Panel hears debate on K-12 science standards

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(Photo by KYLE PFANNENSTIEL) The House Education Committee hears public testimony Feb. 2 on K-12 science standards.

The House Education Committee ended two days of public hearings on science education standards for Idaho K-12 schools Friday without a vote.

The committee voted last year to adopt standards temporarily. Those standards will expire unless the panel votes to keep them.

Debate was sometimes heated on a proposal to permanently adopt science education standards on climate change for Idaho schools.

In the two days of testimony from teachers, students and scientists, most spoke overwhelmingly in favor of accepting the standards.

Before the period of public testimony, some legislators asked state education officials pointed questions on the standards.

Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, questioned the consensus of climate science, attributing changes to solar and volcanic activity as contributing “tremendously to the temperature of the earth.”

Clow said, “Geologic history has shown temperatures have gone up and down beforehand” and disagreed with the proposal’s language that assumes human activity has significantly caused climate change.

Board of Education officials said a large body of published scientific data supports models that indicate human activity as a significant cause. They said the models also account for non-human factors, as well.

“There’s no question that temperatures have risen and declined in the past. But there’s also evidence that looking at that history of changes, we’d be more likely to be in a cooling pattern now but we don’t see it,” Chief Policy Advisor Duncan Robb.

While many in public testimony spoke of the necessity to educate youth about climate change, some also urged the standards are necessary to fill a gap in STEM jobs. There were over 7,000 STEM jobs in Idaho unfilled, resulting in $450,000 in lost revenues, according to the STEM Action Center. If this trend continues, the center estimates there will be roughly 36,000 unfilled STEM jobs by 2024.

A lobbyist for Monsanto, an international agriculture company who employs roughly 1,000 people in Idaho, spoke at the hearing.

“As we read those described standards, they describe the very kind of knowledge that we will interview for when we interview an Idahoan to get a job. If in fact they do not possess this kind of knowledge, they would probably be ill fitted for a job at Monsanto,” Monsanto government affairs official Trent Clark said.

Leslie Elliot, Professor of Physics at Boise State University, urged legislators to trust in experts.

“You’re legislators, not scientists…,” she said. “What I’m asking of the committee is to trust decisions about science standards to those who do. To the scientists, teachers and experts who stay current on the literature, who study how people learn, who are in our classrooms and who have developed a set of standards in our best interests of our students and our state.”

The chair of the committee, Rep. Julie VanOrden, interrupted those who testified on climate change, saying the eharing was intended to be about the change of rules, not climate change. VanOrden ruled one person out of order for continuing to speak about it.

The panel will decide on the standards adoption at an unspecified date. If the committee votes against the standards adoption, the state will revert to the older set of minimum science standards.

Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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