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Kansas Board Votes to Adopt Common Science Standards

By a vote of 8 to 2, the Kansas state board of education yesterday adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as their own. With that step, Kansas joins Rhode Island and Kentucky in approving the standards (though Kentucky's action is conditional at this point, as I explain below).

Kansas, Kentucky, and Rhode Island are part of the coalition of 26 "lead state partners" that teamed up with several national organizations to craft the science standards.

The K-12 standards, more than three years in the making, went through two rounds of public comment before they were issued in final form in April. Key tenets of the standards include providing a greater emphasis on depth over breadth in science education and asking students to apply their learning through the practices of scientific inquiry and engineering design.

The standards make clear that biological evolution is a fundamental principle of understanding the life sciences. In the past, the issue of teaching evolution in schools has been especially controversial in Kansas, and at least one of the board members voting against the standards referenced this as part of his opposition (as well as concerns about how the standards treat climate change).

The Kansas vote came on a day when much of the board's energy was consumed by a heated debate on the Common Core State Standards, with friends and foes of those standards for math and English language arts crowding the board room to present hours of testimony, as the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

The science standards were approved after much of the crowd had left, the story notes.

"I am pleased to be able to bring the rigor, clarity, and connectedness of these standards to the teachers and students of Kansas," state board chairwoman Jana Shaver said in a press release from the Kansas education agency.

Two Republican board members, Ken Willard and John Bacon, voted no on the science standards.

"Both evolution and human cause of climate change are presented in these standards dogmatically," Willard said, according to the Associated Press. "This nonobjective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness."

It's worth noting that while Kansas in the past has been Ground Zero for debates about teaching evolution in schools, the state standards in place until yesterday, adopted in 2007, make clear that biological evolution is a core principle of science that students are expected to understand. In addition, in taking a quick peek at those standards, I also discovered that they refer to climate change as well, including the human contribution.

Here's an excerpt from the 2007 standards: "Human activity impacts global climate. Example: Burning of fossil fuels produces ground level ozone that hinders plant growth."

To be clear, the vote by Kansas to adopt the standards comes as little surprise. The state has been knee-deep in the development of the standards since the beginning. 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.

"Kansas educators have been able to be involved in the development of these standards from the beginning, and our board has heard regularly from those who have been part of this effort," Shaver said.

How many states ultimately choose to adopt the standards remains to be seen. Most, if not all, of the lead states in crafting them seem likely to do so. In addition, some other states tracked the development of the standards closely, and may eventually sign on as well.

Returning for a moment to Kentucky, the unanimous vote by the state board earlier this month is apparently not the final word. As a state official explained to me, a forthcoming "regulatory process" will involve a public hearing followed by a review by legislative committees. Depending on the feedback from the hearing and the action of the legislative committees, the standards could either be enacted or they could come back to the state board for changes.

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