This tale from out team member Dr. Hare provides insight into how curricular decisions are made across the US at the state level. The account gives insight into the effects of top-down curriculum (what we teach) decision making has on students, teachers, and schools.
The recent proclamation by the New Mexico Public Education Department (NM PED) Math and Science Bureau touting that they are “STEM Ready!” has resulted in a statewide outcry by teachers, administrators, parents, students, and scientists. The altering and omission of wording in the New Mexico Common Core State Standards (NM CCSS) that references the age of the Earth, evolution, and climate change, originally included in the NM PED’s Science and Math Advisory Council’s unanimous recommendation that the state adopt, without revision, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), is extremely concerning in an educational environment that bases mandated tests, teacher and school evaluations, and high school graduation on the NM CCSS. When standards prevent educators from teaching necessary facts, information, and research, it becomes unclear as to who benefits.
According to the Common Core Standards Initiative website, “the official home of the Common Core State Standards,” the development of the standards included the “experience of teachers, content experts, states, and leading thinkers” and “feedback from the public” (corestandards.org, 2017). Each course of study at the kindergarten through high school levels is founded by a set of standards and benchmarks. As deemed necessary at the state level, these standards are revised, and the process for revisions follow the same process of stakeholder input.
The NGSS were released by a 26-state collaboration of educational science experts. The standards were based on a framework designed by the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council (NRC) and were ultimately reviewed by an 18-member team of experts compiled by the NRC. As stated in the NGSS website, the development of the standards included a rigorous rewriting process that “went through several rounds of review with multiple stakeholder groups” (nextgenscience.org, 2017).
As a high school teacher, I question why I should trust anything coming out of the NM PED as important to my proficiency as an educator. With STEM being rolled out as the path to a meaningful educational experience, I am asked to accept the obvious irony of this move by those who control the foundation of my curriculum. This irony includes teaching in a state that is continually nationally ranked at the bottom of the educational barrel. This irony includes discounting recommendations made by a professional and qualified NM PED advisory board created to instruct and guide the state adoption of informed NM science standards. This irony includes the allocation of school district funding based on state test results. This irony includes a poverty-stricken state that needs educated people to support requirements of employers that include Sandia National Labs and Los Alamos National Labs. This irony includes the power of standards to control and alter what has been deemed scientifically founded by experts previously selected by the NM PED.
The ultimate irony comes from the words of the NM Ped secretary-designate who, according to the Albuquerque Journal stated in reply to the decision for the revisions, “What we have proposed is a reflection of the diversity of New Mexico” (Uyttebrouck, 2017). No one, including the secretary-designate, is taking responsibility for the proposed revisions, which begs the question, “who is in control of the state’s diversity?” As a teacher, it is deeply troublesome that diversity is being defined by a vague, yet most definitely bureaucratic source. I wonder what implications these obvious politically and religiously driven rewrites of the NGSS will have on impeding the possibilities of diverse critical thought and could restrict teachers and students in exploring the possibilities of discovery.
As this situation develops, I am continually alerted and informed by colleague reactions, television interviews, newspaper stories, NM PED statements, and editorial insights. The one question that is left unanswered is how this could happen. This has been a process that resulted in the resignation of a frustrated NM PED’s Math and Science Bureau Director last year. On October 16th of this year, a public meeting heard the stories of 77 scientists, teachers, students, and parents. All who spoke opposed the proposed standards. Shortly after this meeting, the NM secretary-designate announced updates to the revisions of the science standards. The immediate response by all educational stakeholders was that these revisions were incomplete.
There is a positive side to this unraveling story. Standards are being challenged. Educational stakeholders inside and outside of the classroom are speaking out. At some level voices are being, at the least, acknowledged. Time will tell if they are truly heard.
When standards destroy
And the powers employ
What we teach
And how we reach
And controls changes
That define the common
The core of who we are
And what we will become
A controlled collective
That was once obscene
Has evolved into a science of denial
For the fittest are redefined
And evolution is realigned
So that the beginning
Becomes the destruction
Next Generation Science Standards: For States, by States. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.nextgenscience.org/
NM Public Education Department. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.ped.state.nm.us/ped/index.html
Uyttebrouck, O. (2017, Sept. 16). Whose science? Critics say proposed NM science standards omit evolution, climate change. Albuquerque Journal. Retrieved from www.abqjournal.com/1064653/whose-science-excerpt-critics-say-proposed-nm-science-standards-omit-evolution-climate-change.html