Evolution, and now climate change, under attack in Arizona

09.13.2018

As the latest draft (PDF) of a new set of state science standards for Arizona is apparently on its way to the state board of education for its approval, concerns about the compromised treatment of evolution remain — and have been now joined by concerns about the deletion of material about climate change.

As NCSE previously reported, the treatment of evolution in a previous draft of the standards was sabotaged by staff at the state department of education at the behest of Superintendent Diane Douglas, who is on record as advocating the teaching of "intelligent design" alongside evolution and as disagreeing with the rulings that prevent it.

While "intelligent design" was not included in the draft, the revisions were clearly aimed at softening the treatment of evolution. For example, a middle-school-level standard discussing natural selection's role in speciation was revised to eliminate the e-word, "evolution," as well as the reference to speciation.

After a public comment period during which thousands of responses were received, the standards were again revised in light of the comments in July 2018 — except for the sections on evolution, which were revised by a specially appointed committee over the course of three hours on August 30, 2018.

Astonishingly, a young-earth creationist was appointed to the evolution committee. As the Phoenix New Times reported (September 13, 2018), "Joseph Kezele, the president of the Arizona Origin Science Association, is a staunch believer in the idea that enough scientific evidence exists to back up the biblical story of creation."

While he reportedly refrained from discussing creationism during the process, "Kezele successfully convinced other members to de-emphasize evolution in at least one instance," according to the New Times, changing a description of evolution as "the explanation" for the unity and diversity of life to "an explanation."

Although there are places in which the treatment of evolution was improved, the idea of common ancestry — which is prominent in the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education and Working with Big Ideas of Science Education, both major sources for the Arizona standards — is still absent from the draft.

Meanwhile, climate change seems also to have been targeted in the latest draft, with — for example — the wholesale deletion of the discussion of climate change in the high-school-level Earth and Space Science Plus (i.e., honors) section of the standards. It is as yet unclear what motivated these deletions.

The apparent targeting of climate change in Arizona's state science standards was already noted in reports on the National Science Teacher Association's recent statement on the teaching of climate science, such as Education Week's and Inside Climate News's (both September 13, 2018).

What's next? After a finalized version of the latest draft is prepared, it will undergo evaluation by Superintendent Douglas and then be submitted to the state board of education for its decision. The board is expected to consider the standards at its September 24, 2018, meeting, although no agenda for the meeting is yet available.

"Arizona can do better than this," commented NCSE's executive director Ann Reid. "Anyone who cares about the integrity of science education in Arizona should tell the board return the standards to the department of education for further work — under the guidance, I hope, of a superintendent who understands the value of science education."

Superintendent Douglas, who lost her bid to be the Republican nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction in the August 28, 2018, primary election, is expected to be replaced by either Frank Riggs (the Republican nominee) or Kathy Hoffman (the Democratic nominee) in 2019 after the November 6, 2018, general election.