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Religion, nationalization fuel debate over new science standards for Utah schools

First Published      Last Updated Jun 16 2016 07:43 pm

School guidelines » Provo meeting once again shows that finding a compromise is a tough challenge.

Provo • Supporters and opponents of a set of proposed middle-school science standards traded blows Wednesday during an informational meeting hosted by the Utah Office of Education.

One by one, parents and teachers took to a microphone to decry the creeping fingers of a national education agenda or, conversely, to urge that Utah students must not fall behind their peers around the country.

Jared Carman took issue with the standards' out-of-state origins. He said parents are marginalized when education decisions are made at a national level.

"Adam and Eve were the first teachers, and the family predates the state office of education," he said.

Alison Parker said the science taught in Utah should be the same science taught elsewhere.

She said her children plan to attend college outside the state and she does not want them prepared with only the "beige tones" of science because of local moral objections to content.

"A rock in Florida will have the same properties as a rock in Utah," she said. "I want my kids' imaginations and questions to be inspired by the sciences."

Wednesday's meeting, the third in a series of five held around the state, is part of a 90-day review period for the new standards intended to introduce them to parents, as well as solicit feedback.

The standards, which outline the expectations of students in sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade science classes, have been divisive, held up by some as a much-needed update for schools and dismissed by others as an agenda-driven, overly political overreach into local control, akin to the math and English expectations of the Common Core.

Utah's proposed standards are largely based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which, similar to the Common Core, were written by a consortium of national experts and offered to states for voluntary adoption.

Josh Daniels, a policy analyst with Utah's Libertas Institute, said some politically controversial topics — such as evolution and global climate change — have a place in a high school or college science class. But he said those topics should not be introduced in middle school, as the new standards suggest.

"That begins to propose that man has an impact on the temperature of the globe," he said after reading a specific standard. "And we're introducing that in the sixth grade."

Similar concerns were raised during the first two information meetings, held in St. George and Vernal. Two more events are planned for Cache and Salt Lake counties.

Following the Vernal meeting, a video was posted to YouTube showing organizers peppered with questions and interrupted while attempting to respond.

And Oak Norton, an education advocate affiliated with the group Utahns Against Common Core, produced a video accusing Utah State Office of Education staff members of lying to the public when they said, during the time Common Core was adopted, that Utah would never adopt national science standards.

Deputy State Superintendent Syd Dickson, who is primarily identified in the video, began Wednesday's meeting by addressing the accusations.

She said she had been "cyberbullied" over the last week and wanted to take a few minutes to defend herself.

She said her comments in 2011 were made in the context of the Common Core, and that the state school board and education managers were referring specifically to the expansion of Common Core when asked about national science standards.

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