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Commenters favor new K-12 science curriculum

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Commenters favor new K-12 science curriculum
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer, Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The vast majority of official comments on new statewide K-12 science standards — the first to require teaching about global warming in mandatory courses — were in favor of them, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.

“Over 7,000 people commented through individual comments, petitions, or via special interest groups,” the department wrote in a document for this week’s state school board meeting, which begins Wednesday and could continue into Thursday. “A total of 6,468 comments, by individuals or groups, were in favor of the proposed policy.”
The comments were submitted during the official 30-day public comment period, which ended in February. Though the department labeled the comments positive, negative or neutral, some appear difficult to classify.

The department wrote that 365 comments opposed the standards’ alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards, a national blueprint that was written by a partnership of several organizations and 26 states, including West Virginia. The remaining comments dealt with other topics.

Board members are expected to readopt the standards at their meeting so the new teaching requirements can go into effect in the 2016-17 school year. The board previously adopted the standards in December, but with modifications to the teaching of climate change.

After receiving local and national criticism saying the alterations sowed unwarranted doubt into the well-established theory that humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are driving global warming, the school board voted in January to withdraw the full set of standards and use a version of the standards without the controversial changes. That version was put out for a second 30-day comment period.

Board members were expected to adopt the unaltered version last month, but the Department of Education said the move was delayed because of an extraordinarily large number of comments submitted. People from across West Virginia and the country chimed in, as did some people from outside the country. Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said, on average, only about 100 comments are submitted on such policy changes.

Robert Ruder, of Indianapolis, gave one of the opposing comments, saying he is “appalled at the push by the climate radicals trying to push their flawed beliefs on school children.”

“… Students deserve to learn from all the facts and are smart enough to weigh alternative explanations,” Ruder continued. “This is the true essence of scientific learning.”

School officials previously defended their changes by arguing that they were meant to encourage more student debate on the idea that humans’ greenhouse gas emissions are causing a global rise in temperatures.

But an overwhelming majority of scientists accept that theory, and the alterations to the climate change standards — like one that was modified to require students to question the credibility of computer climate models — diverged from the standards’ treatment of other widely accepted scientific theories. Nowhere, for instance, were students asked to question the credibility of carbon dating in discussing evolution.

In response to Ruder’s comment, the department wrote that it “defers to the National Academy of Sciences which has experts with credentials, funding, and time to vet research regarding climate change.”

“The position of the National Academy of Sciences is: ‘There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems.

“‘It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2001). This warming has already led to changes in the Earth’s climate.’”

The department repeatedly returned to that statement in answering other comments opposing the standards. It also frequently invokes a third statement saying the standards require students to introduce claims and weigh opposing views while analyzing topics.

Among those speaking in support of the standards were Michele Adams, a teacher in Berkeley County who wrote that “As a 6th grade science teacher with 24 years of experience, I appreciate the language in the original standards. Please leave them as such because experts drafted them, and I trust that these stakeholders had the knowledge and scientific background to make the standards best for our students.”

“By creating doubt about the causes of climate change, we are doing a disservice to West Virginia students,” wrote Brianna Blankenship, another West Virginia teacher.

Climate change is happening and humans are the cause of this climate change. Students should be taught about the true causes of climate change because they are our future, and it is up to them the fix the mistakes made by previous generations.”

David O’Brien, a physical therapist from Charleston, suggested that “we leave debating the validity of known facts to Congress.”

Also this week, the state school board will consider school districts’ requests for waivers of state law regarding the new requirement for schools to have 180 “separate instructional days” each year. Cordeiro said 27 districts have requested waivers.

While Department of Education general counsel Heather Hutchens previously suggested the waiver process could allow districts to drop below the 180-day requirement — thus exempting them from having to make up an abnormally large number of snow days incurred during this year’s harsh winter — some members of the school board and the board’s attorney doubt there’s a legal way out of the mandate.

Regardless, Raleigh County has submitted a waiver request seeking to drop below the 180-day requirement by up to five days, said Superintendent David Price. He said Raleigh students missed 17 days due to snow and flooding, and the district has already had to cancel its spring break this week. Assuming no days are forgiven, it’s also preparing to extend the last day of school from June 5 to June 22.

“It’s been a messy piece of change here for us, for the community,” Price said.

The board meeting begins 10 a.m. Wednesday in Room 353 of Building 6 in the Capitol Complex. If the agenda isn’t finished the first day, the meeting will reconvene 10 a.m. Thursday in the same location.