Kentucky Governor Overrides Legislature on National Science Standards

Published September 24, 2013

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has overruled the state legislature’s rejection of national science standards.

In a statement, the governor vowed to “implement the regulations notwithstanding the finding of deficiency” because he “views these standards as a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce.”

The Kentucky Board of Education voted in June to replace state science standards with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which six other states have adopted. The legislature must also approve the standards.  But the General Assembly’s Administrative Regulation Review Board voted 5-1 against implementing NGSS.

Committee members said the standards lacked essential content. Standards determine what kids will learn and be tested on in each grade.

“Education standards need to be quite clear, detailed, and they also need to be expressed as much as possible in measurable terms. You find none of that in Common Core or Next Generation Science Standards,” says Dick Innes, a Bluegrass Institute education analyst.

For and Against
Kentucky was one of 26 “lead state partners” that contributed to NGSS, which was fostered by the same organization that created Common Core national math and English standards—Achieve Inc. Several federal agencies and science organizations were also involved. The NGSS was published in April.

A 2009 law required Kentucky science standards to be updated by December 2010, but lawmakers postponed until NGSS arrived.

“You never get standards perfect the first time—they need to be updated,” Innes said. “A high-quality system won’t be birthed from scratch.”

Several groups, including the Kentucky Academy of Science and the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, endorsed NGSS and asked the state to adopt it. Of nearly 4,000 public comments, more than 3,700 favored the plan, said Kentucky’s Department of Education.

“Kentucky’s own science standards aren’t worth much,… and the proposed [NGSS] are just a little better,” said Paul Gross, a retired biology professor at the University of Virginia.

Losing Essential Content
Gross compared NGSS to existing state science standards for the Thomas Fordham Institute. Fordham rated NGSS a C, and gave Kentucky’s existing standards a D, noting each system falls short in several ways. The review says NGSS overemphasizes useless practices over content, omits essential content, fails to integrate critical math content, and places arbitrary ceilings on the content to be tested.

“[NGSS] does not incorporate most of the subjects in a standard chemistry or physics course,” Innes said. Innes is an engineer and former flight instructor. “How can you … say these standards will foster more [science, technology, engineering, and math] careers?”

Beshear, a Democrat, has the executive authority to implement NGSS, but Kentucky’s General Assembly can reopen the issue in their 2014 session by creating legislation to counter his decision.

“Kentucky would be best served by adopting—and modifying as necessary—one of the excellent state standards documents” such as those from Massachusetts, South Carolina, or the District of Columbia, Gross said.

Learn more:
“Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards,” Fordham Institute, June 2013:


Image by Michael Mueller.