New state science standards, which include climate change, are approved

LINCOLN — If all goes as planned, a lot more little Einsteins will be running around Nebraska in the years to come.

The Nebraska State Board of Education approved new science standards Friday that challenge kids to think and act like scientists.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the standards, which will introduce climate change in Nebraska high school science classes for the first time.

Board member Pat McPherson voted against the standards, and Maureen Nickels was absent. Voting in favor were Pat Timm, John Witzel, Patsy Koch Johns, Molly O’Holleran, Lisa Fricke and Rachel Wise.

Witzel said the adoption of the standards marks “the start of a very exciting and critical journey in science that affects us all.”

McPherson attempted unsuccessfully to amend the proposed standards.

He made a motion to attach a statement encouraging teachers and administrators, when writing science curriculum, to respect individual students’ views on evolution, religion and climate change. The motion died for lack of a second.

He said he is “not a dinosaur” and believes in evolution and that the climate has changed over time. He said he voted against adoption for several reasons, among them that there was too little input from parents, that the standards conflict with some people’s beliefs and that he feels the standards aren’t rigorous enough or fact-based.

During an hourlong hearing, 14 people testified in favor of the standards, many urging the board to retain the new language addressing climate change.

Alan Vovolka of Omaha urged the board to “do the ethical thing and tell the next generation what’s going on with climate.”

Others said they liked the way the standards will emphasize hands-on learning over memorization.

Chad Brassil, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the standards represent “good solid science, good solid science education.”

“The methods in these standards are fantastic in that they engage students in the process of science: looking at data, analyzing data, generating hypotheses, thinking about models. They ask the students to act like scientists.”

Because of that, he said, the standards will engage and inspire students to become scientists, preparing them for the issues their world will face.

Henry Burke was the only opponent to address the board. He said the standards would indoctrinate students on climate change. He called man-made climate change “the greatest mass delusion in the history of the world.”

He said there is no scientific evidence that proves that forest fires, tornadoes, droughts and hurricanes are made worse by global warming. He said Earth’s climate is unstable and fluctuates over thousands of years.

“Climate change is a political agenda,” he said.

But most testifiers said climate change is real, backed by scientific consensus and evident in the intensity of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Kim Morrow, senior associate with the Verdis Group and minister at First-Plymouth Church, said climate change is “the most pressing moral issue of our time.”

She said the world is at a turning point.

“We have just witnessed a devastating human catastrophe in Hurricane Harvey,” she said. “By the numbers, we have seen that 27 trillion gallons of rain fell in Texas and Louisiana in six days. This is enough water to fill the Houston Astrodome 85,000 times.”

The 51 inches of rain in Houston was a record for a single storm in U.S. history, she said.

Morrow said Harvey’s intensity was almost surely heightened by higher temperatures and rising seas attributable to climate change. Meantime, she said, Hurricane Irma is barreling through the Caribbean toward Florida.

Morrow said it’s urgent that people understand and adapt to these changes.

“Children in Nebraska public schools must be educated to understand climate change because it is simply a factor of our collective life now,” she said.

Under the new standards, students will “analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate changes.”

Students also will “evaluate the validity and reliability of past and present models of Earth conditions to make projections of future climate trends and their impacts.”

The standards, which are updated every seven years, list what students should know and be able to do in science in kindergarten through high school.

They replace standards adopted in 2010. Those standards contain no specific references to climate change. Under those standards, students are asked to describe natural influences, such as Earth’s rotation on oceans and differential heating on global climate. They also evaluate the impact of human activity and natural causes on Earth’s resources — fossil fuels, for example.

Regarding evolution, the new standards expect students to demonstrate understanding of the factors causing natural selection and the process of the evolution of species over time. Students will be asked to demonstrate understanding of how multiple lines of evidence contribute to the strength of scientific theories of natural selection and evolution.

The new standards were endorsed by representatives of Nebraska colleges and universities. In letters to the board, higher education representatives attested that the standards will prepare students for success in college and careers.

More than 90 faculty members from the University of Nebraska’s four campuses worked with the Nebraska Department of Education and K-12 educators to review and provide input on the standards, said Susan Fritz, NU executive vice president and provost.

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