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Science standards

6/13/2013

State law requires Kansas to update science standards for K-12 classrooms every seven years. What usually should be a straight-forward assessment has, at times, turned controversial as conservative factions have had the votes to place religion on par with science in explaining the world to public school students.

Whether labeled creationism or intelligent design, non-secular beliefs have found their way into lesson plans on evolution in the past when conservatives held a majority on the Kansas State Board of Education.

This year, only two such votes were tallied. On Tuesday, a solid majority of eight adopted new standards that consider evolution a well-established and core scientific concept.

There should not have been any doubt BOE commissioners would have approved the Next Generation Science Standards. Kansas educators have been working on them for almost two years as one of 26 lead states developing the National Research Council's vision.

"I am extremely confident that by adopting the Next Generation Science Standards we are helping to prepare Kansas students to be ready not only for college-level science coursework, but also for science literacy in everyday life," said State Board Chairwoman Jana Shaver.

The standards outline what students should understand at each grade level. Individual districts will set up their own curricula to best foster learning science content, science practices and the underlying ideas that bring them together.

Hays High School physics teacher Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, who also is vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, expressed enthusiasm about what the standards will mean for her: "I can concentrate on teaching processes -- teaching kids how to think like scientists. I'm more concerned whether they can design and analyze an experiment. That's what science is all about."

We're pleased a majority of the state BOE believes the same. This is the only way Kansas youths will be taught facts about the physical world and its phenomena.

The non-profit educational think tank Thomas B. Fordham Institute believes the new standards are weaker than what exists today, citing a lack of detail on what key concepts students are to learn. While the institute might have a point to consider, its members really should have made their concerns known prior to the state BOE's vote. Fordham gave Kansas a "C" grade for the new science standards. We give the Fordham Institute an "F" for its timing.

We can't help but remain concerned Kansas board members such as Ken Willard rail against the standards thusly: "This non-objective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness."

We realize it's an elected position, but shouldn't the Kansas State Board of Education have certain minimum requirements to serve? Being able to define science would be a great place to start.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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