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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

BESE accepts updated content standards on evolution, climate change

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 6:05 PM

click to enlarge A bust of Charles Darwin. - CREATIVE COMMONS/SAMUEL RIVAS
  • A bust of Charles Darwin.

With language reminiscent of the evolution-versus-creationism arguments from Inherit the Wind, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Tuesday accepted updated content standards for science education in Louisiana’s public schools.

This time around, the controversy over climate change was thrown in.

BESE created an 86-person volunteer committee to revise Louisiana science standards for the first time in 20 years. The committee’s plan would begin implementation during the 2018-2019 school year.

The standards proved a source of contentious debate among a score of witnesses — particularly regarding the committee’s acceptance of evolution and climate change as scientific facts.

In accordance with the Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, which allows public school teachers to use supplemental materials in the classroom that are critical of the evolutionary theories, several witnesses aired concerns about the new standards.

State Rep. Beryl Amadee, R-Houma, expressed fears of inherent bias toward evolution and climate change within the recommendations.

“If you really embrace the idea that we teach the controversy, why isn’t it reflected in the proposed standards? Why would you not want students to recognize other standards?” Amadee asked.

Proponents of the renewed standards, however, staunchly defended the language in the original document.

Cathi Cox-Boniol, who led the standards committee, maintained the updated standards have “fewer topics and more depth,” which the committee believed would better expose Louisiana students to global institutionalized science.

“We took everything else out of the equation and thought about the student,” Cox-Boniol said, noting the committee members logged some 10,000 collective hours on the project.

Of the 86 volunteers on the committee, only one member dissented on presenting the standards package to BESE — Wade Warren, a biology professor at Louisiana College.

Warren said he was concerned about what he perceived as the standards’ apparent dogmatic presentation of Darwinian philosophy and exclusion of alternative theories.

He said he suggested adding the sentence “results may differ depending on theory” to one of the standards, which was rejected by fellow committee members.

“The writers of the science standards did not include any of my suggested edits,” Warren complained

William C. Deese, a chemistry professor at Louisiana Tech University, argued that introducing “alternative theories” into the science classroom would diminish students’ understanding of science as an institution. “There is absolutely no controversy within institutionalized science about evolution and global warming,” he said.

State Superintendent John White argued students deserve standards based on the latest scientific research and knowledge.

“In developing Louisiana Student Standards for Science, Louisiana educators have set ambitious expectations for students who will soon be the leaders of our state and its economy,” White said.

BESE approved the updated standards, with curriculum reviews set to launch as early as spring 2017. Field test assessments will be given in spring 2018.

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