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The SDE’s Miasma

May 13, 2014

No Science Standards for You!

Today’s word is miasmaan oppressive or unpleasant atmosphere that surrounds or emanates from something. As those who regularly read this blog must know, there are two things I love: science and a well-placed word.

Yesterday, the House Committee for Administrative Rules voted to reject the new Oklahoma Academic Standards for Science (OASS). If you’ll remember, during the winter, the Oklahoma State Department of Education posted the new standards, accepted comments, and adopted them. This committee’s approval was to be the final step before implementation.

Apparently, the committee had two key objections. First, the SDE and the teachers on the committee relied far too heavily on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – which were developed by Achieve, Inc. (which also brought us the Common Core). The problem with this objection is that SDE staff were given the direction to use NGSS as a framework. Many bloggers, in fact, pointed out the similarities.

They weren’t. They were lifted, practically verbatim, from the Next Generation Science Standards. As Jenni White and Rob Miller point out in their analyses (which are eerily similar), reading the OASS side by side with the NGSS shows very little difference. Essentially, Oklahoma has removed references to evolution and climate change. That’s it. While both White and Miller (and I for that matter) like the structure and organization of the standards, we all deserve to be told the truth.

When I wrote that in December, it was a criticism of the fact that we were more or less adopting national standards and calling them our own. Basically, we’re running into another example of politicians changing their mind about what they want and not really caring about who that impacts.

The second objection was that where the standards discuss climate, teachers could then segue into lessons indoctrination about climate change. I downloaded OASS again and did a search for the word climate. This key science term appears 47 times in the document. The only discussion of climate change, however, is in the assessment section with this limitation:

Assessment does not include climate change.

That sentence is in the document multiple times. Yes, there may be a rogue liberal here and there (or even a conservative who believes in climate change) who is willing to teach concepts that make people uncomfortable. We may even have an activist in the classroom. The standards, however, don’t enable activism. That’s a matter of principals knowing what’s going on in their building.

Another way of looking at it is that if we’re so scared that our children might learn about climate change, we should probably take the word climate out of the social studies standards as well. While the word only appears five times in that document, in one instance, on page 64, we can find this evocative gem:

Examine the ongoing issues of immigration, employment, climate change, environmental pollution, globalization, population growth, race relations, women’s issues, healthcare, civic engagement, education, and the rapid development of technology.

If that isn’t a laundry list of liberalism, I don’t know what is! Oklahoma teachers worked hard developing those standards too, but I guess 2012 was a completely different era – an epoch ago, if you will.

(And if I just single-handedly got the state social studies standards tossed out, my apologies to all affected by this.)

My point is that if we’re so afraid of climate change that we can’t even discuss climate, we’re in a world of hurt. Most Americans accept climate change and still don’t curb their energy consumption. It’s not going to cripple the state’s economy. Even still, if it’s not assessed, what’s the likelihood that our children will be making dioramas that depict rising sea levels as they envelop Miami?

As for the time and effort of the teachers who volunteered (and lost instructional time) to serve on the standards-writing committees…well, I really don’t have a profound way to finish that sentence. Thanks but no thanks, I guess. Or what about the textbook adoption cycle? Are we forgetting that science teachers haven’t adopted new instructional materials in 10 years? While I hope that means we are seeing more labs and less copying of definitions in our classes, there at least need to be resources available.

Maybe what’s really happening here is that the SDE is so tainted with Barresi that anything they do is at least funk-adjacent. There are still some really good people working there. Many have left the sinking ship, but not all have been able to find other suitable employment. I have to wonder if it’s because of their association with the state superintendent. I also have to wonder if that has anything to do with yesterday’s unprecedented (yes, no legislative panel has EVER rejected standards forwarded to them by the SDE) action.

Miasma – it explains so much. All the bad decisions and indecision. The inexplicable tone in communication from Barresi and her staff. If the Hodge Building collapsed into a sinkhole one night ala the ending to Poltergeist, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.

  1. joeddins
    May 13, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Hopefully Oklahoma will control the tests and cut scores ?


  2. Pamela Gardner, MS
    May 13, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    In a discipline where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find qualified, highly qualified teachers “decisions” by SDE and government are continuing to cripple those of us who have chosen to stay the course. I spend as much time on class prep and research as I do teaching class. As a 33 year veteran of the middle school and high school science classroom I can tell you that the situation is at critical levels. Why would a 22 or 23 year old want to walk into a situation where the pay is lousy, curriculum is so out of date that you all but have to write your own, the SDE sets us up to fail with tests that have questions covering material that is not even in our 11 year old books…when was the first time you heard the term El Niño?…and where the cut score set us all up to appear to be inferior. God knows it makes me want to get up and go to work every day! Two years ago I was a 95/A teacher. Last year I was a 5?/ F teacher according to the all mighty report card. Now, I would be the first to tell you that the cut score needed to be raised, but what they did to my students and to me was criminal. How about a baseball analogy? We hit a fly to deep center and it was soaring toward the fence when suddenly the fence was moved back another 100 feet! Okay, I’m not a blogger just a very frustrated teacher. With the legislature’s brilliant decision the promised new adoption for fall 2015 will most likely be postponed yet again. After all, we have been waiting for adoption of new standards so our new curriculum would be aligned. And the wait continues…..


  3. May 13, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    As a high school science teacher and member of the science standards writing team, I am very disappointed, to say the least. As a former medical technologist and research scientist, I am saddened. Oklahoma students are being held hostage by misconception and political grandstanding. Because legislators fear that our children might discover climate change, they believe it would be better that children not learn about climate at all. Choosing to reject foundational science objectives as recommended by NGSS because the standards were assembled by too many out-of-state scientific authorities is ludicrous. To deny our students the opportunity to explore scientific concepts and think critically about the implications is criminal.


  4. JohnnyT
    May 13, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Miasma is the perfect word to describe the work environment at SDE. As a 20+ year SDE employee holding his breath until June 24th (or longer), I can assure you that most of the rank and file employees are just trying to stay under the radar while earning barely enough to buy groceries and gas. There are only a few left that truly know how to get a job done and their voices have been silenced through intimidation and condescension. Thank you for calling it like it is and giving a voice to those of us who do not dare speak of the “miasma” we live with everyday.


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