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Common Core, Science Standards Hit Political Snag in Kansas

The political pushback on the common core has reached Kansas, it seems, where a Republican lawmaker has inserted language into a budget bill that would prevent the state from spending any money on implementation of the math and literacy standards. But that's not all. The provision by Sen. Ty Masterson, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, also says no state funds can be spent on the Next Generation Science Standards finalized last month. In effect, that's a preemptive strike on the science standards, since the state hasn't adopted them.

Certainly, my understanding is that the state board of education in Kansas is very likely to adopt them. (And Masterson, it would seem, shares this view.) Kansas is one of 26 "lead state partners" that helped to craft the standards. It assembled a statewide team of some 60 Kansans to review multiple drafts of the document. And the state board got monthly updates on the development of the standards for more than a year. Here's a press release from the state department of education at the time the standards were issued in final form.

In explaining his measure, Masterson said, "There is a general resistance to the federal government imposing on our schools," according to the Associated Press. The story quotes another Republican lawmaker, Rep. John Bradford, as saying, "Education is local, should be local, and controlled by the state. We have good education in Kansas. Why change it?"

(I'm not sure whether these comments are specific to the common core, or whether they also concern the science standards. Although the federal government did not develop either set of standards, it did provide financial and policy incentives for states to adopt the common core, which has sparked strong criticism from some quarters. To date, the federal government has provided no such incentives for adopting the science standards.)

It's not yet clear whether Masterson's provision in the budget bill will survive. What's also not clear to me is what's driving his opposition to the science standards. I contacted him to find out, but did not hear back.

It could be a case of "guilt by association," where the criticism of the common core begins to bleed over into the next set of common standards, even though they are entirely separate and were developed under different circumstances. A couple of news accounts in Kansas suggest Masterson's opposition may have to do with how the science standards treat the teaching of evolution, long a source of controversy in Kansas. (The standards identify evolution as a core principle for understanding the life sciences.) Another possibility indicated in those accounts was how the standards address the teaching of climate change.

An editorial in the Wichita Eagle sharply criticized Masterson's move.

"Never mind that school districts around the state have spent three years and a lot of money getting ready for the common-core standards, which were voluntarily adopted by 45 states and are not a case of 'the federal government imposing on our schools,' as Masterson put it, or that bills to block common core didn't even have enough support to make it out of either chamber's education committee," it says.

In the meantime, as I blogged the other day, Rhode Island may become the first state to adopt the science standards. The state board in the Ocean State is scheduled to vote on the matter later this week. Stay tuned.

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