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Science Standards: A Glimpse of Public Sentiment in Kentucky

Evolution. Climate change. Content and rigor. The economy/workforce. These are among the topics tackled in nearly 4,100 public comments submitted in Kentucky about the Next Generation Science Standards.

The Kentucky state board of education voted last week, for the second time, in favor of adopting the new science standards. The process still isn't over, as the next step is legislative review. (As I've noted previously, this may prove to be a significant hurdle.)

[UPDATE (Aug. 14): Kevin Brown, the associate education commissioner and general counsel for the Kentucky department of education, told the Courier-Journal newspaper of Louisville that lawmakers have an option to find the standards deficient. If so, education officials could amend or withdraw the standards, or Gov. Steve Beshear could allow them to take effect despite the finding of deficiency, he explained.]

The process could conclude as early as October.

Kentucky is among the 26 "lead state partners" that helped develop the standards. I've blogged a couple of times about the thorny debate in the Bluegrass State, where issues like the handling of evolution and climate change have sparked some pushback.

For a closer look at what people (who care enough to submit their comments) think about the new standards, check out the document assembled by the state education department. (A link is provided in this press release.) It seeks to summarize all the feedback submitted, both at the public hearing and in written comments, and offers responses. The detailed summary section is 41 pages long. (The first 98 pages is simply a long list of the names of everyone who commented.) Despite plenty of criticism, the state department did not make any changes, and the state board voted to move the document along in the regulatory process.

Here are some highlights, grouped by subject.

First, evolution, which surely sparked some of the strongest language. The summary describes various views expressed.



• The teaching of evolution will lead to a variety of negative social consequences, including the negation of religious beliefs, the marginalization of students with religious beliefs, the promotion of socialism and resulting genocide and murder, drug abuse, suicide, hopelessness, the limitation of personal freedom and the belief that might makes right.

• Outsiders are imposing the elitist rich man's religion of evolution on the families of public school students, taking away the right to worship God."

• Evolution is not settled science.


• Evolution is thoroughly supported by many decades of scientific research.

• Including evolution and climate change at the level of state standards protects teachers from being bullied into teaching creationism or bad science.

In responding to the debate, the agency identifies dozens of professional scientific bodies and organizations that support the legitimacy of biological evolution as a cornerstone of biology, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences.



• The standards overemphasize global warming, to the neglect of other concepts.

• Climate change is junk science.

• Theories about man-made global warming are imposed upon children from kindergarten.


• Climate science is a mature science that has existed for more than 150 years, and scientific data indicates the earth is continuing to warm.

• Climate change education is needed because present energy-production schemes are irreversibly altering the climate.

• Kentucky students deserve the most up-to-date science education, including learning about climate change.

Here's what the agency itself said: "The agency has determined that global climate research is increasing in prominence and importance within the scientific and science education communities. Including climate research as part of the Kentucky [standards] accurately reflects the current state of scientific thought."

(Here, much of the criticism references a recent review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which gave the new science standards a grade of C.


• The standards take a process-over-content approach.

• There is not enough emphasis on topics such as Universal Gas Law, current flow in closed electrical circuits, or other physical science content in the high school curriculum.

• The standards are not as rigorous as Kentuckians desire.

In its rebuttal, the agency takes on the Fordham review directly, saying that it "does not accurately evaluate" the standards. It contends that the review is based on content expectations that are "very narrowly focused upon content detail. Such a narrowly focused set of criteria are not well suited to evaluate content standards that were written to give as much emphasis to the processes and concepts of science as they give to the content."

Although the state department did not explicitly list any "pro" comments in this section, it did include comments elsewhere that touch on both the what and how of science teaching. The standards, some of these commentors said:

• Are research-based, grounded in inquiry, rich in content, and internationally benchmarked.

• Represent the best pedagogical knowledge for teaching science.

• Will make hands-on learning a greater part of the education process, and will move learning to be more student-centered and less rote.

• Will encourage active learning through the use of modeling, investigation, and the application of the student's knowledge.


Finally, a number of commentors highlighted the potential economic advantages to Kentucky if it adopts the new standards.

• Kentucky has a biology-based economy, and students need to understand biology or Kentucky will be left behind economically.

• The standards should be adopted to help produce the number and quality of scientists needed to sustain the country and its economy.

• The new standards will prepare students for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields in industry and manufacturing, boosting the economy and supplying much-needed jobs.

In the end, the many opinions expressed through the public-comment period apparently have not led the state agency, and the board of education, to reconsider its stance, or even tinker with the standards.

The document concludes: "The agency, having given thoughtful consideration to all comments submitted by the public, had made no changes in the proposed regulation."

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