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On Science Standards, New Mexico Falls Off Both Sides of the Boat

Sarah Chaffee

New Mexico

New Mexico’s science standards review process has been all over the news in the past several weeks. Over 60 scientists from the Los Alamos National Laboratories weighed in, with more than 200 citizens gathering in opposition to recommended changes, and even the Seattle Times writing about it up here.

In part, the uproar has to do with evolution. New Mexico started with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), but then, in a middle school standard, struck out a reference to the age of the Earth being 4.6 billion years.

That omission is problematic.

Discovery Institute advocates teaching the scientific evidence for and against modern evolutionary theory. We don’t want to cut out teaching about evolution, or to keep students from learning about the age of our planet. On the contrary, students should learn more about evolution and be fully informed about other relevant science.

Unfortunately, the Public Education Department also made a strange change to a high school standard, deleting a reference to “the process of evolution” and substituting language about “biological diversity.” There was one positive, though basically insubstantial, change in the high school evolution standards. In the revised version, students are asked to “Analyze, interpret, and communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.” That’s an NGSS standard with the words “analyze” and “interpret” added to the beginning. It is the only one of the changes regarding origins that Discovery Institute would support.

Read our Science Education Policy for further details. New Mexico students will receive a better science education through learning about current scientific controversies over evolution, training them in the habits of scientific inquiry.

The most recent news indicates that the department will restore the original NGSS language. But that is still inadequate – the NGSS are fairly dogmatic and one-sided. One of New Mexico’s 2003 science standards had encouraged teaching the strengths and weaknesses of evolution, noting that students should “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.”

That’s more like it. Students would be well served if the state were able, as Texas did, to agree on a common ground approach.

Photo: New Mexico Public Education Department, by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.