SANTA FE, N.M. — Environmentalists and educators raised new objections Tuesday to proposed changes to teaching standards for science in New Mexico that substitute references to rising global temperatures and climate change with statements about climate “fluctuations.”
The New Mexico Public Education Department has suggested several custom additions and deletions as it moves forward with adopting a set of science standards developed by a consortium of states and the National Academy of Sciences.
Additions that highlight the study of New Mexico’s unique natural history are being overshadowed by several deletions of references to evolution, the 4.6 billion-year age of the earth and climate change.
Critics including environmentalists and science teachers described the substitutions as concessions to creationism and climate-change denial that pose a threat to adequate science education.
“Our position is that the Public Education Department has injected politics into science,” said Ellen Loehman, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Science Teachers’ Association.
The association represents more than 200 science teachers and has urged the Education Department to adopt an unedited version of the Next Generation Science Standards. New Mexico standards were last updated in 2003.
Camilla Feibelman, director of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, feared the standards as proposed would interfere with the accurate study of modern climate change.
“They cut out the words ‘rise in global temperature’ and changed it to fluctuations,” she said. “It’s not accurate and it’s not appropriate.”
The Department of Education did not address the rationale behind changes to language in the standards about climate change, evolution or the age of the earth.
New Mexico Deputy Secretary of School Transformation Debbie Montoya said in a statement that her agency “has and will listen and respond to input from all of New Mexico’s stakeholders when writing content standards.”
“New Mexico is working hard to ensure that children have access to the most rigorous standards,” she said in the statement.
Republican state Rep. Jim Smith of Sandia Park, a retired science teacher, defended the proposed science standards, saying they clearly outline opportunities to teach about evolution and help students investigate human impacts on the environment and climate.
“I think it’s better to take the middle ground where people in all those different areas of the state can accept standards that they can teach within,” he said. “You give students the opportunity to come to their own conclusions. I as a science teacher certainly don’t deny that there is global warming happening. I think ‘fluctuations’ is a better term for it.”
About 18 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards directly, with another dozen states making custom modifications, said Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that defends the teaching of evolution and other science-based classroom subjects.
“These changes (in New Mexico) represent what is clearly a deliberate attempt to obscure the scientific consensus on evolution, the history of the earth and the human impact on climate,” Branch said.