New Mexico Is Erasing Actual Science From Their Science Standards

“Education standards,” it seems, is now a term fraught with intent. By and large, standards are set by the states that uphold them, with localities left to decide how best to implement those standards through lesson plans, specialized curriculum, and testing. But if you’re a voter, you have at some point checked a box on a ballot for someone on a school board, or at the very least a school superintendent. That means that in a time like now, when the phrase “all politics is local” has taken on the most literal meaning you can imagine, local politics can sometimes determine what your children learn.

To make matters worse, textbook manufacturers are as subject to political winds — and capitalism — as the next industry. That means they want to produce their books in markets where they can sell the most, which gives big states like California and Texas, whose student populations vastly outmatch those of other states, huge influence over education standards even outside their borders.

When a state is reliably “blue,” as California is, that can shake out favorably for proponents of science, history, civics — basically everything where facts are involved. But when a state is more often “red,” as in the case of Texas, it can be bad for those same things.

What happens, though, when a state is more “purple,” like New Mexico?

We’re finding out now. The new science education standards for the southwestern state are raising eyebrows, and that’s saying something for a state in which the long-serving Public Education Secretary resigned after 7 years on the job. Hanna Skandera, who was appointed by Republican governor Susana Martinez, had faced intense scrutiny from both Democratic lawmakers and from teachers in the state over previously proposed education reforms. “A through F ” grading for young elementary students and a variety of other changes Skandera had sought while serving in the same capacity in Florida under governor Jeb! Bush made her a target of teachers’ unions and parent groups across the state.

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Martinez was very unhappy about the pressure that caused Skandera to resign.

But the proposed changes to science in New Mexico were initially based on the Next Generation Science Standards, guidelines released back in 2013 and eventually passed by both chambers of the New Mexico legislature. It was when the proposed changes made it to Governor Martinez’ desk that issues arose. She vetoed the bill, citing her authority to properly “vet” the new standards.

Now those standards look considerably different than what the legislature passed.

Mother Jones outlined some of the changes:

  • A passage removing the age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and replacing it with “Earth’s geologic history”
  • More than one section changes “rise” in global temperatures to “fluctuation”
  • A sanitizing of the word “geoscience” to simply “data”
  • The phrase “the process of evolution primarily results from four factors” is completely rewritten as “biological diversity is influenced by
  • Aimed at middle schoolers, a brand new passage that looks like a big wet kiss for the NM oil and gas industry

Two Democrats in the state, representing Districts 10 and 33, have pointed squarely at Governor Martinez in an op-ed in the Las Cruces Sun-News:

During one of the committee hearings, a former member of her staff admitted the reason for the governor’s decision. “Toward the end of my tenure at the Public Education Department, I was tasked to edit and change some of the language in the standards to make them politically sanitized.”

No matter whether changes come from school boards, legislatures, or directly from a governor’s office, changes to education standards should never be politicized. Unless this is stopped, New Mexico is just setting a new standard for how other states might politicize them in the future.


Featured image via Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

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