The New Mexico State Public Education Department under Governor Susana Martinez proposed new science standards that omit references to evolution, the age of the earth, and climate change. Fortunately, the public response was overwhelming. At a packed public hearing on October 16 not a single person spoke in favor of the changes. From educators, students and their parents, to scientists, there was an incredible united front opposing these misleading changes.
The new science standards with omissions to global warming, evolution, and the age of the earth were initially introduced back in September followed by an immediate outcry and public criticism. The language of the draft is based on the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of benchmarks released in 2013 for grades k-12, designed to reflect global standards. Currently, 18 states have adopted the NGSS. New Mexico being the latest addition to the list of states adopting the benchmarks.
Predictably, right-winger Susanna Martinez vetoed House Bill 211, a measure that would allow the state to adopt the nationally vetted science standards as is. Her issue with the standards, as she stated was because it “recommends review and adoption of standards in every academic content on a six-year cycle. This legislation would make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future.”
Her explanation seems utterly false as her version of the standards are so woefully and patently unscientific. She appears to have no issue with how the science standards can be “updated” to include future advancements but instead seems more intent on sanitizing the language to appease climate-deniers and creationists. The Martinez edits have left science standards with incredulously unspecific statements which teach very little, if anything significant. One edited statement, which originally mentioned that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, demonstrates the meager science education in these standards: “Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic time scale is used to organize Earth’s geologic history.”
New Mexico currently ranks 49th in the nation for its education quality. The last thing New Mexico schools need are more bad education standards. In this period of the Trump administration and its attacks, communities must defend real science.
Standards are an attack
The new science standards are an attack on the consciousness and very awareness of young people about one of the most pressing issues facing humanity. Recently, the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey and Irma further highlighted the increasing existential dangers of climate change and the need for the issue to be addressed. More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and induced by humans. Yet the U.S. education system continues to be bombarded by rightwing approved “alternative” science. The New Mexico watered-down science standards reflect a broader issue in the U.S. education system.
Nationwide, the debate over whether teachers can teach climate change continues. A survey released last year by National Center for Science Education, revealed that three-quarters out of 1,500 public middle- and high-school science teachers taught climate change. The national survey also showed that lessons on climate change also fall short in the classroom. Most students are exposed to only one to two hours’ worth of lessons on climate change in the entire school year.
Public demand for better science standards in schools is growing exponentially. New Mexico schools have been forced to teach subpar and outdated science standards for too many years. The last update to the state’s science guidelines were made in 2003. The dismal consequences of New Mexico’s lack of proper science standards is a growing gender and race gap in science particularly for girls, Native Americans and Latinos. In 2016, New Mexico ranked 48th in the country in science education on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The state PED has agreed to eliminate the worst changes to the standards, but in truth they are leaving most in place. Wildly unpopular Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski — who was not even present at the October 16 hearing — stated that his department will restore a reference to the age of the Earth and add the word “evolution” back into another section due to public pressure. However, Ruszkowski has a history of misleading the public.
According to former PED Math and Science bureau chief Lesley Galyas, Roszkowski’s claims of how the new science standards were written and discussed by several groups including educators, were not true. Seemingly the claims by Roszkowski were an attempt to placate not only statewide outrage, but also national scrutiny. Galyas stated that
Ruszkowski and others pressured her into promoting these changes in her department. She quit in 2016 in response to the changes.
Communities in New Mexico are on edge and ready to fight any further assaults on science and education. Despite Ruszkowski’s announcement of the PED restoring references to “evolution” in the standards, nothing has been finalized and still more is to be revealed in the ensuing days. Science education is an absolute necessity — not only for a promising future for students but also the planet. Although much more needs to be done to improve science standards in New Mexico schools, the failure of the rightwing attempts to censor real science education demonstrates the power of the people to win.