bivens said.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens, who represents the state's largest school district, released a written statement in support of the move.

It reads: "Jefferson County Board of Education and Jefferson County Public Schools support the full implementation of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards, including those in science. These rigorous standards will help ensure our students graduate prepared for college or career and are able to compete in a global marketplace. We believe in setting high expectations for all students and know these standards support that goal

Bivens claims the new science standards are intended to better prepare students.

"We're not trying to make believers , we are not trying to convert people. If you don't understand evolution, you don't necessarily understand why you need to take antibiotics. Understanding evolution is vital to modern medicine," Bivens said.

Cothran claims Gov. Beshear "ignored the process" of public input through his use of his executive authority to implement the new science standards. Cothran claims he plans to have talks with lawmakers to come up with legislation to block the implementation. Lawmakers return to Frankfort in January.

This from WFPL:
Listen (and Learn) More About Kentucky's New Science Standards: 
The Why and How
Kentucky is moving forward with new science standards following a controversial week of rejection and then embrace as Gov. Steve Beshear announced he would use his powers to override any legislative committee's decision to block implementation.

The Next Generation Science Standards were developed an an independent consortium of 26 states including Kentucky and are meant to update the state's current science standards that haven't been touched in over a decade.

Among the controversy is whether the standards overstep their reach by including more lessons on climate change and evolution. Some also argue that the standards are inferior to the state's current standards.
But educators and the science community overwhelmingly support the standards.

WFPL spoke with Dr. Tom Tretter who is a faculty member in Science Education at the University of Louisville and director of Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium. Tretter was also part of higher education team that Kentucky used to evaluate drafts of the standards during their creation.
Listen to the following answers he gave to some questions that have been brought up over the past couple weeks.
Did Kentucky take the Next Generation Science Standards--once developed through the consortium--back to the state and then consider changes to those standards specific to Kentucky?

Are the new science standards similar to the common core standards in math and English language arts that were adopted and implemented in Kentucky last year and how are they improved over Kentucky's current standards?

Are there fewer standards, but taught more in-depth similar to the common core standards?  

We've heard local districts will have control over their curriculum and how to teach the standards. What does this mean and how is curriculum different from standards?

Will this allow districts and schools to teach things like evolution and climate change the way they want, which may not include what science seems to suggest?

What if you live in a community where lawmakers, teachers, the school board reject elements of the new standards. Will it be easy enough to reject the standards in the classroom?

This from the Daily Independent:

Issue is science

Beshear imposes standards that legislators had rejected

Within hours after members of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee voted 5-1 to send the Next Generation Science Standards back to the state Department of Education for revamping, Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order imposing the standards, something the governor has the power and right to do.

Legislators on the subcommittee based their rejection of the standards on a combination of religious beliefs, biblical teachings and politics with perhaps a dash of real science thrown in for good measure. Unlike legislators on the subcommittee, Steve Beshear is in his second and final term as governor and may have run for his last political office. Thus, he does not have to worry about earning the wrath of the voters and could base his decision on what is clearly best for public education in Kentucky. While we are certain that many in this state will disagree, the governor made the right decision.

Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said in a statement that the governor was disappointed by the subcommittee’s vote.

“The governor views these standards as a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce,” Sebastian said. “Therefore, as provided by law, he will implement the regulations notwithstanding the finding of deficiency.”

Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education, said opposition to the standards is “a major embarrassment” for Kentucky, a state that he said is already considered “an ignorant backwater.”

“Know that we will be a laughingstock,” Bevins told lawmakers. “We will be the Flintstone state.”

Supporters believe the new standards will allow Kentucky students to keep pace with peers in other states as they prepare for college and careers. Critics complained that the standards go too far in stressing the teaching of evolution and climate change.

The debate has been heated at times in Kentucky. Subcommittee co-chairman Johnny Bell, a Democrat from Glasgow, clamped down on verbal jousting in Wednesday’s meeting, sternly threatening to have people removed for outbursts.

“We’re not going to debate this,” Bell said. “If we do, we’re going to end up in fisticuffs, and I don’t have a gun or knife or anything.”

The proposed standards were developed by a consortium of 26 states with input from scientists and education experts from the nation’s top universities and have already been implemented elsewhere. The Kentucky Board of Education adopted them in June.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said Kentucky’s existing science standards are “woefully inadequate” and he said the subcommittee vote was political. “I pretty well predicted this,” he said.

