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Wyoming Measure Blocks Adoption of Common Science Standards

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A footnote attached to a Wyoming budget measure signed by Republican Gov. Matt Mead this month will prevent the state board of education from reviewing and adopting the Next Generation Science Standards. Apparently, key concerns are how the standards, adopted so far by ten states and the District of Columbia, address the issues of climate change and evolution.

State Rep. Mary Throne, a Democrat, authored the language (below) as a compromise—an original version would have forbade the state board of education from adopting any new science standards. So far, ten states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards.

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The board had been in the process of reviewing the standards and addressing concerns surrounding them.

"I had real concerns personally," said Ron Micheli, the chairman of the state board of education, in an interview with Education Week. "But I think the committee was going to address those concerns. My best guess is the board would have gone ahead and approved [the standards]."

"I would have preferred no footnote," Rep. Throne told me. "I was doing what I needed to to let the state board do its job."

However, at present, the state board is left in the lurch, as it tries to figure out what exactly the footnote legally prohibits and what actions the board can take to continue toward adoption of a new set of science standards. 

Up to this point, the state legislature had not been involved in the board's setting of standards, according to Micheli. Now, though, "we've been left scratching our heads, wondering what this has done to the process and where we're at," he said.

"Right now, there's confusion as to the intent and what the purpose of the footnote was, frankly," said Micheli. "Some believe that it stops the process [of adopting new standards] cold, while some [lawmakers] are telling us that they just want the process to go forward cautiously."

Throne, though, asserted that the footnote means that "the state board cannot adopt wholesale the new standards. They need to Wyoming-ize them."

"It's up to [the board] to decide how to do that." she said in an interview with Education Week. She said that she believed much of the anti-science standards sentiment stemmed from Wyoming's adoption of the common core without tailoring those standards for English/language arts and mathematics to Wyoming. 

According to an article by Wyoming Public Media, the footnote was fueled by concerns within the state regarding the handling of evolution and climate change in the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards make clear that evolution is a critical concept for understanding the life sciences. On climate change, the standards document says that human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are "major factors."

In an interview with the Star Tribune newspaper, Rep. Matt Teeters, one of the footnote's co-authors, expressed his concerns with how the standards handle global warming as a settled science.

"There's all kinds of social implications involved in that that I don't think would be good for Wyoming," said Teeters, a Republican. 

Wyoming is the nation's largest exporter of domestic energy, producing more coal, natural gas, petroleum, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It has more producing federal oil and gas leases than any other state.

With questions still surrounding how to proceed now, "you just kind of shake your head," said Micheli. "The frustrating thing is, I think the process was working. The legislature didn't let the process go through."

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