The 11 members of the Wyoming Board of Education have a mission. They are to “set policy that will create educational systems in Wyoing that cultivate a mind for a student who will live in a world where rapid change will be the norm and the ability to adapt will be critical.”
It is a tall order. Developing such an educational system takes thought, time and consideration. This is why a committee was formed to study updated science standards for the state. After more than a year of discussion, the committee made up of parents and educators,unanimously recommended the state board adopt what is known as the Next Generation Science Standards. Yet, a last-minute footnote to the state budget bill that prohibits the board or Wyoming Department of Education from spending money to review or adopt the standards, shot down all of the work already completed. Why have a board responsible for such tasks when the Legislature can shoot down their decision in a heartbeat? According to statewide news reports, the original author of the footnote sought to halt the state’s revision of science standards for several more years. The standards were last updated in 2003. In an ever-changing world where new discoveries are made everyday, that is an eternity. A key reason, likely, is that the new standards expect students to understand that humans have altered our biosphere — essentially reinforcing that global warming is real. Every resident in Wyoming understands the role the energy sector plays in the state’s economy. Most residents also are at least aware of the argument that fossil fuels such as coal contribute to what is known as global warming. Legislators, such as one of the footnote’s authors Rep. Matt Teeters of Lingle, do not like that the standards handle global warming as a settled science and the social implications that could result from teaching such concepts in our schools.
The standards were developed by 26 states over several years and released in April 2013. The process included state education experts, scientists, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Since then, nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. A 10th state is awaiting Legislative approval. Wyoming was the first state to officially reject them.
Before the footnote was passed, reports indicate that the board had already asked the committee to revise the standards to present climate change as a theory and include the benefits of the extractives industry in Wyoming.
While climate change seems to be at the heart of Wyoming legislators’ rejection of the standards, in other states, critics took issue with the material on evolution.
Each state can choose whether to adopt the Next Generation standards. But it is also true that education standards should be insulated from politics and while this doesn’t always happen, it should be the gold standard for which every Wyoming leader should strive. The Wyoming Legislature should stay out of the way and let the state Board of Education do its job, no matter how inconvenient the facts presented seem to be.