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WHOSE SCIENCE? Critics say proposed NM science standards omit evolution, climate change


Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s Public Education Department unveiled proposed teaching standards this week that critics say would omit references to evolution, rising global temperatures and the age of Earth from the state’s science curriculum.

The standards are based on a science curriculum called the Next Generation Science Standards proposed in 2013 by a consortium of 26 states. But the New Mexico plan contains additions and deletions from the nationwide standards.

Among those changes, the proposal would eliminate a reference to Earth’s “4.6 billion year history” and replaced it with “geologic history” in the middle-school curriculum.

It also omits a reference to a “rise in global temperatures” and replaces it with “fluctuations” in temperature.

Critics call the proposal a “watered-down” version of the national standards that will weaken science education and discourage people and companies that value science education from moving to New Mexico.

“I’m certainly not going to move a high-tech company here, because I’m not going to get a scientifically educated population,” said Kim Johnson, a physicist and former president of the New Mexico Academy of Science.

“We’re doing the one thing in terms of educating our children that tend to push those kinds of businesses away,” he said.

Johnson said the proposed standards are an attempt to appease those who have for years tried to scrub evolution and climate change from the state’s science curriculum.

Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary-designate for the Public Education Department, said the proposal gives New Mexico an opportunity to update its science curriculum in a way that reflects the “diversity of perspectives” in New Mexico.

“What we have proposed is a reflection of the diversity of New Mexico,” Rusckowski said. “Right now, New Mexico has the ability to control its own destiny.”

The proposal would allow New Mexico to join at least 18 states that have adopted the NextGen standards, which he said contain needed curriculum improvements in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM subjects.

New Mexico last revised its science curriculum in 2003.

The proposal also reflects conversations with some two-dozen states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. The list includes Kansas, Montana and Louisiana, which have adopted altered versions of the national standards.

“We have a unique opportunity in New Mexico to join a couple dozen other states that have adopted the standards,” Ruszkowski said. “We don’t want New Mexico to be left behind in those efforts.”

The New Mexico agency published the proposed standards on Tuesday. It will accept written comments through Oct. 16.

The plan was criticized Friday by Stephanie Ly, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, who called it a “perverted, watered-down vision” of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Ly accused Ruszkowski in a written statement of proposing standards “that question climate change, deny evolution, promote the fossil fuel industry, and even question the age of the Earth – all areas of consensus among the scientific community.”

One proposed addition to the high school curriculum asks students to use a model to describe the effects of energy flows on Earth “that were caused by natural occurrences that are not related to human activity.”

Another omits the word “evolution” and replaces it with the phrase “biological diversity.”

Johnson contends that removing references to climate change and evolution deprives New Mexico students of information they need to know as future decision makers.

“The effect on the standards is, the students don’t learn something that is going to significantly impact them,” he said.

Ruszkowski responded that the standards will strengthen the state’s technical instruction, but allow schools to supplement science instruction in keeping with local expectations.

“Local schools and classrooms still will have their own instructional materials,” he said. “Teachers will still have options.”

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