Once You Talk About NGSS, You Probably Won’t Shut Up

Once You Talk About NGSS, You Probably Won’t Shut Up

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“I’m against standards,” Michelle Sabrosky, a Casper mother, told a meeting organized by opponents of the controversial Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) on Thursday night. If everyone else agreed, that’s all the discussion that would really have been necessary.

But the audience of about 30 people was pretty evenly split on the issue, so there was still two and a half hours of talking left, and even then some people were reluctant to leave the Oil and Gas Commission conference room and go home.

Which shows that while the Legislature banned the Wyoming Board of Education from talking about the NGSS, and the board in turn told a committee studying standards that its members can’t discuss even a portion of the forbidden standards, a lot of people find it hard to stop talking about the NGSS once they get going.

It was obvious from the beginning there’s a lot of confusion about the NGSS and how it would be used by school districts in Wyoming, if such a thing were possible, which it isn’t — unless they individually want to. See how confusing that is?

It turns out Sabrosky isn’t against all science standards; she just wants them to be from Wyoming, displaying Wyoming’s perpetual bias toward homegrown solutions while lacking an assessment of the merit of such strategies. Sabrosky did say she wants them to be the “best darned” standards our kids can have. No one disagreed with that last goal

“Why are we seeking carrots from Washington, D.C., and chasing that federal money any way we can?” she asked. “We need to stand above everyone else, not be equal with them. Anything national they want to shove down your throat — this [NGSS], No Child Left Behind, whatever — all it does is make us stand equal, and I want to stand above and beyond.”

But Sabrosky’s pro-Wyoming, anti-federal rant has a basic problem: the federal government didn’t have anything to do with the NGSS. It didn’t create the science standards and it’s not paying states or school districts to use them.

After that fact was pointed out, Sabrosky tried another way to show how Wyoming standards would be better. She noted no one from Wyoming wrote any of the NGSS, and told University of Wyoming Professor Rich Barrett, who teaches physics to elementary educators, that it was “a slap in the face” that he and other scientists in the state weren’t consulted.

But she offered a zinger: “I don’t understand how you can tell if the standards are good or bad if you’re not qualified to write them yourself.”

“We didn’t write the standards, because that’s a huge job,” Barrett replied. “That’s like saying, ‘Why don’t we only buy cars made in Wyoming?’ Because they make perfectly good cars in other places, and we can do other things.”

The public meeting was organized by Jim Nations of Casper, a former Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman. Nations detailed his numerous degrees in various scientific disciplines, his career working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and confided that he once had lunch with Carl Sagan. “Actually, I sat next to him at lunch,” he clarified. But he did study under Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut on the moon, and met his Apollo 11 crew members, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

“I’m certainly not anti-science,” Nations said. So why does he oppose the NGSS so vigorously?

Nations said he spent about 15 hours studying the science standards and noted “very serious errors” and a basic “lack of content” in the NGSS.

To demonstrate, Nations read what he said was the first disturbing mistake he found. “Animals need to take in food but plants do not.” He and several members of the audience pointed out that plants need minerals and nutrients to survive.

Barrett, however, said the statement was correct, because plants don’t “eat” food the way animals do.

“What is plant food, then?” Nations asked.

After answering “fertilizer,” an exasperated Barrett said, “Are we going to cover subjects like what do we mean by ‘food?’ Really?”

“Yes, really,” Nations responded.

The food definition talk continued for a few minutes, until it was replaced by a short debate about what is an animal. Sabrosky said she was offended by a discussion a teacher had with her children about humans being classified as animals.

“I am not an animal,” she said forcefully, which had your correspondent wondering if she would say the rest of the immortal line from “The Elephant Man” — “I am a human being!”

She did not.

“You don’t believe you’re an animal?” one man asked incredulously.

“I was created in the image of God, and that is not an animal,” Sabrosky answered.

Marguerite Herman, a long-time education advocate from Cheyenne and a member of the pro-NGSS Climate Parents, found a website that actually showed the complete standards, not the synopsis that Nations had on a large screen. She read the standard for kindergarten students about animals and plants, and it became clear that when read in context, the standard served as a starting point for a discussion with youngsters about the patterns and differences between plants and animals.

Earlier, Nations tried to discredit Climate Parents as a national group headquartered in Berkeley, Calif. He didn’t have to add “Liberal Central,” because people knew what he meant.

By the end of the night, some of the anti-NGSS crowd wondered if the Wyoming Board of Education could adopt some of the NGSS and add Wyoming-created standards to it. The pro-NGSS forces explained that the state can’t, because the committee making recommendations to the board can’t legally discuss any portion of the NGSS.

That prompted opponents of the standards to ask if that’s the case, why is the Natrona County School District Board of Trustees talking about possibly implementing the NGSS in the next school year?

Because district school boards aren’t on the Legislature’s and Board of Education’s list of organizations that can’t talk about NGSS. In fact, several school districts in Wyoming have already adopted the NGSS and have reported they like it.

Someone asked if those districts were in danger of losing their funding from the state, and the pro-NGSS people said no, because the money isn’t directly tied to the standards. But a former educator said the money teachers get paid is directly tied to their ability to teach their students whatever standards are chosen so they can score high on the state’s assessment tests.

Is that clear to everyone? No? Well, why don’t you ask your legislators why they wouldn’t let the NGSS be discussed by the board that establishes the standards — was it really because the NGSS discussed the future of fossil fuels in an unfavorable light due to the need to stop climate change?

Luckily, the meeting was attended by Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper), who was immediately available to explain to everyone that the Legislature stopped NGSS because parents didn’t have the opportunity to learn about the proposed science standards and have their say. “We were trying to fix the process so that everyone would have input, because that input did not take place,” he said.

That might sound like a reasonable explanation, except if you were in the same room eight hours earlier when a Department of Education spokeswoman told a legislative panel — not including Reeder — that ample notice of hearings and the public comment period were given to everyone, and parents failed to show up.

Which reminds your correspondent of another famous movie line: “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Asking imput from parents regarding science “facts” is ludicrous. We go to doctors who know about our physical and don’t ask for public imput about how they operate on our brains. Anybody that implies that a human being is not an animal has no business having any say about scientific facts and education.. 97 percent of the climate scientists in the world say the world is warming due to human activity, the 2+ percent who disagree have an agenda that is bogus. If 25 percent of Americans say that the moon is bigger than the earth when quizzed that does not mean that the astronomical fact is open to discussion.. Those folks are nuts or ignorant and should be ignored

  2. I get the impression the folks against Common Core and NGSS are, at the root of it, against standards. I explained at that meeting that standards and the hated assessments are part of that big concept “accountability.” Accountability of districts to the state for its funding, accountability of the Legislature to school kids and parents that they are getting a decent education, etc. A number of high school graduates get to our community colleges and UW needing remedial classes. That’s time and money used. Could standards help there, too? Standards on a state level are an assurance to students they will have access to a good education, wherever they are. A good idea? Most people think so.
    Ms. Sobrosky, the one who doesn’t want standards, also said she holds the district responsible for not including her in public discussions, when she doesn’t read the newspaper (where the discussions were announced). On the one hand, she must take some responsibility for that. On the other, it’s clear that better public discussion and information about NGSS could have avoided some of the misunderstandings and suspicions. Even Mr. Nations clearly had some things wrong about NGSS.

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