COMMENTARY: Next Generation Science Standards focus on hands-on, problem solving-based learning rather than rote memorization and teaching to a test. They also equip students with the updated science information and skill sets needed to compete for 21st Century jobs.
Unfortunately, Susana Martinez has failed over the last four years to put these new standards in our classrooms, even after her own staff professionals recommended them. That’s why we sponsored the Next Generation Science Standards bill in this past year’s legislative session. During one of the committee hearings, a former member of her staff admitted the reason for the governor’s decision. “Toward the end of my tenure at the Public Education Department, I was tasked to edit and change some of the language in the standards to make them politically sanitized.” After having passed both the House and Senate, the governor vetoed the bill.
We didn’t know what was meant by “sanitized” until last week, when the governor released her version of the standards. The word “evolution” was replaced with the term “biological diversity.” Language documenting the Earth’s rising temperature (which has been proven over and over again) was replaced with words describing temperature “fluctuations.” The age of the Earth (widely seen by the scientific community as 4.6 billion years) was completely stripped. It was all in an attempt to politicize science education.
Apparently Martinez agrees with Donald Trump that facts and research are less important than bowing before a small, tea party minority. This, even though terrible hurricanes affecting our neighboring state and massive wildfires here and throughout the West show how real climate change is.
There are many specific reasons why her decision is monumentally stupid.
First, it’s hypocritical. In New Mexico, the oil and gas industry needs geologists that know how the earth below us works, like the fact that fossil fuels have been forming for millions of years. Furthermore, most modern farmers rely on genetic research for crops, pesticides and fertilizer. This is exactly the same thing that happens naturally through the process of evolution.
So the governor’s decision would specifically hurt energy businesses in Farmington and Artesia and agricultural industries like chile and pecans.
It is also terrible for both education and our students’ futures. For every person in our state with a certificate in science, engineering, technology and math there are 2.1 jobs available. For everyone else, there are 3.3 people looking for a job. That means we want to encourage STEM education that New Mexicans will need for 21st Century jobs.
Unfortunately, the governor’s decision to water down science education puts our students at a disadvantage to those from other states. When New Mexicans approach Amazon or Microsoft to either apply for work, or offering our state as a choice to locate, what happens? Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos — who have donated billions to fight climate change — won’t take us seriously, and will probably laugh in our faces. It’s why Kansas, which stripped education of any mention of evolution in 1999, now uses the full, non-politicized Next Generation Science Standards.
This is also terrible for higher education. UNM, NMSU, and Tech faculty also want their work to be taken seriously and expect students to come in with an up-to-date understanding of how the world around them works. For instance, removing a reference to the age of the Earth is as ridiculous as claiming the world is flat, and potential professors will also laugh at us when we recruit them here.
In short, changing science education for political reasons is bad for jobs, bad for kids and bad for our universities. We should all work hard to make sure students learn science as it is, not how Martinez and Trump want it to be.
G. Andrés Romero is a Democratic state representative and a teacher at Atrisco Heritage High School in Albuquerque. Bill McCamley is a Democratic state representative from Las Cruces and chair of the House Labor and Economic Development Committee. Agree with their opinion? Disagree? NMPolitics.net welcomes your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.