Wyoming scientists defend climate in standards


"A group of Wyoming educators has asked state education leaders to rethink their stance on a controversial set of science standards," the Casper Star-Tribune (June 3, 2014) reports. As NCSE previously reported, a footnote in Wyoming's budget for 2014-2016 precludes the use of state funds "for any review or adoption" of the Next Generation Science Standards, and one of its authors acknowledged that the NGSS's treatment of climate change is a reason for the prohibition. The state board of education subsequently decided not to implement the NGSS, instead asking a committee to develop a new set of standards, although reportedly without offering any guidance how to do so.

Now, in a sixteen-page-long letter, a group of forty-six "active or retired science or mathematics educators and others interested in science education at the University of Wyoming" is explaining in detail to the state board of education that the "criticisms of the NGSS do not take into account what we know about the nature of science, the nature of scientific literacy, and how students learn science." The letter specifically targets misconceptions presupposed in criticisms of the NGSS, such as the ideas that theories are conjectural or speculative, that there is a single unitary scientific method, and that teaching  science is promoting a worldview opposed to religion.

The Star-Tribune summarized, "The authors say the recent debate regarding the scientific validity of climate science and how it should be taught in Wyoming classrooms is largely semantics, and that those who argue the state's science standards must reflect the role of energy and agriculture in Wyoming's economy do not understand the nature of science." The chair of the board — who reportedly cited climate change denial propaganda during a recent board meeting — told the newspaper that he was unmoved, adding, "I still don't have a problem with teaching [climate change] in our schools ... I don't have a problem examining it from all sides, as long as it's represented in a fair and balanced approach."

In the meantime, it is still unclear what the committee that will develop a new set of science standards for Wyoming is supposed to do. According to the Star-Tribune, "The department has also said no part of the Next Generation standards will be considered during the upcoming review. That is a departure from advice of the Attorney General's office, which said the state could consider parts of the Next Generation standards while still following the legislative footnote." State science standards from California, Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia, as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are expected to be considered, but not the NGSS.