New science standards adopted in Utah despite opposition

The Utah state board of education voted 11-4 to adopt a proposed new set of high-school-level state science standards on June 6, 2019, despite resistance from a few members of the board centering on evolution and climate change.

"[Board member Alisa] Ellis said she disagrees with how the teaching guidelines ask students to prove climate change is caused by humans," according to the Salt Lake Tribune (June 7, 2019). "Member Jennie Earl asked to strike any language that said the planet is 4.6 billion years old. Lisa Cummins, who represents Herriman and southwest Salt Lake County, said she doesn't understand why only carbon is studied as a greenhouse gas and not water vapor."

But their complaints were rebuffed by Ricky Scott, the state's science specialist. A teacher present at the meeting was quoted by the Tribune as describing their complaints as reflecting "significant misconceptions about science and the scientific process." In a subsequent editorial (June 10, 2019), the Tribune characterized the complaints as "politically rather than scientifically driven ... [or] motivated by religious beliefs."

After what the Tribune described as "a grueling back-and-forth," the standards were adopted without the changes proposed by the board members critical of the treatment of climate change and evolution. The new standards will be in place no sooner than the 2020-2021 school year.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.