States Respond to Common Core Science Standards

Published April 22, 2013

States have begun to take sides on the new Common Core science standards released last week. The standards shift students toward engineering, away from traditional biology, chemistry, and physics disciplines, and they tell children starting in kindergarten that humans have caused dangerous global warming.

“This is a very big victory for the other side,” said Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a nonprofit that promotes free-market environmental stewardship. “If you start inculcating these ideas into the young, they will view this as a statement of faith, and it becomes very difficult to convince them otherwise—which is why the proponents of climate change are doing it.”

Despite this political hot potato, some analysts say they expect 40 or more states to switch to the standards, which are designed to correspond to Common Core math and English standards 45 states have adopted.

Utah and Texas education leaders have said their states will not adopt the standards, but states such as Kansas, Michigan, and California are holding hearings on them soon. The state boards of education in Maine and Kentucky have said they plan to vote on the standards by June. Pennsylvania and Florida officials told they had no meetings scheduled to review the standards, while Illinois and Tennessee leaders said it’s likely their states will switch to the new standards soon.

No Debate
The Next Generation Science Standards, as they’re called, were coordinated by Achieve Inc., which also coordinated Common Core English and math. Achieve worked with approximately 13 federal agencies, including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of the Interior, said Frank Niepold, co-chair of the Climate Education Interagency Working Group at the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

“Federal agencies are committed to lifting as much of this as we can in partnership with the states,” he said.

On a conference call in April, Niepold celebrated the standards for their potential to force the nation’s schools to teach his view of climate change.

“Our hope is that teachers will not see this as a political issue and a political debate,” said Mario Molina, deputy director of the Alliance for Climate Education, on the same call. “This is the science. It is not a debate. This is [students’] right, to be taught the science that is agreed upon worldwide without the veil of politics or debate.”

Although some teachers are currently “worried about the sensitivities of the parents and community” regarding climate change, said Don Boesch, principal investigator for the Maryland and Delaware Climate Change Education, Assessment, and Research program, “shifting the textbooks” and standards would provide teachers the support they need to stand up to disgruntled parents, students, and taxpayers.

Goal: Political Power
The false claim that the climate debate is settled has been pushed ever since climate became a hot political topic in the 1990s, Rucker said.

“The only place you usually see 98 percent of anyone agreeing is a place like Venezuela or the former Soviet Union,” Rucker said. “People do not agree on climate science. You have a large number of different opinions as to what man’s contribution is, how much is a result of natural variability, and so forth. The claims they’re making are preposterous. Of course there’s a debate.”

Rucker says it’s common for global warming alarmists to say that even if global warming is not a problem, the big-government solutions they propose are necessary worldwide anyway. If children are taught to think this way, he said, when they start voting they are likely to favor big-government politicians—and schools should not push students towards particular politics, he said.

Good for Science?
Climate change is a good topic to prioritize in education because it brings together various fields of science, Niepold said.

Heather Mac Donald disagrees. She is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who says she’s “not a climate skeptic.”

“The most critical need for students is to understand basic science, and we are so far from achieving that goal that I think it’s a distraction to start immersing students in the extraordinary complexities of climate science,” she said. “It is following the fad for interdisciplinary work, and the people who promote that forget they went through the disciplines themselves and that those disciplines represent real bodies of knowledge. We have to be absolutely certain that students understand the rudiments.”

Sixty-eight percent of U.S. eighth graders scored below “proficient” in science on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, the most respected nationwide test, in 2011.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute reviewers of the science standards’ most recent draft agreed with Mac Donald.

“[R]ecommended ‘practices’ dominate [the standards], and basic science knowledge—which should be the ultimate goal of science education—becomes secondary,” they wrote. They also criticized the loss of crucial science content, such as acids and bases in chemistry, and flat-out inaccuracies.

“The passion for ‘critical thinking skills’ grows out of this know-nothing response that somehow learning facts is demeaning and is something that students don’t enjoy,” Mac Donald said. “It sells knowledge short to think that being able to master a body of knowledge and understand photosynthesis or DNA replication, that that’s not a challenge and exciting for students.” 


Image by Jeremy Wilburn.