When the governor of Wyoming signed HB 1 into law, his state became the first to legally reject a new set of national science standards known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The new standards address the issue of man-made climate change, and the new law makes it clear that any standard which does so is not welcome in Wyoming schools.
According to Mark McCaffrey, the policy director for the National Center for Science Education, one of the reasons for creating the new science standards is that the national standards have not been updated since 1996. At that time, the issues of evolution and man-made climate change were deliberately left out because the topics were thought to be too politically contentious. Since decisions about school curricula are made at the state level, with states often creating their own science standards, the topics were left out in hopes that the rest of the standards would be adopted as widely as possible.
The new standards are the result of a collaboration among the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other state and professional organizations. And with the additional insight of 18 years of research, they deal directly with both climate change and evolution.
A footnote to the law, added through a last-minute amendment by Representative Mary Throne, would have stopped state educators from considering any new science standards. But that was rejected in favor of an amendment which stopped the adoption, or even the continued review of only the NGSS standards.
Rep. Matt Teeters’ explanation as to why standards which include climate change are not welcome in Wyoming schools, echoes the opinion of many people in his state. He says that as he understands it, climate science is not a settled issue, but the NGSS treats it as so. Also, the idea that climate change is man made could have negative effects on Wyoming’s economy, since one of the state’s main industries is energy production.
Ron Micheli, the chairman of Wyoming State Board of Education, echoed these ideas when he said the standards were prejudiced against the development of fossil fuels. Even the governor is on record as being skeptical of man-made climate change.
One of the main proponents of rejecting the new standards is the group, Wyoming Against Common Core. On their website, they list the reasons for their rejection of the NGSS standards. The rejection of the standards is based, in part, on an analysis of the curriculum by the Ohio-based Fordham Foundation. In its review of the curricula, the organization gave the NGSS an overall grade of C.
The website has a bullet point list of reasons for rejecting the new standards. One of their problems with the standards is that if something is addressed by science, the explanation must be materialistic. And, when dealing with the topics of life and the universe, the NGSS standards do not allow for legitimate scientific critiques of the explanation.
Throne says she does not believe that the language of the bill stops the school board from taking inspiration from the NGSS, but only stops them from adopting the standards that directly promote the idea of man-made climate change, which is not welcome in Wyoming schools. But the wording of the amendment is vague, and so the attorneys for the school board are looking at it closely to determine exactly what they can or cannot do.
By Dan Reyes