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Wed July 24, 2013
Ky's New Science Standards Draw Heated Debate
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Supporters of Kentucky's new science education standards said the changes are needed to keep pace with other states and prepare students for college and careers. Opponents countered that the standards are "fascist" and "atheistic."
The Courier-Journal reports that the majority of comments during a Tuesday hearing on the new standards came from critics who questioned the validity of evolution and climate change. They railed against the standards as a threat to religious liberty, at times drawing comparisons to Soviet-style communism.
Nearly two dozen parents, teachers, scientists and advocacy groups commented at the state Department of Education hearing on the Next Generation Science Standards. The broad set of guidelines will revamp content in grades K-12 and help meet requirements from a 2009 law that called for improving education.
"Students in the commonwealth both need and deserve 21st-century science education grounded in inquiry, rich in content and internationally benchmarked," said Blaine Ferrell, a representative from the Kentucky Academy of Sciences, a science advocacy group that endorses the standards.
Dave Robinson, a biology professor at Bellarmine University, said neighboring states have been more successful in recruiting biotechnology companies. He said Kentucky could get left behind in industrial development if students fail to learn the latest scientific concepts.
The critics included parent Valerie O'Rear, who said the standards promote an "atheistic world view" and a political agenda that pushes government control.
Matt Singleton, a Baptist minister in Louisville, called teachings on evolution a lie that has led to drug abuse, suicide and other social afflictions.
"Outsiders are telling public school families that we must follow the rich man's elitist religion of evolution, that we no longer have what the Kentucky Constitution says is the right to worship almighty God," Singleton said. "Instead, this fascist method teaches that our children are the property of the state."
Another opponent, Dena Stewart-Gore of Louisville, suggested that the standards will marginalize students with religious beliefs.
Several critics said the new teachings will not fully incorporate evidence that may contradict human evolution and man-made climate change.
Daniel Phelps, an environmental geologist who spoke in support of Next Generation, said he was offended by comments suggesting that evolution leads to immorality and "death camps," calling it a horrible misrepresentation of scientists.
"I've actually read this, unlike many of the people who have commented today," he said. "Everything is actually based on evidence - arguments from evidence are actually given priority in the Next Generation Science Standards."
The standards, which incorporate all areas of science, were developed through a consortium of 25 other states and input from educators and scientists across the nation.
The Kentucky Board of Education adopted them in June in response to legislation from 2009 that called on state education leaders to better align coursework with other states and improve comparability with national and international benchmarks.
According to the department, Kentucky's current standards on biological evolution have remained in place since 2006, and the changes will update teachings with the latest research.
On climate change, the department says existing standards address the mechanisms behind weather and climate, but they do not draw an explicit link to human activities. Next Generation will ask middle and high schools students to consider the impact people have on climate.
The hearing's comments will be reviewed by education department staff and summarized into a statement of consideration with formal responses, said Kevin Brown, associate education commissioner and general counsel. Board members will then consider the comments and responses in August and decide whether to make changes or advance the standards to legislative committees for approval.