W. Va. Board of Education OKs science standards with edit of temperature ‘change,’ instead of ‘rise’

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W. Va. Board of Education OKs science standards with edit of temperature ‘change,’ instead of ‘rise’
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer   
The West Virginia Board of Education on Thursday adopted new K-12 science education standards, but not without adding changes suggested by board member Wade Linger to the teaching of global warming.

The amendments came despite significant local and national criticism of Linger’s previous suggested changes to the standards — which the board had adopted in December and later retracted after the Gazette reported on them.

State Department of Education officials said the previous changes put the standards out of alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards national blueprint, on which they were based.

One of the new amendments adopted Thursday — replacing the word “rise” with “change” in a sixth-grade standard that originally required students to “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century” — will still likely put the West Virginia standards out of alignment with the Next Generation standards, said Clayton Burch, chief academic officer for the Department of Education.

“The standards are still solid, they’re still the voice of the people,” Burch said.

Linger has said he doesn’t believe human-influenced climate change is a “foregone conclusion.”

“I’m here as a member of a board to be a leader, and do the best thing for the children,” Linger said Thursday. “And if I have to take heat to do that, I’m always prepared to take the heat, and I’m proud that this board showed that they feel the same way.”

The amendments and full set of standards were approved on voice votes. Board attorney Mary Catherine Funk said the amendments were approved 5-3, and the policy was approved 6-2. Jim Wilson, the ninth voting board member, didn’t attend the meeting.

Board President Gayle Manchin and fellow members Bill White and Lloyd Jackson voted against the amendments. Board members Mike Green, Tina Combs, Tom Campbell, Beverly Kingery and Linger voted for them.

“I just personally had said at the very beginning of this process that I supported our science teachers and I supported the National Academy of Sciences, and that I supported the standards as written and endorsed,” Manchin said. “Any changes that were made that would affect in any way the intent of any of those standards, I would not be able to support.”

After the amendments were approved, Jackson voted with the majority for the overall standards adoption. He said West Virginia needs the new standards.

“This is 1 percent or less of the total science policy,” Jackson said. “We have to have science standards, and you don’t always get your way up here.”

The standards — the first to require teaching about man-made global warming in mandatory courses — are planned to take effect in the 2016-17 school year.

Thursday’s changes were not the same as those Linger previously proposed, although they affected two of the three standards he’d previously suggested changing. His prior modifications led to state and national criticism that the alterations cast unwarranted doubt on the theory that human greenhouse-gas emissions are driving global warming.

He previously had suggested adding “and fall” after “rise” to the sixth-grade standard, where “rise” has now become “change.”

He also added Thursday the words “natural forces” to a high school environmental science elective that asks students to “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.” On that standard, Linger previously had suggested requiring students to also consider “Milankovitch cycles” — longterm changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun that those who oppose the man-made warming theory point to in asserting that the planet is simply in a natural warming period.

A third amendment Thursday added a sentence to the full standards’ introduction, saying they are meant to ensure that students “support arguments, either claims or counterclaims, with evidence.”

Last year’s changes to the science standards replaced a ninth-grade science standard with one that asked students to assess the credibility of computer-generated climate models. That change was retracted, and Linger did not suggest altering the standard again Thursday. The adopted standard will read: “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.”

Peer-reviewed science overwhelmingly shows that human greenhouse-gas emissions are a major driver of global warming. 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.

The original teaching requirements concerning climate change were altered before the board placed them in a 30-day public-comment period in October and initially adopted them in December.

After the Gazette reported on the changes — which affected only a few lines in a 70-page document — the board received intense local and national criticism from teachers, professors and others who said the alterations sowed unwarranted doubt into the theory.

Among other groups to weigh in, the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, which helped vet the standards, said the changes compromised and misrepresented climate science, and the faculty senate of West Virginia University —the state’s largest research institution — voted unanimously to send a letter to board members asking them “to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards relative to Climate Change without any modification.”

In January, the board voted to withdraw the full set of standards and put out for a second 30-day comment period a version without the changes. Only Linger and Tom Campbell, who had brought up coal funding for the state’s education system when he was interviewed by the Gazette, voted no on that move.

While 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 elicited 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 spoke out against the standards 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.

John Friedrich, senior campaigner for Climate Parents, said the comments came from residents of West Virginia and other states. Department of Education officials said 1,485 of the total comments came from self-identified West Virginians: 1,411 supported adopting the standards, and only 22 opposed the teaching of man-made global warming.

However, many of the comments were against the standards — either for the teaching of climate change or other reasons. During the most recent legislative session, which ended last month, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, amended a bill that would’ve repealed the Common Core-based math and English/language arts standards to also target the science standards. The bill failed.

Butler, who also disagrees that human greenhouse-gas emissions drive global warming, said he opposes the standards for their teaching of that theory.

Climate Parents director Lisa Hoyos said Thursday that the pushback to the previous changes gave Linger “a much more narrow canvas to paint on, but he used what latitude he could to confound and confuse students.”

She said the group will continue to work with parents and the scientific community to oppose the changed standards.

“I think Climate Parents and our allies are concerned that there is still an effort to distort climate science in West Virginia schools — even if it is less than was attempted before — and we stand for the principle that kids deserve to know the truth about evidence-based climate change,” Hoyos said.