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Editorial: PED listened; now new science standards should move forward

Students, teachers, scientists and others in an overflow crowd last week at a state Department of Education hearing made it clear they want New Mexico to adopt around 210 national science standards for the state’s K-12 classrooms without any revisions.

Two days later, the Journal harshly criticized Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski for failing to appear at that hearing and urged him to listen to the concerns.

It turned out he did listen. In fact, his department sent out emails to local reporters within 24 hours of the hearing – and the night before the editorial appeared – saying he was deleting PED’s proposed changes that had drawn the harshest criticism: those addressing climate change, evolution and the age of the Earth.

That was a huge step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the editorial, which was written earlier in the day, did not reflect those changes.

Now – more than a week later and after dozens more emails, letters and in-person comments to PED staff – it’s time to decide what’s more important:

– Adopting the highly regarded Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with the remaining PED revisions, or something close to that

– Or fighting just for the sport of it.

In the fifth-largest state in the nation, one that has a diverse population, three research universities and three national labs, where science education is critical to our kids’ futures, there’s no option but the first.

Ruszkowski says that while the formal process is over, he’s still listening. He wants to have a dialogue with those who support the remaining revisions and those who want “NGSS or bust” – to reach a final compromise. On Tuesday, he made it clear more adjustments could be forthcoming, but the bottom line is to deliver high science standards to New Mexico students, teachers and classrooms.

That’s the right answer, and one it would have been nice to hear during the hearing Oct. 16. His absence left many feeling their concerns were not a PED priority.

Ruszkowski maintains his attendance at the seven-hour hearing would not have changed the outcome, that he monitored the hearing closely, that he trusts the process and his staff, and the results bear that out – PED made key changes the speakers unanimously asked for.

Ruszkowski has said “stakeholders” helped craft the revisions, and Tuesday he said those stakeholders include New Mexico teachers, superintendents, school board members and legislators. He said that unlike states that started with a blank page, New Mexico started with NGSS and proposed revisions after listening to folks from Hobbs to Los Alamos and “taking inspiration” from changes made to NGSS in Michigan, Wyoming, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Some critics don’t like revisions that add New Mexico-themed lessons into the standards. But those changes could make the lessons more interesting and relevant for New Mexico students.

And while critics have voiced concern PED has removed the NGSS framework – which provides guidance on how to teach the standards – Ruszkowski says that is a simple process misunderstanding. He says PED must first adopt the standards to know what frameworks are appropriate. His team has “always intended to adopt the full framework” once the standards are in place. He says a framework website is ready to launch.

Could PED have handled the controversy better? Absolutely. But Ruszkowski is right when he says at the end of the day, “Democracy belongs to those who show up, and those who showed up were unanimous.” PED listened and acted in response to that unanimity.

The NGSS were published in 2013 by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences. They have been adopted by 18 states and the District of Columbia. The unrevised standards have received widespread support in New Mexico.

Right now, controversy over what PED says are only seven remaining revisions stands in the way of New Mexico adopting high science standards for K-12. It’s time to move forward. And that’s not rocket science.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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