Evolution, Climate Change, and The Big Bang Theory to be Eliminated From Arizona K-12

Superintendent Diane Douglas

Superintendent Diane Douglas

Later this year, the Arizona State Board of Education will consider adopting new K-12 standards in both Science and History/Social Studies.

The consideration of standards for these core subjects has nearly always met increased scrutiny and controversial consideration from segments of the population with different perspectives because these disciplines touch on topics that can potentially challenge a person’s or group’s belief system.

This year is no exception as the new proposed Arizona K-12 Science Standards have invited negative reactions from members of the mainstream education and science community because of the terms and concepts it has attempted to strike away and the closed-door process Superintendent Diane Douglas’s unknown internal reviewers adopted after being presented with the original draft version of the standards.

Forbidden terms, reworded behind closed doors.

Evolution is the most prominent term altered in the proposed new Arizona K-12 Science Standards. Stricken mostly wherever it is mentioned and redefined as the Theory of Evolution, the word is not even included among the many key terms the reviewers added. Several standards and terms pertaining to the process do remain in a more openly worded form. (Changes in green writing can be found on pages 4, 20, 27, 30, 32, 42, 44, 46, 64, 69, and 72 of the Proposed Science Standards)

The term Climate Change is nowhere to be found. There is a sentence that includes the phrase change of climate and there are standards that allude to it and some concepts/terms. However, discussion of alternative energy options, depending on the grade level is nonexistent, stricken, or reworded. (Changes in green writing can be found on pages 21, 25, 40, and 60 of the Proposed Science Standards)

The Big Bang Theory: Stricken entirely and the more ambiguous consideration of all theories of the universe has been substituted in a probable attempt to appeal to the proponents of Intelligent Design. (Page 62 of the Proposed Science Standards)

One saving grace in these standards is at least we have progressed since the time of the Scopes Trial that the geological ages of the planet and continental drift are included and do not seem to be in question.

The Open and Closed Process of Developing the Science Standards

At first, according to Lacey Wieser, a former Biology instructor, 110 educators worked in an open (with published agendas and meeting summaries on the Department of Education website) yearlong process to develop Science Standards per grade level based, in part, on the higher thinking skills of Blooms Taxonomy. Wieser,  had spent 14 years at the Department of Education before resigning as the Director of K-12 Science and S.T.E.M. Education at the Arizona Department of Education this last January.

Items like key concepts and terms were to be included in supplemental instructional guidance pieces for local districts to consider when developing their local curriculums. On average, 25 to 30 Science Educators would convene in each meeting, discuss progress, and develop the new standards. Wieser would act as a facilitator and routinely update Education Leadership at the Department on their progress.

A member of this committee, Barbara Reinert (a Science Curriculum specialist in the Scottsdale Unified District with more than 20 years of teaching Science at all levels), echoed about the openness of the process and how it drew educators from over 80 school districts and 13 of Arizona’s 15 counties. The educators utilized many sources, mainly drawing from the research-based The Framework for K-12 Science Education and Working with Big Ideas in Science. During this period, when the committee met, there was no active involvement or feedback from the Superintendents office.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Wieser met with Superintendent Douglas and submitted the proposed new K-12 Science Standards so there would be time to place its review before the State Board of Education at its December board meeting. However, department leadership contacted Wieser the next day and informed her that the Superintendent had reservations about the current draft and pulled it from the December board meeting agenda.

Non-transparent process

After the Thanksgiving Holiday, the proposed standards were placed into internal review where reviewers not connected to the original committee examined them. This non-transparent process went from late November to the end of January. No changes were made to the document at this time and Wieser and the other original committee members were not involved during this period. At the end of January, Wieser was summoned by Department leadership and directed to edit the standards based on the discussions of the internal reviewers. The original committee of 110 instructors was not invited to participate in this phase.

Rather than complete revisions in a nontransparent fashion that she felt would hurt the standards process and minimize the efforts of the 110 science specialists that devoted a year into composing the first draft, Ms. Wieser resigned four days after receiving the document. An Arizona Department of Education “internal process” composed of ADE staff completed the revisions people can see in green ink after Wieser left.

Negative and hostile reaction

 The negative and hostile reaction from the Educational and Science instructor Communities has been near unanimous.

