It's official: Wyoming has become the first state to block a new set of national science standards that address climate change. Republican Gov. Matt Mead signed the bill earlier the month, rejecting the federal Next Generation Science Standards, a set of K-12 curricula supplementing the Common Core and developed over three years by national science education groups and representatives from 26 states.
“It’s hard to tell [if other states will follow],” says Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director at the nonprofit, National Center for Science Education. “But there has been resistance before and a lot of it is seen in the resistance to the Common Core State Standards."
There’s a growing movement to halt the Common Core by various groups, and several states have backpedaled or delayed its implementation. The reasons for the resistance are myriad. Some opponents say that the standards force more standardized testing on students. Others question the funding behind the standards or say it's too many changes in the education system too quickly. While some extreme conservative groups oppose the Common Core because of the accompanying science standards that include lessons in climate change. Last year Michigan was set to adopt the science standards, McCafferty says, and a group of protestors halted the state board from doing so.
Because U.S. students don’t rank at the top when it comes to science, the creators of the new standards looked to Singapore, South Korea, and Finland. The Next Generation Science Standards—the first of their kind since 1996—have moved away from treating science as a list of facts and ideas students are expected to memorize. Instead, they cover fewer ideas using more approaches so students have a deeper understanding of subjects. Additionally new scientific discoveries are included in the standards, like lessons on climate change that explain the role of carbon dioxide emissions from oil, coal, and gas in global warming.
In Wyoming, legislators put the science standards restriction in a footnote in the budget bill, citing the state's oil-based economy as a key reason for banning the standards. The governor could have chosen to veto that line-item but didn’t.
“[The standards] handle global warming as settled science,” Rep. Matt Teeters, a Republican from Lingle, a supporter of the block, told local media. “There's all kind of social implications involved in that that I don't think would be good for Wyoming.” Teeters said teaching the standards in Wyoming could harm the economy since the state is the nation's largest energy exporter.
The state’s board of education chairman also denies climate change. “I don't accept, personally, that it is a fact,” Ron Micheli said in the same article. “[The standards are] very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development.”
McCaffrey says the good news is that Wyoming science teachers have been teaching about climate change for years—long before the creation of the new standards. The bad news is that there won’t be funding available for teacher professional development around the standards since they weren’t adopted. Although development tools can be found online, more robust programs are better for preparing teachers to instruct on a complex topic like climate change.
“Global warming and climate change are complex topics and they bring up a lot of emotions,” McCaffrey says. “It can be very overwhelming and it is vital that these topics be taught in grade-appropriate ways, so you aren’t overwhelming elementary kids with gloom and doom but you are teaching how to minimize the impact on the environment. Then by middle school and high school they have the tools and critical-thinking skills to come up with solutions to these challenges.”
This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.
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