Thomas R. O'Donnell

Beware: Conservatives are targeting the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on October 8, 2013 at 8:08 am
A boy in school, standing in front of a blackboard.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

I’ve written about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and my fears that an Iowa Department of Education task force may be a smokescreen for Gov. Terry Branstad to kill them.

I also wrote about an important survey the task force is taking to get Iowans’ views on the standards. The survey ends Friday, October 11, and you must take it if you believe faux science like intelligent design (i.e., creationism) should be kept out of Iowa classrooms while fact-based science education, including evidence for anthropomorphic anthropogenic climate change, is kept in.

Because there are signs religious fundamentalists and conservative education activists will hijack the survey – as I feared. And there are signs I may be right about the smokescreen.

The evidence comes from Iowans for Local Control, an education website assembled by Shane Vander Hart, a Christian conservative gadfly whose self-authored biography includes stints as a youth minister and dean of students at a Christian high school. The site touts links to such radically conservative groups as the FAMiLY Leader, Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, Koch brothers-supported Tea Party groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, and others.

Vander Hart (who homeschools his children) has been banging the drum against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on his “local control” website. He also opposes the NGSS, which were written to mesh with the CCSS, and is staging an online petition drive asking state officials to reject both. (Although the petition erroneously calls them the Next Generation State Standards.)

The petition also wants the state to refuse all federal education money and give local school boards the exclusive right to set education standards, no matter how out of whack they may be with accepted science. As of Monday, the petition had gained only 278 electronic signatures.

(Remember the old days when people actually had to knock on doors and stand on street corners to get petition signatures? These days, it’s harder to take petitions seriously, since anyone can set one up and anyone can sign with a click. I’m not saying online petitions don’t serve a purpose; just that they have proliferated like dandelions in spring and are harder to distinguish through the weeds.)

Vander Hart’s website has taken notice of the task force survey, as I have, and is directing his presumably conservative readers to it. Apart from my small effort, I’m not sure anyone is directing supporters of fact-based science education to the survey. I’m also unsure how many readers Iowans for Local Control has, but I’m sure it’s more than my piddling following.

That means the anti-standards, anti-evolution, climate change denier crowd may have a greater than average influence on the survey results, which the task force is due to consider at its Oct. 16 meeting.

The other fear: Branstad and the Iowa Department of Education packed the task force with conservatives who will torpedo the standards or water them down. There are about 28 members, some with clearly solid credentials, such as Jerrid Kruse, science education professor at Drake University, and Leslie Flynn, an assistant professor or education at the University of Iowa.

But then there is Jill Jennings, listed on the task force website as a parent and substitute teacher from Spirit Lake. (Jennings also apparently is or was on the faculty at Sioux Valley Lutheran High School in Lakefield, Minn.) A week ago the Iowans for Local Control website ran an open letter from Jennings. The degree of misunderstanding she exhibits about the standards she is charged with reviewing is disturbing.

The first reason she lists for disliking the NGSS is:

I don’t think it’s constitutional. Our Founders wanted education and all educational decisions (such as standards and curriculum) to be the job of the states. (10th Amendment – “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”)

As I pointed out in a comment on her letter, the standards are constitutional because the state is choosing whether to adopt them, making it a local decision. No one is forcing Iowa to accept these standards and a federal agency did not draft them.

The standards are not a federal dictate. Educators from 26 states conferred for months to come up with them. There was only glancing federal involvement: support from the National Research Council, a congressionally chartered organization designed to aid lawmakers in making decisions with and about science.

And the standards only state what students should understand, not how they should be taught to gain that comprehension. Teachers still have control and the standards are designed to promote thinking skills over rote learning.

I find it surprising that a teacher would fail to understand this or how the standards were drafted. It makes me doubt whether she’s qualified to pass judgment on them.

Of course, that’s not all. Jennings goes on:

NGSS hits evolution more than any previous standards with no mention whatsoever of Intelligent Design.

Now she’s objecting to what is settled science, with volumes of data, both experimental and observational to back it, and advocating equal time for faux science.

The kicker:

A big chunk of the content concerns Global Warming. Every day more information comes out disproving this theory. I always thought it was a hoax anyway. I do not want our kids being indoctrinated into believing they are at fault for anything to do with the climate or the weather. Plus, I think it’s pretty egotistical for anyone to think that we can actually change the climate! (Emphasis is Jennings’s.)

The overwhelming majority of scientists endorse man-made influence as the best explanation for what’s happening to our climate. Plus, Jennings’s views are tremendously shortsighted and self-centered. Of course, teachers aren’t telling kids they personally are at fault for changing the climate. Youths probably are least to blame, having been on the planet such a short time.

It’s not egotistical to think we can change the climate. The fact is, we are changing it, and we are all to blame, precisely because acting together, billions of us can and are influencing the climate. The evidence is irrefutable.

If you agree that Iowa kids need factual science, not fairy tales, you must take this survey before it ends on Friday, Oct. 11. Pay special attention to the essay questions and endorse the NGSS evolution and climate change standards. Then come back here and let everyone know you did.

If you don’t do this, we could raise a generation of idiots who happily sing on the way to continued climate mayhem.

  1. In the second paragraph, I believe the word you were looking for is anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic. 😉

  2. […] cut and pasted from or echoed other documents, including task force member Jill Jennings’ open letter criticizing the standards. Others cited research supporting their views, for and against – […]

  3. […] For more on how we got to this point, skim my other posts on the NGSS, moving from my fear the Branstad administration was out to torpedo the standards, to a survey gathering opinions on the proposal, to conservative opposition. […]

  4. […] I feared the panel was a way for Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration to tank the standards. Many conservatives oppose the NGSS, saying they infringe on schools’ local control prerogative. The standards also teach […]

  5. […] review team, read this post. For more on a previous NGSS task force and its conclusions, see this, this, and […]

  6. […] the last two years I’ve watched as conservative groups sought to organize opposition to the standards. It first came to my attention in 2013, when a task force was assembled to […]

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