If you believe education should be based in scientific fact, you can breathe a huge sigh of relief. New Mexico's Public Education Department has scrapped plans to overhaul the state's teaching standards. The proposed changes would have severely weakened (and, in some cases, deleted) certain scientific facts, such as climate change and the theory of evolution.
Last Tuesday, the department announced they would be using an uncensored copy of the Next Generation Science Standards for science, technology, engineering, and maths, rather than the altered version they had initially put forward. These standards act as a guide for educators and are what the school curricula and tests are built around.
The initial changes were supposed to grant teachers and families “flexibility and local control around science materials, curriculum and content,” explained Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. He said they came up with these standards after a series of "informal" chats with students, teachers, and parents.
The proposed alterations to the standards would have challenged the scientific consensus around climate change, evolution, and even the age of the Earth. They also overplayed the role of the oil and gas industry in New Mexico, which have led many critics to argue that the department was pandering to pressures from special interest groups and big businesses, as well as creationists and climate change deniers.
“These changes are evidently intended to placate creationists and climate change deniers,” Glenn Branch, the deputy director of the nonprofit National Center for Science Education, told Mother Jones.
Not shockingly, these proposals came under attack from members of the scientific and education community. Over 200 people turned up to a public hearing last Monday to demonstrate their opposition.
“I am appalled that the state of New Mexico would choose to disregard research-based standards in place of politically motivated and scientifically inaccurate information," Melissa DeLaerentis, coordinator of a math and science learning center for Las Cruces Public Schools, told The Albuquerque Journal.
“Students trained to these standards may not be ready to keep up with their peers from states following more rigorous standards,” William Pockman, chairman of the biology department at the University of New Mexico, told the journal.
New Mexico's senators, Tim Udall and Martin Heinrich, also opposed the move, explaining why in an article published on Medium, as did several of the State's religious leaders. Rabbi Neil Amswych said it called into question "the entire academic integrity of the Public Education Department” and Roman Catholic Pastor Vincent Paul Chavez argued the new standards would hold students hostage to a “political-creationist agenda.”
A complete version of the standards is still to be released.