Proposed changes to science ed raises concerns in Los Alamos

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LAPS school board to release resolution on proposed rules next week

By Wren Propp

Proposed changes to a rule guiding science education standards in New Mexico’s public schools are gathering attention in Los Alamos, home to many of the state’s scientists.

A draft of a proposal released earlier this month by the state’s Public Education Department has seen some strong reaction, and push back to the criticism, plus a snarky headline in Mother Jones magazine: “New Mexico Doesn’t Want Your Kids to Know How Old the Earth Is…And Why It’s Getting Warmer.”

The proposed rule changes, called New Mexico STEM-Ready for Science Standards, replace rules for science standards that are several years old. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

State lawmakers earlier this year had passed a bill supporting changes that mirror the Next Generation Science Standards. Called Next Gen for short, a national advisory council had developed the new standards over the past several years. Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the bill.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, said she had analyzed the Next Gen standards through work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation. The proposal made by the state PED appears to be a weakened version in some areas, she said. A teacher, chair of the House of Representatives’ Education Committee, and vice chair of the Legislature’s interim committee on education, Garcia Richard said omissions of some of the Next Gen material from the proposed rule weaken it.

“It kind of dilutes it,” she said.

Constituents, including teachers and scientists, have expressed concern to her that in some areas, the proposal appears to exchange science for political belief, such as using the term “climate fluctuations,” instead of climate change.
PED Secretary designee Christopher Ruszkowski did not return a request to comment regarding reaction to the proposed rule.

In response to a request for comment from the president of the Los Alamos Public Schools’ board, LAPS Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus said President Jenny McCumber was preparing a resolution on the proposed rules.

He said a draft of the resolution would be released on Monday, three days prior to a meeting of the school board on Thursday.

Whitney Holland, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, the union of school employees, said the proposed rules as written may push some teachers to teach about things they don’t believe.

She has already prepared a written statement in response to the proposed rule. It reads in part: “Given the high science standards set by New Mexico’s scientists, its incumbent upon us to adopt standards that push NM students even further.”

A progressive political activism group in Los Alamos, Voices of Los Alamos, called the proposed changes “outrageous,” in all caps, and encouraged its membership to send in comments.

The PED published a notice of hearing on the rule changes. The hearing will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Oct. 16 in Mabry Hall at the Jerry Apodaca Education Building, 300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, NM, 87501. According to the notice, attendees who wish to speak will be given three minutes to make a statement; written comments also will be accepted at the hearing.

Written comments about the rule changes, which are available on the PED’s website, must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Oct. 16. Comments may be submitted via email to rule.feedback@state.nm.us. Written comments may also be submitted in person to Jamie Gonzales, Policy Division, New Mexico Public Education Department, Room 101, 300 Don Gaspar Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87501.

The citation of the proposed rule is 6.29.20 NMAC.