The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Public crystal clear on school science changes


October 22, 2017

New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski did his cause no favors Monday by skipping a public hearing on his department’s controversial changes to proposed science standards.

Ruszkowski’s stunning absence was the most glaring, but far from the only, problem faced by an overflow crowd of scientists, teachers, university professors, faith leaders and students who voiced concerns over the proposed changes:

• The venue — the 100-seat auditorium of the Jerry Apodaca Education Building in Santa Fe — was far too small to accommodate even half of those hoping to speak.

• The timing — holding the hearing on a weekday prevented many of the teachers and students who will be most directly affected by the proposed changes from attending.

• The explanation — neither Ruszkowski nor anyone else in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration was available to answer questions, such as where the proposed changes originated. Ruszkowski has previously made a nebulous reference to “stakeholders” — but has not said who those stakeholders are.

• The response — not one PED representative offered a comment to concerns voiced in the seven-hour meeting.

PED had plenty of notice that its proposed changes to the state science teaching standards were causing widespread consternation and should have made sure the hearing’s venue and time were accommodating to the public. And Ruszkowski should have made sure his calendar was clear the day of the hearing.

PED’s proposal is based on teaching standards outlined in the Next Generation Science Standards. The NGSS, published in 2013 by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences, has been adopted by 18 states and the District of Columbia. And it has received widespread support in New Mexico.

But PED is proposing about 30 changes to them.

Of the dozens of speakers who managed to address hearing officer Kimberly Ulibarri and PED general counsel Dawn Mastalir on Monday, not one supported PED’s changes. In addition to the public comments, PED received nearly 200 written comments regarding the issue. A review of the comments show the vast majority oppose PED’s changes — even though they are not that sweeping.

They include replacing a reference to Earth’s “4.6-billion-year history” with “geologic history” in the middle-school curriculum, as well as deleting the word “evolution” and replacing “rise” in global temperatures with “fluctuations.”

Herbert Van Hecke, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, seemed to sum up what nearly everyone in Monday’s audience felt: “Science is based on facts, evidence and hard work. We are not doing kids any favors by allowing scientific flimflam into the classroom.”

Ruszkowski has said a decision on the proposed changes won’t be made until the public has had a chance to weigh in — and it did, loud and clear, Monday, despite the poor venue and time. The real question is if anyone was listening.

— Albuquerque Journal


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