Utah's State School Board voted on Thursday to reconsider updating their science standards for elementary and high school students. The decision was made because the state's current science standards are seriously old fashioned. In fact, according to a report, some of the required content is "scientifically outdated and irrelevant," and is based on research that is over thirty years old.
Still, the four members who voted against the revision believe this is just another attempt to push a political agenda on evolution and climate change.
"It's a political thing. These national science standards they have little to do with science and a lot to do with what is politically expedient," said board member Alisa Ellis.
"There's a heavy emphasis on global warming. There's a heavy emphasis on evolution as a fact and not as a theory."
"I can't vote to update these standards," she added.
Board member Lisa Cummins agreed.
"I am not in favor of furthering an agenda, but maybe just teaching theory and letting both sides of the argument come out, whether it's intelligent design or the Darwin origin. It's not being taught that way as stated by the public this morning," Cummins said.
But the majority of board members think a revision is long overdue. They argue that students should be taught the most up-to-date science, and this necessarily includes evolution and climate change.
"I believe our students should be exposed to the most current and up-to-date facts," said board member Kathleen Riebe.
"We need to stay relevant in our education. Our kids are learning things almost faster than we are."
For months, the state's science educators have been trying to get the school board to update science-related content. The last time the board reviewed science education standards was in 2015, but that was only for middle-schoolers. The 2015 updates largely followed the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which are a series of educational guidelines created by science experts. Now, science educators would like to see the same standards met for elementary and high school curriculum.
In a speech on Thursday, Jessica Dwyer, an academic program manager at the University of Utah, said the NGSS had improved content, experimentation and discovery in middle-school classrooms.
"The things that I'm seeing in classrooms in middle schools as teachers are implementing the new standards is just inspiring," Dwyer said.
Even still, there are many critics that claim these standards simply push liberal and secular viewpoints.
"The Next Generation Science Standards take a very dogmatic approach to certain key issues in science, Darwinian evolution and global warming," said Vincent Newmeyer, who spoke in opposition to the revision.
"If you come up with a system that's so closely tied to the Next Generation Science Standards, those attitudes will come back in into the classroom ... "
Newmeyer argues that some of Utah's state-issued lesson plans are already doing just that. For instance, a lesson that teaches about the life of Stephen Hawking shows a video where Hawking addresses whether a God was needed in order for the Big Bang to have occurred.
"The answer stated by Stephen Hawking in the video was, 'No, no time in which there could have been a God because time came after the Big Bang. There was no time there could have been a God. It happened all on its own,'" he said.
"This is a problem of adopting Next Generation Science Standards or things very close to it."
This isn't the first time that the NGSS has been hotly contested. A similar situation recently occurred in New Mexico when references to climate change and evolution were removed from the state's science standards. Nevertheless, after hundreds of scientists, educators and legislators protested the removal of these basic science facts, the Public Education Secretary was forced to include them once more.
One can only hope that when Utah's new science standards are open to public review, they will receive similar wide-spread support.