Within hours after members of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee voted 5-1 to send the Next Generation Science Standards back to the state Department of Education for revamping, Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order imposing the standards, something the governor has the power and right to do.
Legislators on the subcommittee based their rejection of the standards on a combination of religious beliefs, biblical teachings and politics with perhaps a dash of real science thrown in for good measure. Unlike legislators on the subcommittee, Steve Beshear is in his second and final term as governor and may have run for his last political office. Thus, he does not have to worry about earning the wrath of the voters and could base his decision on what is clearly best for public education in Kentucky. While we are certain that many in this state will disagree, the governor made the right decision.
Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said in a statement that the governor was disappointed by the subcommittee’s vote.
“The governor views these standards as a critical component in preparing Kentuckians for college and the workforce,” Sebastian said. “Therefore, as provided by law, he will implement the regulations notwithstanding the finding of deficiency.”
Robert Bevins, president of Kentuckians for Science Education, said opposition to the standards is “a major embarrassment” for Kentucky, a state that he said is already considered “an ignorant backwater.”
“Know that we will be a laughingstock,” Bevins told lawmakers. “We will be the Flintstone state.”
Supporters believe the new standards will allow Kentucky students to keep pace with peers in other states as they prepare for college and careers. Critics complained that the standards go too far in stressing the teaching of evolution and climate change.
The debate has been heated at times in Kentucky. Subcommittee co-chairman Johnny Bell, a Democrat from Glasgow, clamped down on verbal jousting in Wednesday’s meeting, sternly threatening to have people removed for outbursts.
“We’re not going to debate this,” Bell said. “If we do, we’re going to end up in fisticuffs, and I don’t have a gun or knife or anything.”
The proposed standards were developed by a consortium of 26 states with input from scientists and education experts from the nation’s top universities and have already been implemented elsewhere. The Kentucky Board of Education adopted them in June.
Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said Kentucky’s existing science standards are “woefully inadequate” and he said the subcommittee vote was political. “I pretty well predicted this,” he said.
The debate over evolution dates back to before the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 in which the defendant was accused of violating state law in Tennessee by teaching evolution. Eighty-eight years later politicians in Kentucky are debating whether Kentucky schools should be forced to talk about evolution. That doesn’t sound like much progress.
The other issue that drew the wrath of opponents concerned whether science classes should be required to teach about climate change. There is abundant evidence that overall temperatures are getting warmer, albeit less so in the most recent years. The real debate is over what is causing climate change, not that it is happening. Possible causes should be discussed in high school science classes.
Science education in Kentucky’s public schools has not changed much over the years. That means that little classroom time will be devoted to either evolution or climate change. School children are not going to be brainwashed into believing one theory or another. They are simply going to be informed, and providing accurate information is what pubic schools should be doing.
The standards now could be referred to the Joint Education Committee for further consideration. However, if that committee were to find them deficient, Beshear could again override.
Thus, all this debate is much ado about nothing, but it does show us that not that much has changed in Kentucky since days when three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jenning Bryan and famed attorney Clarence Darrow stood in a Cleveland, Tenn., courtroom and argued about evolution.