What's next in Wyoming?

Wyoming's newspapers continue to carry a variety of news and comment following the legislature's decision to preclude the use of any state funds to review or adopt the Next Generation Science Standards — a decision reportedly owing to objections to the NGSS's treatment of climate change, as NCSE previously reported — and the state board of education's subsequent decision not to implement the standards. Of particular interest are a guest column from a professor in the department of plant sciences at the University of Wyoming, a report on how teachers in Laramie, the third largest city in the state, are going to proceed, and a brief commentary from NCSE's deputy director.

In a guest column in the Casper Star-Tribune (April 27, 2014), Robin Groose of the University of Wyoming explored "how the science state lawmakers is choosing to ignore is used and explored on a daily basis in Wyoming." He cited his own work breeding WyoWinter feed peas "according to solid evolutionary principles," adding, "All our crops are genetically improved via evolutionary principles," particularly the breeder's equation derived from Fisher's fundamental theorem of natural selection. He also cited the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Supercomputing Center, wondering how the legislature could be so keen on bringing the center to the state while wanting to deny the knowledge it generates to the state's schoolchildren.

Groose described the NGSS as "high standards, generated bottom up from 26 states, endorsed top down by the National Academy of Sciences, unanimously accepted by a large and diverse group of Wyoming K-12 teachers, approved by so many Wyoming parents and already adopted by nine [actually eleven] states," and argued that there is no reason to insist on standards idiosyncratic to Wyoming: "Science is global. And Wyoming's children must become globally competitive." His column concluded with a plea for the students coming into the University of Wyoming to have a basic level of scientific literacy: "Truth be told, we must raise the bar for Wyoming students. Let's not dumb our children down."

The Laramie Boomerang (April 27, 2014) reported that local teachers supported the NGSS's treatment of evolution and climate science. Erin Klauk, who teaches earth and space science at Laramie High School, commented, "I think the standards are really well written," she said. "This is science. It's not politics. And people get upset about the political part of it, but as far as being a science teacher, it’s our job to teach the scientific data, to show the kids the data." Her colleague Angie Varca, who teaches chemistry, added, "If we don't teach all of our students about the pros and cons associated with fossil fuels, and also look at possibilities for addressing rising CO2 levels, … we're doing our students a disservice ... The data is very strong that there is climate change taking place."

Suzanne Perry, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Laramie school district, told the newspaper that the district is using portions of the standards even without the legislature's blessing: "We select the pieces that work for us, even in light of the state not adopting them." Tamara Bretting, a chemistry teacher at Laramie High School, explained, "We’ve been modifying the curriculum to add pieces from the NGSS that we didn't already have in our classes, and we've been doing that for over a year ... "So I don't think [the legislature's decision to block the adoption of the NGSS is] going to side-rail us too much, or take us a step back."

Finally, NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch wrote a letter published in the Casper Star-Tribune (April 27, 2014) in response to the editorial question of how climate change should be taught. Branch urged that climate change should be taught in accordance with the current scientific consensus and in a grade-level-appropriate way, citing the Next Generation Science Standards as a good example. He also recommended that climate change should be presented by making it local, human, pervasive, and hopeful. Branch concluded, "It is increasingly important for the science of climate change to be taught ... so future citizens are able to make scientifically informed decisions about the consequences of climate change."

We can't afford to lose any time when it comes to the future of science education.

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