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Texas won't adopt common science standards soon

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Austin Children's Museum volunteer Alyssa Guiliani helps kids finish their kinetic energy projects at Secret Scientists summer camp in Austin, Texas. Wednesday June 27, 2012. Austin Children's Museum volunteer Alyssa Guiliani helps kids finish their kinetic energy projects at Secret Scientists summer camp in Austin, Texas. Wednesday June 27, 2012.
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by Morgan Smith

AUSTIN (THE TEXAS TRIBUNE) - New nationally developed common science standards may be on the horizon, but it is not likely that they will make their way into Texas classrooms soon.

Make that a "zero percent chance," said Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of the State Board of Education.

The Next Generation Science Standards — produced by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science — are designed to chart a common science curriculum for students in kindergarten through high school, in every state. The standards are expected to be complete early next year.

But in Texas, where the curriculum-setting SBOE has had high-profile skirmishes over science education, there will be no rush to implement them.

"I don't see it happening, with the fact that we just adopted science standards, and we've been averse to adopting anything else coming from a national origin," said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican who represents northeast Texas on the 15-member board.

Texas officials like Gov. Rick Perry and Robert Scott, the former education commissioner, have balked at common core state standards in areas like reading and math because they said that they represented an unwarranted federal intrusion into the classroom. Those standards have been adopted by 45 states. The Next Generation curriculum covers potential political minefields like climate change and evolution, which the common core curriculum did not.

But there is another reason it is unlikely that the state that educates almost one-tenth of American public school students will be following the national lead on science education.

Texas typically updates its curriculum every 8 to 10 years. The State Board of Education tackled science standards in 2009, when the state became ground zero in the battle over how evolution should be taught. The result was a state curriculum that required students to learn the strengths and weakness of scientific theories like evolution. Though those standards have been in the classroom since the 2010-11 school year, the state is just in the initial stages of approving  updated textbooks.

Cargill, of The Woodlands, said the 2009 standards have been well-received by students and teachers, and there is no reason to change course.

Twenty-six states are directly participating in the development of the new standards, and Texas is not one of them. But four Texas educators are on the 41-member writing team — including Ramon Lopez, a physics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"It's giving states the power to adopt this material, and if they choose not to use it, they can use it to inform what they are doing," Lopez said.

But the reluctance of Texas education leaders to embrace nationally developed science curriculum shows the logistical challenges involved in pushing for widespread implementation. And despite supporters' insistence that the standards have been created "by states, for states," there are already stirrings of the anti-federal-government backlash that greeted the common core standards.

Legislators in South Carolina —a state that agreed to adopt common core curriculum in language arts and math— have included language in this year's budget prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds to implement "quasi-national" science standards.

Cargill said that when the time comes to revise the state's science curriculum, the board will look at the Next Generation standards. But she said that the standards will most likely serve as a reference guide, not a rulebook.

"We write our own standards here in Texas," she said.

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