The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education is likely to join a growing chorus of resistance to the state Public Education Department’s proposed science standards, which have ignited controversy for excluding references to evolution, rising global temperatures and the age of Earth.
On Tuesday, the APS board policy committee will discuss and vote on a draft letter of protest addressed to PED.
The one-page document lays out four objections to PED’s proposed additions and deletions to the Next Generation Science Standards, a curriculum created by a consortium of 26 states in 2013.
The letter argues:
— “The NGSS is based on research and evidence-informed science practices that represent a valid K-12 science education pathway, with flexibility for local implementation practices.”
— PED’s proposed changes are “in conflict with the principles of inquiry science and with the research and scientific evidence referenced in the NGSS.”
— The changes “reflect negatively on the strong science community that is embedded in New Mexico culture, such as Sandia National Laboratories, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Air Force Research Laboratory.”
— New Mexico’s science curriculum would be unique to the state, which “negates the benefit of leveraging the extensive research and evidence that was the basis for development of the NGSS.”
APS board president Dave Peercy, a Sandia National Lab senior scientist, told the Journal the NGSS were created by “an august set of people,” and there is no reason to change them.
“I have been in the science world for a long time,” Peercy said. “I find it kind of disturbing that Public Education Department would try to modify these standards.”
Under the state’s plan, a reference to Earth’s “4.6 billion year history” was replaced with “geologic history” in the middle school curriculum.
The proposal also omits a reference to a “rise in global temperatures” and replaces it with “fluctuations” in temperature.
APS board member Candy Patterson said she is happy to speak out against PED’s “outrageous” proposal.
“I’m really concerned about what New Mexico PED is asking us to do,” Patterson said. “These changes are drastic. … Why are we making these changes? It sounds like a religious group, a small group of people, is making these changes.”
PED spokeswoman Lida Alikhani responded to the APS board’s plans with a statement: “We are continuing to listen to feedback from all New Mexicans and working collaboratively with those who have a proven track record of putting kids first and improving student outcomes.”
School districts across the state, including Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Las Cruces, have already submitted protest letters to PED.
Santa Fe Public Schools’ board has endorsed a science “teach-in” at PED’s headquarters on Oct. 13 — three days before an Oct. 16 public hearing on the proposed curriculum changes.
The Sierra Club, National Center for Science Education, LANL Foundation, National Association of Biology Teachers, American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico, National Education Association of New Mexico and other groups have also voiced their opposition.
Ellen Loehman, a retired APS science teacher and a member of the New Mexico Science Teachers Association, said the statewide organization wrote a letter to PED in 2013 urging the agency to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards as they were proposed that year.
The standards were developed by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit comprised of leading science researchers, said Loehman, who taught science for 20 years at Monzano High School and Jefferson Middle School.
“We should use this set of standards because they are better than we could possibly develop ourselves,” Loehman said in a recent interview. “We urged the governor to adopt them.”
Using the standards as proposed by the consortium also would allow New Mexico to adopt curriculum materials developed for a growing number of states that have adopted them, she said. At least 17 states have adopted the standards since they were proposed in 2013.
Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary-designate for the Public Education Department, previously told the Journal 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,” Ruszkowski said. “Right now, New Mexico has the ability to control its own destiny.”
The Journal has requested copies of all public comments submitted on the science standards, but a PED spokeswoman said the comments will not be available until after the Oct. 16 public hearing.
The Journal submitted a formal request Sept. 27 for the public comments under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. As of Monday, PED had not provided the Journal with access to the comments. Under the law, PED has 15 calendar days to provide the requested records or explain why the request is denied.
Journal Staff Writer Olivier Uyttebrouck contributed to this report.