Wyo. rejects new science teaching standards due to inclusion of climate change

Source: Elspeth Dehnert, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It’s been almost two weeks since Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) made the controversial decision to block a new set of science standards that include climate change in the curriculum. Now, education and climate change activists are speaking up to voice their concerns over the state’s bold decision.
Wyoming’s rejection of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) — a set of K-12 guidelines developed by national science education groups and delegates from 26 states — was initiated through a footnote to the state’s budget, which states, “neither the state board of education nor the department shall expend any amount appropriated under this section for any review or adoption of the next generation science standards.”State Rep. Matt Teeters (R) of Wyoming, who co-authored the provision, made it clear that NGSS’s inclusion of climate change fueled the last-minute decision to add the footnote into the budget.He told the Casper Star-Tribune that the standards “handle global warming as settled science,” and added, “There’s all kind of social implications involved in that that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming.”

Wyoming State Board of Education Chairman Ron Micheli agreed.

“I don’t accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact,” he told the Star-Tribune. “[The standards are] very prejudiced in my opinion against fossil-fuel development.”

But fellow board member Pete Gosar doesn’t think politics and science should mix.

“Science education should be left to the scientists,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think politics and politicians should, for the most part, stay out of it.”

Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education, echoed Gosar’s sentiment and told ClimateWire that Wyoming’s decision to block NGSS is likely based on ideological reasoning spurred by its dependence on fossil fuels.

Conflicts with state’s economy

“The fact of the matter is that they just have a lot of natural resources, particularly in terms of coal, oil and natural gas,” he said. “I guess some within the state view that as conflicting with what science tells us about the human contribution to climate change.”

Wyoming ranked second among states in total energy production in 2011, producing 10,353 trillion British thermal units of energy, and was the leading coal-producing state in 2012, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

Climate change activist Lisa Hoyos, whose organization, Climate Parents, helped to pass NGSS in several states, said that teaching climate science in schools is crucial to ensure the future creation of clean energy solutions and added that Wyoming’s decision to reject the new science standards may encourage other states to do the same.

“We are concerned that what Wyoming did could embolden anti-climate science activists who want to stop kids from learning the truth about climate science,” she said. “Parents who care about science should be very concerned about this alarming action.”

The rejection is also discouraging for the 30-plus educational professionals in the state who worked for more than a year and a half to craft what they considered an improvement of science standards, explained Gosar.

“It’s vitally important to continue to rework those standards as the world changes around us,” he added, “and I think that it’s going to be a tough role to fill if people know they can be undone in a sweep of a pen or a last-minute budget amendment.”