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Many oppose proposed changes to science education standards

Kassi Nelson
October 16, 2017 06:22 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Hundreds of people gathered for a public hearing at the Public Education Department building Monday regarding the state's proposed science standards, but they didn't wait for the meeting to start voicing their opinion.

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Dozens showed up early at Mabry Hall, all with one plea to the PED. They want the department to rethink the proposed standards.

"And if your politics are such that you have to deny anthropogenic climate change and evolution in order to win votes, you need a conscience," said Rabbi Neil Amswych, a former astrophysicist.

The politically charged rally on the doorstep of the public education building drew people of all ages from across New Mexico. They urged PED to adopt the national science standards as is and without the state's proposed changes.

"People saying, 'Wait, you didn't ask me?' because whoever the PED talked to, it wasn't the people who are lined up here," said Ellen Loehman with the New Mexico Science Teachers Association.

Those changes include referring to human-caused climate change as "temperature fluctuation" and leave out references to evolution and the age of the Earth.

"When I was in middle school, these things were being discussed. It seems ridiculous after all these years to have it come back again," said Dan Roller, who attended the rally.

The meeting itself lasted hours, and many people were not happy with what children could soon be required to learn. Some wondered if the Education Secretary-Designate Christopher Ruszkowski is hearing their concerns at all.

It was standing room only, and several waited at the door. Yet different voices said the same thing.

"I'm appalled that the state of New Mexico would choose to disregard research-based standards in place of politically motivated and scientifically inaccurate information," said Melissa DeLaurentis, coordinator of secondary STEM education.

The crowd included educators and scientists passionate about urging Ruszkowski to reconsider the changes before implementing them for students. Critics say students will be at a disadvantage by reducing talk of evolution and the age of the Earth, along with changing the term climate change.

"To do so is literally the antithesis of science," Amswych said. "It calls into question the entire academic integrity of the PED."

The American Federation of Teachers says they've gathered more than 500 signatures petitioning PED to drop the changes to the proposal and adopt the national standards.

It's ultimately up to the PED secretary-designate to decide what educators are required to teach. But with the secretary-designate encouraging input, many noticed Ruszkowski did not attend the public hearing.

"The secretary-designate has apparently chosen not to be here today and it's interesting," said state Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces. "I mean, if he can't take the heat, don't get in the kitchen. And his absence shows just how poor these changes are."

Ruszkowski's spokesperson says he's celebrating well-performing schools in Roswell. KOB reached out to him with questions about where the input goes from here and when he plans to sign the proposal. A statement in response said:

This proposal was created after studying the work of leading states around the country and is designed to create as much flexibility as possible for our local schools and districts. New Mexico’s public education system has made unprecedented progress over the past three years—with our students rising to the challenge of more rigorous academic standards in both reading and math. Today represents an important step forward in the state’s comprehensive STEM-Ready agenda—with new proposed standards that could replace our current, outdated standards. As we move forward together, there is an opportunity for all New Mexicans to come together and rally around a higher bar that will better prepare students for the next generation of job opportunities and to stop some of the public posturing that continues on this issue. The next phase is the all important work of implementation, and the PED will be laser-focused on what that looks like for our educators and students.

Credits

Kassi Nelson

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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