The two major Democratic Candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, and David Schapira, have both criticized Superintendent Douglas for the closed-door process she conducted on their Facebook pages. They are both calling for the public to contact the Department of Education by the end of the public comment period on the standards (May 28) and ask them to address the issues pointed out by Wieser and other science educators and organizations.

A return to an open process

Wieser, Reinert, and other educators through organizations like AZSELA (Arizona Science Education Leadership Organization) recommend several options to remedy the situation. All agreed that there needs to be a return to the open process with the 110 qualified and dedicated science educators from the original committee reconciling any differences or inaccurate content in the current draft. All agree with the jettisoning of the Key Concepts section the unknown members of the Internal Review installed.

Wieser favors the inclusion of supplemental instructional guide districts can draw the key concepts from. AZSELA favors the continuance and expansion of professional development opportunities for science instructors. They all favor the restoration of topics like evolution and other key topics. As another educator, Michael Vargas, a Physics instructor from the Paradise Valley District interviewed pointed out “you can’t teach Biology without evolution” and you cannot, using the analogy of dentists performing open-heart surgery, have non-science educators writing the Science Standards.

In all fairness, a case can be made that the inclusion of key facts and concepts within the standards may be better than having it in supplemental documents. Having all students master the same concepts, terms and standards is a strong foundation that would lead to students developing the higher critical thinking skills in the upper range of the Blooms Taxonomy scale. There is also the added consideration of students moving to different districts where the specialists in that school system may have a slightly different strategy to master the standards with a somewhat different set of terms.

However, while including the key facts and concepts within the standards may be appropriate, revising these standards in closed-door non-transparent meetings by analysts whose science background is in question is not. Striking out scientifically accepted terms like evolution and Big Bang Theory is also not conducive to providing a high-quality education.

The consideration of Science (and History) Standards for the classroom has generated heated reactions from certain reactionary communities for the last 100 years and they, unfortunately, will probably continue to do so. Below are links to the scenes from the movie “Inherit the Wind” and the television show “The West Wing” to illustrate that. In his interview, Vargas rightly comments that “science does not care about your belief system…It is not a left or right thing. Science is science. When we turn our back on that, there is a problem.”

Reactionary groups

The reactionary groups that want to shape science education by omitting terms like evolution and The Big Bang in Science Education Standards have no place in shaping public education policy. If they want a school that follows their beliefs, they should build their own private school with their own money and recruit families who will pay their own money to have their children enroll. Public Education is for children of all families, with different belief systems, to attend and receive instruction from Highly Qualified Content and Instructional Specialists who are equipped with a quality and updated well-rounded curriculum.

People should follow the advice of the people interviewed for this piece and read the proposed standards. The link to them is below. If you have comments to make, please do so by May 28. More importantly, please pay attention to when the latest version standards come before the board and how the members debate the issue of adoption. It is through active and informed citizenship that sound decisions are mostly made.

https://cms.azed.gov/home/GetDocumentFile?id=5ab9460f3217e11ee4f2f427

http://www.azfamily.com/story/38198367/evolution-nixed-in-portions-of-az-school-science-standards-draft?autostart=true

http://knau.org/post/science-educators-raise-alarms-about-revised-k-12-standards

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtNdYsoool8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqVRfCCejhs

 

 

 

 

7 responses to “Evolution, Climate Change, and The Big Bang Theory to be Eliminated From Arizona K-12

  1. I have co-directed world-renowned professional development for science teachers for 24 years at ASU, after teaching science for 18 years. I speak from that perspective.
    So-called “key concepts” are inappropriate in the Science Standards document. At that visionary level, they distort science. They shift the focus from science as a hands-on, minds-on discipline that helps students make sense of the world, to memorizing a body of facts. The “key concepts” look like the old vocabulary terms emphasized in Arizona’s outdated standards from 2004. The Science Standards Committee who wrote the new document was charged to get away from this.
    I agree with Lacey Wieser, who said, “As a professional, as a science educator, I just could not support teaching students this incorrect idea of what science is.” “I think the changes shift from the focus from this idea of science as a discipline for helping students make sense of the world, to just really memorizing a body of facts.”
        Appropriate places for key concepts are at school district level: in concept maps when developing curriculum. And in professional development; district-wide and statewide by the ADE and others. And in resources: state and national, including textbooks.

