Coalition: Resist political influence on climate science education
— April 8, 2014
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is yet another grim warning; man-caused greenhouse gas emissions continue to help accelerate global warming, and we can expect more natural disasters such as heat waves, rising seas, and water-and airborne-disease.
Yet as the world’s leading scientists and policymakers meet in Berlin this week to discuss what can be done about man-caused global warming, some Wyoming leaders insist that it is reckless to recognize climate change as sound, or “settled” science — particularly in a state that is 70 percent reliant on mostly carbon-heavy energy production.
In an unprecedented move, Wyoming’s legislature passed (and Republican Gov. Matt Mead refused to veto) a measure intended to block the Wyoming State Board of Education from adopting the national Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) — standards that were heartily endorsed by a committee of Wyoming educators last fall after some 18 months of research to update standards for the first time in 10 years.
The reason? Chairman of the House Education Committee Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Lingle), along with many of his colleagues, doesn’t like the climate science included in NGSS. As Teeters puts it; “I do have a problem with how they (NGSS) approach global warming in particular. … Teaching it as an absolute fact goes too far. Teaching it as a settled science bothers me,” he told WyoFile.
Teeters and his legislative colleagues who supported the measure are joined by Gov. Mead, who has said he remains “unconvinced” of man’s role in climate change, as well as several parent organizations staunchly opposed to NGSS in addition to Common Core and other education standards.
But another coalition of educators and parents are determined to keep what they see as politicized science out of Wyoming’s classrooms. They’re banding together with science and education proponents throughout the state and the nation to encourage the Wyoming State Board of Education to adopt NGSS anyway.
Climate Parents, along with the Wyoming Science Teachers Association, Wyoming Education Association, Equality State Policy Center, and the Union of Concerned Scientists sent a letter to the board on Monday stating, “The concern of some Wyoming legislators over the inclusion of climate science in education standards is misplaced. The climate change science portion of the NGSS is, according to the American Meteorological Society, ‘firmly rooted in peer-reviewed scientific literature; as science, it is as sound as other NGSS subjects such as earthquakes and the solar system.’”
The coalition is hoping to make a strong show of support for the board and for NGSS ahead of the board’s next meeting, which is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday in Casper, at the McMurry Training Center, 2220 N. Bryan Stocktrail Drive.
The letter, signed by groups including the Wyoming Science Teachers Association, National Center for Science Education, American Meteorological Society, Wyoming Education Association and hundreds of Wyoming teachers and science supporters, says that Wyoming lawmakers overstepped their bounds in interfering with the board’s duty to choose education standards. “We urge the board to put legislative politics aside and carry out your duty to adopt 21st-century standards written by scientists and educators with the best interests of students in mind,” the group wrote in its letter to the board on Monday.
The board recently met via telephone conference to discuss whether it could or should move forward to adopt NGSS standards, struggling with the legislature’s interjection into one of its prime duties. The board voted to keep the NGSS standards on the table for now, as members weighed their options: Vote to adopt the standards and possibly infuriate lawmakers who control the Department of Education’s purse strings, or go back to the drawing board to build a new “Wyoming” set of science education standards, building it piecemeal from other state education standards across the nation.
“Politics is playing a prominent role in Wyoming education in the past several years, and it hasn’t been positive, quite honestly,” board of education member and state chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party Pete Gosar told WyoFile. “The school kids who are supposed to be educated to compete in this world have been lost in this conversation.”
Some board members believe counsel from the Wyoming Attorney General’s office seemed to indicate the legislative language left open a window in which the board could still adopt NGSS. The legislation — actually a footnote attached to the state budget — stated the board may not incur any expenses during the next budget year to adopt the NGSS standards. The next fiscal budget year doesn’t begin until July 1.
“It is within the Board’s legal authority to take action to adopt NGSS in this fiscal year (although they are under a tight timeline, since they can’t start a process that would take them into the new fiscal year),” John Friedrich of Climate Parents told WyoFile via email. “The biggest variable is how long Governor Mead would take to make a decision.”
While politics in education is nothing new, and people have long accepted that politicians must maintain close ties to fossil fuel corporations if they’re going to win elected office in Wyoming, the proponents behind the Climate Parents movement believe the numbers — and the science — is on their side. In addition to some 300 signatures on the letter of support to the State Board of Education this week, the Climate Parents coalition has gathered some 13,000 signatures on a petition demanding “Any science standards adopted in Wyoming should be as comprehensive, thorough and peer reviewed as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and like the NGSS, must include climate science.”
Rep. Teeters insists he respects the process and authority of the State Board of Education to review and adopt education standards, although in response to charges that the legislature is interfering with the board’s duties he said, “Who gave them that duty? I think politics exists in public education just as much as in the elected legislature, and the difference is we are accountable to our constituents.”
— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has written about Wyoming’s energy industries for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327, or email [email protected] Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
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