Lacey Wieser: A champion for accurate science education

Lacey Wieser took a principled stand against efforts to cast doubt on the scientific evidence of evolution in proposed Arizona science standards. We've honored her work with a 2019 Friend of Darwin award.

“I had to do it. There was no ‘choice,’” Lacey Wieser explains about her decision last year to resign as Arizona’s Director of K–12 Science and STEM. The Arizona superintendent of public instruction, Diane Douglas, had just asked Wieser to strike references to evolution in a draft set of science standards whose development she oversaw.

“I don’t see what I did as a heroic thing because it just felt like the only thing to do,” Wieser continues, despite the fact that she left her position without another job in hand, leading to financial uncertainty for herself and her family.

Wieser’s resignation in February 2018 was the start of a mobilization effort that brought together science teachers, interested organizations like NCSE and Climate Parents, and other members of the public to challenge the proposed changes orchestrated by Douglas, changes that would have resulted in a casting of doubt on the scientific evidence of evolution.

As if that weren’t enough, Douglas wanted Wieser to put those changes forward to the state board of education as the work of a committee composed of Arizona science teachers that had drafted the initial standards.

I won’t give Arizona teachers bad standards. And I won’t put the blame for those standards on teachers who didn’t write them.

“I was told to make those changes and present the standards to the state education board as the committee’s work,” Wieser recounts. “And I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t undermine every teacher who was on that committee and make it seem like they didn’t understand science. I won’t give Arizona teachers bad standards. And I won’t put the blame for those standards on teachers who didn’t write them. It was a no-go.”

That was on a Thursday. The following Monday, Wieser turned in her resignation.

Though Wieser downplays her decision to end her nearly 15-year career at the Arizona Department of Education, saying that in fact it was easy because it was the only one she could live with, the Arizona Science Teachers Association recognized her courage by naming her as the state’s 2018 Science Leader of the Year. And this year, NCSE honored Wieser by presenting her with a Friend of Darwin award.

“Lacey Wieser felt so strongly about evolution education that she continued to advocate for its place in Arizona's science standards even after her resignation,” NCSE’s Executive Director Ann Reid says when explaining the decision to confer the Friend of Darwin Award upon Wieser.

In the end, Wieser’s behind-the-scenes mobilization efforts paid off. She worked in the background to alert teachers and teacher organizations about the possible changes to the standards that might be forthcoming. She enlisted the aid of NCSE to generate interest in the unfolding story among state media outlets, and to notify local members about Douglas’s efforts to undermine the standards. She informed her education networks about upcoming board meetings when the draft standards would be open for public comment. And she gave interviews to local media to shine a light on what was at stake.

“Typically Arizona gets in a draft release of the standards anywhere from 100 to 400 individuals commenting on the draft,” Wieser notes. “With the press attention, I think there were 1,500 unique responses to the draft. It definitely packed the boardroom—press came to the board meetings—and that typically doesn’t happen in a standards adoption process.”

Wieser continues, “I don’t think we would have had the same impact if it hadn’t been for NCSE.”

Ultimately, the state board voted to adopt the standards without Douglas’s revisions and with the material about evolution restored. It was a victory for science teachers and, most importantly, for students throughout the state.

Wieser is still involved in science education, helping to support the review of instructional materials that claim alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards via her work at an organization called EdReports. She believes that one of the big obstacles to a quality science education continues to be “willful ignorance” towards science, which was the case with Douglas (who lost her post in the following election) and certain other education officials in Arizona.

“The denying of science is huge because it’s really hard to make a case for quality science education when a part of the population doesn’t value or ‘believe’ in science,” Wieser says.

In Arizona, for the moment, the value of accurate, effective, quality science education is in fact understood. Many had a hand in ensuring that outcome, but perhaps no one put more on the line towards that goal than Lacey Wieser. 

Paul Oh
Short Bio

Paul Oh is Director of Communications at NCSE.
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