Santa Fe school board opposes new state science education standards

October 4, 2017 GMT

The Santa Fe school board has decided in a unanimous vote to oppose the state’s proposed new science education standards and is asking the New Mexico Public Education Department to adopt, instead, an already established set of guidelines created by a coalition of science teachers.

Following the board’s 5-0 vote on the action during a public meeting Tuesday, Santa Fe Public Schools is one of the first districts in the state to formally voice opposition to the state’s standards, which have met with harsh criticism from educators, scientists and others since they were released last month. Critics say the teaching guidelines water down important scientific concepts such as evolution and human causes for climate change.

The Los Alamos school district approved a similar measure last week, the Los Alamos Monitor reported.

Joe Guillen, executive director of the New Mexico School Boards Association, said Tuesday that he expects the Taos school board to follow suit in challenging the science standards.

The Santa Fe district will send its letter, signed by Superintendent Veronica García, to the Public Education Department by the end of the week, board members said.

Education department spokeswoman Lida Alikhani said Tuesday night that the agency had not yet received the letter but would respond after officials had a chance to review it.

The letter, introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, questions the authorship of the new standards, which would replace science guidelines last updated in 2003. The education department has declined to say who helped develop the new collection of benchmarks.

“This failure to disclose leaves open for question the authenticity of the proposed replacement,” the letter says.

The letter also questions why key principles such as the Earth’s age, the age of the first one-celled organism, biological evolution and rising global temperatures have been eliminated from the teaching standards.

Given the new standards’ emphasis on the importance of the oil and gas industry, the letter asks if that industry — as well as creationists who may believe that the Earth is only 10,000 years old — had any influence on creating the new standards.

The board is “deeply troubled” that the proposal does not align with the Next Generation Science Standards, created by the National Research Council and the National Science Teachers Association, the letter says. Those standards are widely considered a cohesive, interactive and integrated way to teach science.

At least 18 states have adopted the Next Generation standards, while other states, like New Mexico, have used them as a framework for building their own state-centric standards.

The Santa Fe school board has approved supporting a science “teach-in” at the Public Education Department building on Don Gaspar Avenue on Oct. 13 — three days before the education department holds a public hearing to take input from community members on the science standards.

Board member Steven Carrillo, who proposed the teach-in, told the board Tuesday that at least six notable scientists and one science student have agreed to take part in the demonstration.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.