Science standards meet resistance

Evolution, climate change cause concerns


DES MOINES — State Board of Education members and some members of the public are expressing concerns with including evolution and climate change in new science standards being considered for Iowa’s public schools.

A team of science education leaders from across the state is determining science education standards for Iowa students. The standards are a list of science-based knowledge and skills that public school kindergarten-through-grade-12 students will be expected to possess.

The state Board of Education has charged a review team with developing the standards. The team is working off the Next Generation Science Standards, a national program developed in 2013 in conjunction with 26 states, including Iowa, and multiple national education organizations.

The review team has the option of adopting the entire Next Generation Science Standards program or making tweaks.

Once it has reached consensus, the review team will make a recommendation to the Board of Education, which will determine whether to adopt the standards.

Brad Niebling, with the Iowa Department of Education’s Bureau of Standards and Curriculum, said the Next Generation Science Standards encourage “the types of skills that students need to learn if they want to be scientists: higher thinking learning about the world around them.”

Roughly a dozen states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards.

‘Number of concerns’

Although the labor-intensive process appears to be running smoothly — the review team plans to meet at least twice more and could make a recommendation to the board in May — concerns have been voiced over evolution and climate change.


Some who provided public feedback said they do not think evolution or climate change should be included in science standards, as they are in the Next Generation Science Standards. State Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, has introduced legislation each of the past two years hoping to stop any implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards because it includes evolution and climate change.

“There are a number of concerns,” said Salmon, whose proposal has not advanced through the legislative process. “A lot of it has to do with the fact that woven throughout the standards are controversial topics of climate change, man’s negative impact on the environment and evolution as scientific fact.

“That’s not just a separate unit in the standards — it’s woven throughout the standards.”

During a Board of Education meeting last week, board members Michael Knedler and Mike May expressed reservations about evolution and climate change in the standards. They said they do not want to see a few issues cause problems with implementation of the standards.

May called evolution and climate change “two quicksand areas.”

“If we don’t deal with that, I think we’ll pay a price in the end,” May said.

Knedler suggested making adjustments to recent action taken by West Virginia’s Board of Education. In January, West Virginia's Board of Education approved revised standards that expressed doubt about climate change. The board, however, came under fire and withdrew its altered climate curriculum, according to the New York Times.

‘Scientific evidence’

Kris Kilibarda of Des Moines, director of Grand View University’s Jacobson Institute for Innovation in Education, said the review team has studied extensive scientific data and pored over comments provided at four public forums and submitted online in more than 2,500 surveys.

Kilibarda said the team is weighing that public input while also considering scientific data and, ultimately, the team will recommend standards that are in the best interest of Iowa’s students.


“We’re looking at the scientific evidence,” Kilibarda said. “All of us are coming in with the lenses of scientists and science educators. But we’re also absolutely looking at the data from the surveys, from the public forums, from the electronic submissions.”

John Bedward, another review team member and a science, technology, engineering and math professor at Buena Visa University in Storm Lake, said evolution and climate science are deeply tied to many other areas of scientific study and learning, so the two simply cannot be removed from a set of educational standards.

“There will always be contentious issues within the sciences,” Bedward said. “It would be doing our students a disservice if we did not at least have a conversation and give them the ability to inquire about (the issues).”

The review team will meet again April 14 and May 7. The next state Board of Education meeting will be May 14.

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