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Utah News

New Science Standards Have Parents Fuming

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Justin Prather
/
UPR
“I’m open to complete changes if necessary, I mean whatever the board says. I just want to make sure that the standards we give are the best science available for kids,” said Richard Scott, at a meeting at the Cache County School District office.";s:3:

After a reportedly precarious Washington County meeting in April, members of the State Office of Education tasked with gathering public insight into the new science curriculum standards, changed their game plan and began to prepare accordingly. Still, the meetings are not short of vocally irate parents, whose fears are not easily assuaged. 

     

Richard Scott, a specialist with the Utah State Office of Education, stepped away from the podium, frustrated, Wednesday night at the Cache County School District office. This is the fourth of five meetings across Utah that Scott has helped run, aimed at gathering public input on the newly proposed science curriculum standards for grades six through eight. 

Watching Scott maneuver his way through this meeting, which at times threatened to lose its civil nature, you could pick up on a couple things. One, he has spent a lot of time in front of a classroom; and two, these meetings are wearing on him, even if he won’t admit it.

While he maintains that feedback from parents on the new standards is important, he didn’t expect much attendance at these meetings, let alone so much controversy.

“It’s actually really funny. When we first set up these meetings, historically we’ve always had meetings like this at the state office of education when it comes to standards, and historically the biggest number we’ve had at any one event, was ten, ever,” Scott said. “So, being brand new, they said don’t expect too many people, they actually told me to bring a book.”

So why all the fuss now with these new standards? That’s hard to gauge, because some parents are in favor of them, but the ones who aren’t have decided against them for a diverse array of reasons. 

Some parents might overall be opposed to common core or federal standards, and they see this course of study as too similar. 

Some say the standards ask too much of students, some too little. Others fear the language in curriculum is fraught with confusing jargon that aims to undermine unsuspecting parents; that the teaching about similarities in species, or about human impact on environment intends to indoctrinate children, by educating them about evolution and climate change.

Scott said this negative feedback can be disheartening, but in the end he just wants the best for his students, and he believes their parents do as well.

“Obviously they are rational concerns, everyone’s concern is going to be a legitimate concern. Again I want to make sure that what we teach is the best science available,” Scott said. “I’m open to complete changes if necessary, I mean whatever the board says. I just want to make sure that the standards we give are the best science available for kids.”

The meeting dragged on as both pro and anti-standard parents took to the podium.

Heads rolled when opposing sides spoke, and barely audible jeers were muttered throughout the session.

One thing that did become clear to me at the meeting while listening to local science teachers speak, was that the subject matter written into the standards isn’t particularly new, except for a few additions. What is new is how the science will be taught in the classroom.

“The way we’ve been teaching science for years, including what they [the parents] have learned, and what I have learned, has been a memorization of content, and very little as far as the method of science and how it actually works,” Scott said.

He went on to say that he has seen this teaching method turn students away from wanting to study more science.

“I had a student once who said ‘I never want to be a scientist. All they do is read text books all day and answer questions.’ That’s what they thought scientists did. It’s being taught as a history class. So I think again, that’s the whole point of this as well, is to really express that this is how science works, to let them really understand those differences.”

The last of these meetings will take place May 19 at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education. The review period for the new science standards will continue until July 9, and all concerned citizens are encouraged to contribute their opinion. If the new standards are approved they will be implemented beginning the fall of 2017.