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Common Science Standards Ignite Debate at Kentucky Public Hearing

The Next Generation Science Standards sparked intense debate at a public hearing last week of the Kentucky state board of education, with opponents using highly charged language to criticize them, according to the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville. The main lines of critique were aimed at how the standards handle the issues of evolution and climate change. Among the fiery adjectives leveled? "Fascist" and "atheistic."

Meanwhile, supporters said the education changes are critical to help Kentucky keep educational pace with other states and allow students to be amply prepared for college and careers, the newspaper said.

The state board of education appears to agree with the supporters, since it voted unanimously in early June to adopt the standards. However, state officials have cautioned that the recent vote is not the final word. Beyond the public hearing, the standards also are subject to review by legislative committees, which could lead to changes to the standards before they are finally adopted. And as I reported recently, the chairman of the education committee in the Kentucky House of Representatives is no fan of the new standards. In fact, he penned a sharp critique that was published in the Courier-Journal, focused primarily on evolution and climate change.

I should note, by the way, that Kentucky's current science standards include a strong emphasis on teaching students about evolution. Here's one excerpt:

kentuckyScience.jpg

In a quick scan, I found only a passing reference in the existing state standards, however, to climate change.

Kentucky is one of the 26 lead state partners that helped craft the Next Generation Science Standards in collaboration with several national organizations. All the lead states have agreed to give serious consideration to adoption. So far, beyond Kentucky, four states have stepped forward to adopt the standards: Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont.

This month, the Delaware education agency will hold a series of public hearings to discuss the standards.

In Florida, where state officials have previously signaled strong interest in adopting the standards (though it's not a lead state), the verdict is out. For one, last month, the vice chairman of the state board of education seemed to signal his skepticism with the common science standards, citing a recent review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and argued that the state should look elsewhere for guidance.

"The long-awaited Next Generation standards also received a C, which is a surprising disappointment," said board member John Padget during a board meeting in June. "Sometime soon, within the next two years, Florida has to raise its science standards. ... When the time is right, I will advocate for the adoption of either California's or D.C.'s standards, or a combination of the two. This approach will save time, money, and energy, and we won't be reinventing the wheel." (Both California and the District of Columbia were given an 'A' grade by Fordham.)

It's worth noting, however, that by the time Florida might adopt the California standards, those standards probably won't be in place anymore in California. That's because California also is one of the lead states that helped to develop the standards. It's expected to vote on them later this year. Although they may well face some opposition, early signs suggest they will likely win adoption.

Back to Florida, one other matter that could complicate things is the political bombshell that dropped today when state Commissioner Tony Bennett announced his resignation. The action comes following a series of news stories about steps Bennett took while Indiana's K-12 chief last year to boost the grade of a charter school run by a political donor by tweaking the state's A-F accountability system.

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