Amended science standards called ‘progress,’ but criticism remains
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette
Some groups that denounced now-rejected changes to West Virginia’s upcoming K-12 science standards regarding global warming are disappointed in new modifications but view them as less harmful than the previous version.
“It still represents progress, as far as we’re concerned,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change in public schools.
Branch said the overall standards are “certainly an improvement” over the previous version of the upcoming standards — which were altered in a way that many said cast unwarranted doubt on humans’ leading role in global warming.
He also said they are an improvement over West Virginia’s current standards, which aren’t based off the national Next Generation Science Standards blueprint. About a dozen states, plus Washington, D.C., have adopted versions of the Next Generation standards, according to Branch’s group.
The new standards, which will go into effect in the 2016-17 school year, will be the first time Mountain State students will be required to learn about the evidence for human-influenced climate change in mandatory courses.
“Hopefully, they’re now out of the hands of politicians who want to meddle with them,” Branch said.
Libby Strong – president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, which helped vet the standards and denounced the previous changes — said members of her organization’s board are disappointed in the new changes. She said she worries they’ll further a negative perception of West Virginia.
However, she also said the changes aren’t as problematic as the previous ones, and her organization likely won’t push against them. She said, if the standards are put out for a third 30-day public comment period, their adoption and the related science textbook adoption could be delayed — and the standards might turn out worse.
“The teachers deserve the new standards and the new materials,” she said.
Wade Linger, a state school board member, proposed the now-rejected changes before the board approved them in December. Board members retracted them a month later, after receiving local and national criticism. On Thursday, Linger successfully amended two of the three standards that he previously sought to change:
| Original sixth-grade standard: “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.”
| Version retracted in January: “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise and fall in global temperatures over the past century.”
| Version adopted Thursday: “Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the change in global temperatures over the past century.”
| Original high school elective environmental science requirement: “Debate climate changes as it [sic] relates to greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.”
| Version retracted in January: “Debate climate changes as it [sic] relates to natural forces such as Milankovitch cycles, greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.”
| Version adopted Thursday: “Debate climate changes as it [sic] relates to natural forces, greenhouse gases, human changes in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and relevant laws and treaties.”
| Original ninth-grade science requirement: “Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.”
| Version retracted in January: “Analyze geoscience data and the predictions made by computer climate models to assess their creditability [sic] for predicting future impacts on the Earth System.”
| Version adopted Thursday: No amendment made, same as original.
“One of those changed the word, ‘rise’ in global temperature to ‘change’ in global temperature, so that makes it less precise, more vague,” Branch said. But he said the change is “not disastrous” and “it’s hard to see how it’s going to have a bad effect.”
“‘Change’ is better than ‘rise and fall,’ ” Strong said, “and any teacher would be teaching natural cycles, as well as human-influenced factors, because that’s what variables are all about.”
She said there are numerous cycles — regarding things like Earth’s orbit, sunspots, ocean currents and El Nino — that can affect temperatures, and it’s necessary to teach students about them, to convey that global warming is outpacing what would be expected from these events.
West Virginia Department of Education officials, in response to Linger’s concerns, placed the prior changes into a draft of the standards before the board approved them for public comment in October. The department did not publicize that the changes had been made, and they came to public attention only after they had been approved and the Gazette-Mail reported on them in December.
Strong said she and other members of her organization read the version of the standards that went out for public comment but perhaps didn’t look closely enough because the alterations affected only a few lines in the 70-page document and they thought they were reviewing a version the association had already seen.
After intense backlash, the board retracted the changes at a January meeting, at which several people spoke against them, and put the unchanged version of the standards out on public comment again.
Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said the average policy change — like new standards adoptions — receives about 100 comments. The department said the second comment period on the proposed changes drew input from more than 7,000 people.
A total of 6,468 comments, by individuals or groups, favored adopting the version of the standards that didn’t contain the climate change modifications.
Climate Parents, a national nonprofit that opposed the modifications and has fought against changes to the Next Generation Science Standards in other states, said it submitted more than 5,700 comments in support of the version of the standards that didn’t include the global warming modifications. The head of that group said it seems the new changes are less of an attempt to “distort climate science,” but it will still work to fight the changes.
Thursday’s changes were adopted before a smaller audience, and no one spoke on the issue — although a member of the state Science Teachers Association did speak in favor of adopting the unaltered standards on Wednesday, the first day of the state school board’s meeting.
Strong said she hopes West Virginia is still considered a Next Generation Science Standards adopter, even though Department of Education Chief Academic Officer Clayton Burch said changing the word “rise” to “change” in the sixth-grade standard likely will put the state standards out of alignment with the national blueprint.
Cordeiro said Friday that there was no update on the status of the standards, and officials from Achieve, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that helped manage the development of the Next Generation standards, didn’t return phone calls Thursday and Friday.
Despite the new changes, Strong said she has confidence that West Virginia educators will teach to the best of their abilities.
“We’ll get through this one, too,” she said.