Tuesday, June 11, 2013

State education board set to act on science standards

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

The Kansas State Board of Education is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to adopt a new set of science standards that have already stirred controversy in the Kansas Legislature and in some corners of the public.

But it is not yet clear whether the board will actually vote on the science standards Tuesday. Some board members have indicated they may want more time to study the standards before voting.

In addition, a number of local superintendents have indicated they want to speak during the "citizens open forum" portion of the meeting to express support for the Common Core standards in reading and math, which have also come under intense political opposition.

Last month, dozens of people opposed to the Common Core standards packed the state board meeting, pleading with the board not to go forward with those standards.

Last week, opponents of both sets of standards narrowly failed to pass legislation that would have blocked the state board from adopting the science standards.

It also would have created a new legislative oversight panel to study the Common Core standards and make recommendations in 2014 about whether the Legislature should cut off funding for future implementation of them.

Kansas was among the 26 states that led development of the Next Generation Science Standards.

The project was initiated by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve, a nonprofit corporation that was also involved in developing the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math.

Similar efforts have been organized in other state capitals around the country, mainly by Tea Party-backed organizations who argue that both sets of standards mark a trend toward nationalizing education at the expense of local control.

But advocates argue that the new standards set higher expectations for students and are more geared to ensuring that students are ready to enter college or the workplace after graduating high school.

In particular, they say the Next Generation Science Standards are designed to focus on fewer subjects, but to give students a deeper understanding of them, especially through hands-on experience in working with scientific concepts.

Earlier debates over science standards in Kansas have been marked by controversy over the teaching of evolution, and some critics have targeted the Next Generation Science Standards over that issue as well.

The standards have also come under attack over the teaching of climate change, with some arguing that the standards try to indoctrinate students into accepting the idea that humans are causing climate change.

But those issues are unlikely to affect the state board's vote tomorrow.

A solid majority of the current members campaigned on the promise to support teaching evolution and to oppose teaching alternative theories like creationism or intelligent design. And so far, at least, none has indicated a desire to wade into a political debate about climate change.

In other business, the state board will review other legislation that was passed during the 2013 session, including the Coalition of Innovative Districts Act which allows up to 10 percent of school districts to exempt themselves from most state laws and regulations.