December 27, 2017

2017 Top Stories #3: Staking out standards

Laura Paskus

Ruby Lopez, 19, of Earth Care, a local environmental and social justice nonprofit, attended the protest and hearing. She's also a supplemental science teacher and said she doesn't want to see her students "left behind, or have less of a chance than students in other states."

Perceived political interference in the classroom made headlines this year, prompting harsh public reaction.

In March, the Santa Fe Reporter’s Matt Grubs reported the head of the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) ignored  a unanimous recommendation by a panel of math and science experts to implement the Next Generation Science Standards for four years.

See all of our year-end stories

As Grubs wrote:

The sensitive parts of the standards are a tiny but politically charged sliver: human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution. Those have been the sticking points for NGSS adoption in other states that, like New Mexico, lean heavily on revenues from extractive industries. And they were the only academic topics raised by senators and representatives who questioned the new standards this spring in the Capitol.

The New Mexico legislature passed a bill to implement the standards, but Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the bill. In her veto message, she wrote that PED was already “working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process.”

Legislators, including Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, blasted Martinez for vetoing the bill and PED for not enacting the nationally-recognized standards. As he told NM Political Report this spring, the next governor will need to understand how vital STEM education is for New Mexico’s students and for the future of the state.

At that time, we also tried to speak with PED’s experts and Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski—to no avail.

PED did open the issue to a 30-day public comment period, and at the end of that period held a hearing in Santa Fe in October.

Hundreds of New Mexicans waited outside the Jerry Apodaca Building for their turn to share  their thoughts about plans by the state to adopt the science standards, but with some key changes involving lessons on climate change, evolution and the Earth’s geological age.

Laura Paskus

George Packard (left) and Lynn Heffron (right) were among those who waited in line Monday morning to support the Next Generation Science Standards

Ruszkowski didn’t attend the public hearing, though a few days earlier he penned an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, writing:

Today, however, some claim to be seeking truth and social justice yet have consistently disparaged all other forms of measurement, data, accountability, evaluation and evidence on how to improve student outcomes, especially for our kids from low-income communities. For those taking that position or offering only misleading sound bites instead of taking constructive steps like scheduling a meeting or engaging in productive dialogue, let us not miss an opportunity to pull together and demonstrate a greater commitment to student success than public posturing.

While hundreds of people waited hours to speak, the hearing turned a little messy. People were allowed in only when they were about to speak and there was no place for the overflow crowd to watch the proceedings. A fire alarm evacuated the building at one point.

Not one person at the hearing gave public comment in support of the altered standards. And students showed up, too. Will Binettee, a senior at Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School, a charter school in Albuquerque, was incredulous over the entire issue.

“It seems like they’re trying to switch the science standards from scientifically-proven facts to intelligent design,” he told NM Political Report. “Evolution is a proven theory, and I can’t believe we’re still having this fight in education.”

Shortly after the hearing, Ruszkowsk released a statement. “We have listened to the thoughtful input received,” it read, “and will incorporate many of the suggestions into the New Mexico Standards.”

And that wasn’t the only fight over curricula in 2017. In October, New Mexico Rep. Andrés Romero, a social studies teacher, noticed that in the new Public Education Department’s End of Course (EOC) Assessment Blueprint for U.S. History, certain content was being removed.

As Romero noted:

History classes across New Mexico this year will not be tested on massive corporations and monopolies being forced to dismantle during the early twentieth century, the racial and ethnic conflict as people moved from farms to cities or the bravery of Rosa Parks in fighting segregation in the South.

This month, the Albuquerque NAACP president Harold Bailey “softened” on the exclusions. The Albuquerque Journal reported:

Bailey met with PED Deputy Secretary of Teaching and Learning Matt Montaño on Monday morning, and he is now convinced that PED is committed to inclusiveness and diversity. But Bailey would still like to see both civil rights leaders put back on the test.

In 2018, we’ll keep you updated on what happens, and also find out how the Next Generation Science Standards will be implemented.