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PED flip-flops on science standards

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By Wren Propp

Following a crowded, eight-hour public hearing on Monday, the state Public Education Department’s secretary designate decided proposed science standards should include the age of the Earth, after all.
The proposed science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade were based on nationally developed Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS or Next Gen, but tweaked and edited by the state public education department and introduced in mid-September.
Some of the edits and omissions have drawn fire from a host of New Mexicans, including 61 science and engineering fellows at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Los Alamos school board, students and teachers.
Secretary Designate Christopher Ruszkowski issued a statement Tuesday night via the department’s spokeswoman’s IPhone, stating he had listened to the “thoughtful input received and will incorporate many of the suggestions into the New Mexico Standards,” following the hearing.
The statement also pushes back at some of the criticism leveled at the hearing and in written public comments.
For example, science instruction in the middle school grades will now include asking students to “construct a scientific explanation based on evidence from rock strata for how the geologic timescale is used to organize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year-old history.”
However, a note in the statement says: “The science standards New Mexico adopted in 2003 did not include the age of the Earth of 4.6 billion years.” The 2003 standards mention the age of life on earth at 3.5 billion years, drawn from the layers of sedimentary rock, the fossil record and radioactive dating, the note said.
Greg Swift, with a PhD in physics, is a LANL Fellow who helped spearhead the writing and publishing of a letter signed by 61 LANL Fellows earlier this month saying the proposed changes made to Next Gen had “absolutely no scientific rationale for weakening the treatment of these subjects,” said Ruszkowski’s reversal is still puzzling.
“I don’t know why they’re afraid of just adopting NGSS; there’s got to be a reason,” Swift said on Wednesday after reading emailed statement from Ruszkowski’s spokeswoman.
Fiddling with Next Gen as it was developed beginning in 2013, by a consortium of 26 states, including the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Research Council was a common theme at the hearing, where critics wondered why the changes were necessary. Swift added on Wednesday that the controversy has detracted from what should be important: NGSS should be recognized as a rigorous effort to weave complex curriculum, performance standards and instruction requirements together for students.
He said he attended the entire eight hours of the hearing on Monday, estimating that about 80 people spoke, and none of whom were supportive of the public education department’s proposal, he said.

Other highlights from the spokeswoman’s email citing Ruszkowski:

-Evolution will be mentioned more frequently. For example, the high school curriculum calls for students to “construct an explanation based on evidence that the process of evolution primarily results from four factors: (1) the potential for a species to increase in number; (2) the heritable genetic variation of individuals in a species due to mutation and sexual reproduction; (3) competition for limited resources; and (4) the proliferation of those organisms that are better able to survive and reproduce in the environment,” according to the email.

-Climate change will be included in studies by middle school and high school students. In middle schools, students and teachers will “ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century. And in high schools, students and teachers will “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,” according to the email.