  2. Frances Perkins

    The problem really is that the right wing doesn’t like to take questions or defend positions in public with public processes and hearings. Like most one party dictatorships they hate questioning in the open. There is a constant desire to slip things like this in, in the dark and dead of night. If they are always so sure they should defend their ideas in the sunshine. They know they cannot. And it’s constant, state budgets, special interest tax breaks, education standards, environmental standards, campaign donations disclosures, etc. I was in a forum and one of our US Senate candidates was ranting about common core standards. I asked her which grade school math or reading or science standards she objected to. Of course she couldn’t answer. It’s just a talking red meat point. “We just need readin’ , writin’ , and ciphering like my Daddy did, we don’t need no pointy headed dinosaur stuff.”

  3. I have co-directed world-renowned professional development for science teachers for 24 years at ASU, after teaching science for 18 years. I speak from that perspective.
    So-called “key concepts” are inappropriate in the Science Standards document. At that visionary level, they distort science. They shift the focus from science as a hands-on, minds-on discipline that helps students make sense of the world, to memorizing a body of facts. The “key concepts” look like the old vocabulary terms emphasized in Arizona’s outdated standards from 2004. The Science Standards Committee who wrote the new document was charged to get away from this.
    I agree with Lacey Wieser, who said, “As a professional, as a science educator, I just could not support teaching students this incorrect idea of what science is.” “I think the changes shift from the focus from this idea of science as a discipline for helping students make sense of the world, to just really memorizing a body of facts.”
    Appropriate places for key concepts are at school district level: in concept maps when developing curriculum. And in professional development; district-wide and statewide by the ADE and others. And in resources: state and national, including textbooks.

    • Hi Dr. Jackson

      As I replied to our correspondence regarding this piece (and I conveyed in the article), the installing of key concepts and terms in the standards may be necessary in the event of a) Local Districts constructing different (slightly or otherwise) curriculum maps that result in b) students that move from district to another district may not get the same access to the same information. I am sorry we have a difference of opinion on this. Take care.

      • David,
        The Arizona Science Education Leadership Association (AzSELA), an organization of over 300 Arizona science coordinators, leading science teachers, and professional development providers, prioritizes removal of the so-called “key concepts”. I quote from the AZSELA position statement to the AZ State Board of Education (on March 23, 1018):

        “A specific area of concern is the addition of a column of “key concepts” to the standards’ detail. This addition has serious implications for interpretation of the standard. The key concepts are listed only as simple terms, without connection to … crosscutting concepts or the science and engineering practices. The result is a shift of teacher focus from rich connections in the standards themselves to a simplistic list of content-only terminology. The introduction of these “suggestions” effectively recreates a performance objective (PO) based set of standards at its best, and borders on a state mandated curriculum at its worst. This specifically goes against the instructions to, and intent of, the committee. The key concepts become simply another checklist for teachers, restricting and confining instruction and assessment, and keeping them from getting to the deeper levels of understanding required for effective science teaching and learning.”

        “We therefore request removal of the key concepts from the standards document, as they are too prescriptive, approaching the level of curriculum, and therefore represent an overreach of authority. The key concepts cannot take the place of the curriculum and professional development that will be needed for school districts and teachers to meet these standards. The standards document is not the place to address this issue. The standards are neither curriculum nor instructional practices. Instead, we would like to emphasize the need for teacher professional development, support, and resources …”

  4. For Sure Not Tom

    When I hire people for tech jobs, I try to find the smartest people for jobs that pay six figures, sometimes with stock options, and always with excellent benefits.

    These are great jobs. The kind that Arizona needs.

    It’s never happened, not yet, but if I saw Bob Jones or some other religious school on a resume, I’m not sure I’d keep reading.

    I work with lots of Christians, they don’t fear science like these crazy fundamentalists. This is not a Christian problem, this is a zealot problem.

    Tech jobs, and STEM jobs as a rule, require a knowledge of science, these things are not up for debate. How could I hire a science denier?

    There’s a reason that The Bible Belt is not known for tech centers and the jobs they bring. Diane Douglas and these others are literally screwing Arizona’s children out of a good career and a good life.

    They’re educating Arizona’s kids for jobs that went away 100 years ago.