The debate over evolution dates back to before the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in which the defendant was accused of violating state law in Tennessee by teaching evolution. Eighty-eight years later politicians in Kentucky are debating whether Kentucky schools should be forced to talk about evolution. That doesn’t sound like much progress.

The other issue that drew the wrath of opponents concerned whether science classes should be required to teach about climate change. There is abundant evidence that overall temperatures are getting warmer, albeit  less so in the most recent years. The real debate is over what is causing climate change, not that it is happening. Possible causes should be discussed in high school science classes.

Science education in Kentucky’s public schools has not changed much over the years. That means that little classroom time will be devoted to either evolution or climate change. School children are not going to be brainwashed into believing one theory or another. They are simply going to be informed, and providing accurate information is what pubic schools should be doing.

The standards now could be referred to the Joint Education Committee for further consideration. However, if that committee were to find them deficient, Beshear could again override.

Thus, all this debate is much ado about nothing, but it does show us that not that much has changed in Kentucky since days when three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jenning Bryan and famed attorney Clarence Darrow stood in a Cleveland, Tenn., courtroom and argued about evolution.
This from the Courier-Journal:
If ignorance is bliss, some members of the Kentucky General Assembly should be very happy.
Because that’s essentially what a handful of legislators voted for last week when their committee on a 5-1 vote rejected new science standards designed to provide Kentucky students with a more rigorous, fact-based science education to prepare them for colleges and careers.

Known as the Next Generation Science Standards, and developed by national scientists and educators, they are a framework for individual school districts to use to develop local curriculum meant to get students excited about science, help them understand the theories behind the facts and rekindle the joy extinguished through rote memorization.
They are part of a voluntary, national trend among states to adopt more rigorous, basic academic standards for public education, including the Common Core standards Kentucky was the first state to adopt.

Fortunately for Kentucky public school students, Gov. Steve Beshear announced he plans to order the science standards enacted anyway through executive action.

Lawmakers voting against them — fully aware he could override their vote — took the easy path rather than face anger back home from a weird coalition of tea-party types, religious groups and the coal industry. Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, was the only committee member to vote in favor of the standards.

While opponents offer a variety of objections, they are fixated on two things: Evolution and climate change.

Critics are riled up because the standards call for study of evolution, the science-based theory that human life developed from a common ancestor and has evolved over time, without including the Biblical-based belief of creationism that God created the world in seven days.

They also are unhappy that by referencing climate change, the standards threaten another sacred subject in Kentucky — coal, which when burned in power plants, produces emissions linked to climate change.

In an astonishingly candid comment, state Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, an Eastern Kentucky Republican, said she voted no because of coal.

“In a state where many people are dependent on coal to put food on the table and keep the lights on, it’s a very sensitive issue,” Ms. Gregory said.

Sensitive? A lot of scientific material might be considered “sensitive” — human reproduction, for example — but that doesn’t mean students shouldn’t learn about it in biology class.

Sen. Joe Bowen, an Owensboro Republican, also voted no, cited, citing a “groundswell of dissent.” He offered this convoluted view of his duty:

“Our responsibility as legislators is to determine good public policy,” he said. “Good public policy is what the people of this Commonwealth want.”

Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat and chairman of the committee, also voted no. He said afterward he had some misgivings about his vote but had been inundated by calls from his Southern Kentucky district from opponents citing the evolution issue.

Yet the citizen “groundswell” and phone campaigns may not reflect the true feelings of Kentuckians.

The Kentucky Department of Education said that prior to the meeting, it received more than 4,000 oral or written comments on the standards, with 3,700 of them in favor of them. This information was not discussed at last week’s meeting.

A handful of supporters showed up at the meeting and, speaking for them, Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education, made a compelling argument for the science standards. Supporters expressed surprise afterward that the committee speedily rejected them.

“I didn’t think this was debatable any more than gravity is debatable,” said Michael Mansfield, a United Methodist minister who has a degree in science from the University of Kentucky.

Supporters of science standards must keep up the fight. It’s over for now, but the General Assembly, when it meets in January, could overrule Gov. Beshear’s decision to enact the standards if lawmakers so choose.

That would be a very bad choice. But it wouldn’t be the legislature’s first bad decision and science standards supporters need to stay organized and make sure they aren’t drowned out by a smaller, but louder, anti-science crowd.


Anonymous said...

Oh, my God! I can't believe how uneducated our lawmakers are.... Will they acknowledge that the world is not flat?

Anonymous said...

Our educators make a great case for why we need to improve education, unfortuantely they are involved in that decision making process.