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Kentucky Moves to Adopt Common Science Standards

The state board of education in Kentucky voted unanimously yesterday to provisionally adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. The action comes several weeks after Rhode Island became the first state to adopt.

Both 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.

A press release from the Kentucky department of education touted the standards as being "rigorous, research-based, and aligned with expectations for colleges and careers. They provide for deeper understanding of content and application."

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. Two of the central tenets are 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 were approved by a vote of 10 to 0, with one board member absent.

David Karem, the chairman of the state board of education, acknowledged that the new standards may not please everyone, but he suggested they are worthy of support.

"You are going to always have some areas where there is pushback," he said, according to a story in the Courier-Journal newspaper. "These are not something that just came out of thin air. Real professionals, real scientists, real educators developed these standards, and I think they are legitimate."

That "pushback" may have been a reference to an opinion piece Republican Sen. Mike Wilson wrote recently for the Courier-Journal. In it, Wilson, the chairman of the Senate education committee, questioned the science behind evolution, which is featured in the new standards as a critical concept for understanding the life sciences. He also criticized the treatment of climate change, including a statement in the standards document that describes human activities as "major factors."

I want to emphasize here the word "provisionally" that I used at the start of this blog post. The vote yesterday by the state board was not the final word on the science standards. The standards, as the state education agency's press release explains, "now move through the regulatory process."

So, what does that mean? In an email, Nancy Rodriguez, a department spokeswoman told me that 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 be enacted or they could come back to the Kentucky Board of Education for changes," she said.

If Sen. Wilson's views are any indicator, the forthcoming process could pose some challenges for the standards as crafted.

Meanwhile, Florida's education agency last week invited public comments on the science standards to help the state make a decision on adoption. Florida was not among the lead states in crafting the standards, though Florida officials watched their development closely.

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