State board approves new science standards

? The Kansas State Board of Education today approved a new set of science standards that supporters say will give students a deeper understanding of science through more hands-on experience.

The Next Generation Science Standards were approved on an 8-2 vote after a lengthy public debate over both the science standards and the Common Core State Standards in reading and math, which the state board approved in 2010.

Dozens of teachers and district superintendents turned out for the meeting to show their support for both sets of standards, a marked contrast from the board’s meeting last month when critics of the Common Core standards packed the meeting room to express their opposition.

“When I first read the NGSS, I was very excited to see it was just a clear description of what I’ve been striving toward for the past 10 years,” said Julie Schwarting, a biology teacher at Free State High School in Lawrence and president of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers. “It really included all of the things I think are great ways to teach science.”

Free State High School science teacher Julie Schwarting urges the Kansas State Board of Education to approve the Next Generation Science Standards.

But the science standards have also drawn criticism from religious conservatives because they treat the evolution of species as a scientific fact and offer no discussion of religious-based theories such as creationism or intelligent design.

Rex Powell of Spring Hill, a member of Citizens for Objective Public Education, or COPE, said the new standards would teach, “that life is a random occurrence, not a creation.”

“These are the tenets of non-theistic religion like atheism and religious humanism,” Powell said, adding that they promote, “an atheistic world view in the minds of impressionable children. They are standards for religious indoctrination rather than objective science education that touches religious issues.”

State board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said he shared that view. In a lengthy prepared statement that he read to the board, Willard said “both evolution and human-caused climate change are presented in these standards dogmatically,” and that the standards amount to “little more than indoctrination in political correctness.”

State Board of Education member Ken Willard (center), a Hutchinson Republican, voted against the Next Generation Science Standards, arguing they are not religiously neutral because of the way they treat evolution. Board member John Bacon (left), an Olathe Republican, also voted no. Steve Roberts (right), an Overland Park Republican, voted in favor of the standards, although he had reservations because they were written largely by professors from schools of education.

Willard and board member John Bacon, who also voted against the standards, once were part of a majority on the board which pushed through science standards in 2005 that deleted references to macro-evolution.

But that majority did not last. In 2006, voters elected a moderate majority, which immediately repealed those standards and replaced them with the current standards that emphasize evolution as a key principle of all science.

Common Core debate continues

Matt Krehbiel, the science program consultant for the Department of Education who led the Kansas committee in drafting the science standards, said that one of the best things about them is that the mesh together with the Common Core standards in reading and math, which the board approved in October 2010.

But the Common Core standards continue to be a source of heated political debate, even though the board has shown no indication that it intends to revisit them anytime soon.

During a lengthy “citizens open forum” portion of the meeting, scores of people turned out to express their support or opposition for those standards.

Critics, like State Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Republican from Geary County, argued that they represent a form of federal intrusion, and equated them to the recent scandals involving the IRS and the National Security Administration.

“We’ve seen in the news lately, obviously with the IRS spying on us,” he said. “Why on Earth would we expect the (U.S.) Department of Education — which is not constitutionally authorized — to look out for our children? That’s our responsibility.”

And Roz Woody, a retired Air Force officer from Kansas City, Kan., said that if the abolitionist Frederick Douglas were alive today, “I believe he would view Common Core as a modern-day slave master.”

But Sandy Law, who described herself as a military spouse from Ft. Riley whose children have attended schools in five states, said she prefered having uniform standards that are common throughout the country.

“The Common Core State Standards will provide the consistent, rigorous standards that military children need to be successful,” she said. “The continuity, consistency and clear expectations will greatly relieve stress on military families.”