Continued uncertainty in Wyoming

At its April 11, 2014, meeting, the Wyoming state board of education decided not to implement the Next Generation Science Standards, instead turning to a state department of education committee for further guidance. As NCSE previously reported, a footnote in Wyoming's budget for 2014-2016 precludes the use of state funds "for any review or adoption" of the Next Generation Science Standards, and one of its authors acknowledged that the NGSS's treatment of climate change is a reason for the prohibition. 

The provision was editorially condemned by the Casper Star-Tribune (March 20, 2014) and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (April 11, 2014). Before the board's meeting, the National Science Teachers Association urged (PDF) the board to adopt the NGSS. A similar recommendation was offered by a coalition assembled by Climate Parents including the Wyoming Science Teachers Association, the American Meteorological Society, the Wyoming Education Association, Interfaith Power and Light, and NCSE.

Instead of adopting the NGSS with the funds available to it before the new budget period begins, the board decided to turn the standards over to a state department of education committee — the same committee which previously unanimously recommended the adoption of the NGSS. WyoFile (April 12, 2014) notes, "the board didn't give the committee it asked to review the standards any direction, other than to say the panel of educators couldn't come back with the NGSS or similar standards."

According to K2 radio in Casper (April 11, 2014), "A motion to allow individual school districts to adopt their own science standards failed 6-3. Another motion to stop all further action on the NGSS died after not being seconded. Additionally, a motion to adopt the NGSS fell 6-3." A first motion to refer the standards back to the state department of education failed on a 5-4 vote, since a supermajority of six votes was necessary; the second motion for referral passed on a 7-2 vote.

The board was warned that adopting NGSS was not a choice. Two legislators attending the meeting claimed that the budget footnote was effectively immediately, K2 radio reported, and Governor Mead's education policy advisor said that she would advise the governor to reject the NGSS if the board voted to adopt it. Mead was quoted by Wyoming Public Media (April 10, 2014) as saying that climate change should "be presented [in public schools] in a way that there’s fair treatment of it and both perspectives are provided."

Public comments offered during the lengthy meeting focused on the NGSS's treatment of climate change, with educators and scientists defending the NGSS. According to WyoFile, "The common theme of those who testified against the NGSS was climate change and evolution are only theories, not facts." One such testifier cited the pending federal case of COPE v. Kansas State Board of Education, in which a creationist organization is claiming that the NGSS endorse a non-theistic religious worldview.

Wyoming is so far the only state in which opposition to the teaching of evolution and/or climate change succeeded in derailing adoption of the NGSS, with strong but unsuccessful opposition registered in Kansas and Kentucky. To date, the standards have been adopted in eleven states — California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — as well as the District of Columbia, which together contain more than a fifth of public school students in the country.

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