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New state school board members undecided on science standards, Common Core

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New state school board members undecided on science standards, Common Core
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer Charleston Gazette

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s new appointments to the West Virginia Board of Education say they haven’t made up their minds about new learning standards that have recently seen local and national controversy.

Tomblin appointed James S. Wilson, 72, and Beverly E. Kingery, 61, to the board Wednesday, filling all 12 seats for the first time since two board members resigned in 2012 in protest of the firing of former state schools superintendent Jorea Marple.

The new members will likely be asked to vote on West Virginia’s version of the national Next Generation Science Standards in March. In December, the state school board voted to adopt a version of the standards containing controversial alterations to the teaching requirements on climate change.

But last week — after local and national criticism of the changes, which academics and residents said cast unwarranted doubt on the overwhelming evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions are driving global warming — the board voted to put a version without the modifications out for 30-day public comment period. If passed, the standards will be implemented in the 2016-17 school year. The public can comment on the standards until 4 p.m. Feb. 17 at http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/.

The new board members may also be caught up in debates over the national Common Core-based math and English/language arts standards, which West Virginia schools implemented a version of this school year.

Common Core has seen opposition in both houses of the state Legislature, which Republicans took over in November for the first time in about 80 years. Sen. Donna Boley, a Pleasants Republican who is the new vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she plans to introduce a bill next week that would repeal the Common Core standards — going further than her failed bill last January that would’ve placed a two-year moratorium on any testing based on Common Core.

Boley — who said she opposes Common Core partly because she feels the math teaching requirements won’t adequately prepare students for college, while the reading standards may be too difficult for young students — said she senses more support for a repeal in the GOP-controlled Legislature, but doesn’t know how many sponsors her bill will have.

“I know there’s a lot of people upset with what’s going on now, and even a couple or three of the new [lawmakers] are saying ‘I’m with you, I’m with you,’” Boley said. “So I think we’ll have quite a few.”

In the House of Delegates, Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, has introduced a two-page bill with six other sponsors that would block the Common Core standards, but Boley said she doesn’t think the bill is detailed enough.

Only nine of the school board’s dozen members can vote. Of the eight voting members on the board in December, six voted for placing a version of the science standards out on public comment without the controversial climate change alterations.

Two voted to keep the modifications in place: Wade Linger, who initially raised concerns about the standards and said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a foregone conclusion, and Tom Campbell, who said he worried about “unfair” criticism of the coal industry when previously asked about the teaching of climate change.

One of the six members who voted to rescind the changes — Democrat Bob Dunlevy, whose term technically ended in November — was replaced by Wilson, who’s also a Democrat. If the old board members vote like they did in December, the new members could both vote against the version of the standards without the climate change alterations and the policy would still pass, 5-4.

Kingery — who replaced fellow Republican Priscilla Haden, one of the two board members who resigned after Marple’s termination — said she requested a copy of the science standards and received one Thursday morning. She’s now reading through them in anticipation of the vote.

“Because of all the controversy I’ve read in the paper and heard in the news and talking to some colleagues of mine ... I felt it was my duty and responsibility to read it,” Kingery said.

“Just like when people talk about Common Core, I think people having those conversations should really read the standards.”

When asked whether she accepts the scientific evidence that humans have been the leading cause of global warming, Kingery said she hasn’t yet read the scientific literature on the issue, and didn’t want to make a statement until she has “educated information.”

She said she’ll likely look at peer-reviewed scientific literature on the issue, including by analyzing how each study was conducted. As for Common Core, Kingery, who was Nicholas County’s superintendent from 2007 until she retired last year, said she saw mixed results in Nicholas classrooms when she was superintendent.

“I’ve seen some wonderful examples, and I’ve seen some examples that were somewhat frustrating, but again, I don’t know if it was the standards or just the teaching style,” said Kingery, who lives in South Charleston.

She said she’ll have to analyze the standards more and hear more from teachers and administrators, who she said are on the “front line every day.”

“Let’s read them, let’s take a look at them, and maybe one by one determine what the problem is with any particular standard,” Kingery said.

Wilson said he hasn’t yet formulated an opinion on Common Core or the science standards.

“Climate change is such a strange bird when you talk to different people on the street,” said Wilson, who lives in Glen Dale in Marshall County. “Unfortunately it’s become very political, and I hate to see that,” He said he knows greenhouse gas emissions are a factor in climate change but doesn’t know whether “man is the prime instigator.”

“I just hate when people say science is settled ... science should never be settled, you should always be checking to make sure your facts are right, and it may change, science has changed hundreds of times over the years,” Wilson said.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released dire reports about climate change impacts with a more than 95 percent certainty that humans are the main cause. Wilson served on the Marshall County school board for 20 years, until 2000, and retired as a dentist last year. He said he submitted a resume to the governor after hearing from Dunlevy, whose grandson plays basketball in the same middle school league as his grandson, that he wouldn’t be seeking another term.

He said it was a surprise when Tomblin, whom he’d never spoken with before, called to ask him to serve Tuesday. Wilson’s father served in several education roles in Marshall, including as teacher and athletics director.

Wilson said he values vocational education and local school control, but said he hasn’t thought much of his goals on the board.

Kingery said she felt it was time to retire last year after four decades in education but didn’t want to “ride off into the sunset,” so she applied for the board seat. She said the appointment took her by surprise, as it apparently did other board members who called to congratulate her.

Tomblin told her he liked her background in reading education — as a K-12 coordinator for the state Department of Education for nine years, she led a program in which she and others went into schools and helped individual teachers teach reading better.

“I’m a very active person and I’ve always been passionate about education and children,” she said.