Susana Stops Science Standards

Governor vetoes bill to set new science standards in state law

To the surprise of no one who's been following the long, winding road to updating the science taught in New Mexico's schools, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a measure designed to force the adoption of new standards.

House Bill 211 would have required the state to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, nationally vetted benchmarks for teaching public school children science from K-12. A group of educators and experts, all appointed by education secretary Hanna Skandera, unanimously recommended the NGSS for adoption four years ago. Two years ago, a focus group of teachers, professors and school administrators—again picked by the Public Education Department—reached the same conclusion.

New Mexico's science standards were last updated in 2003 and based on academic and scientific principles that were first advanced in 1996. The Next Generation standards were published by a national working group in 2013 and states began adopting them that year.

"The Public Education Department has already been working diligently to route the standards through the appropriate vetting process," Martinez said in her veto message. She added that putting standards in law was too restrictive and would actually hamper the effort to update the science that's taught in New Mexico schools, because the PED "recommends review and adoption of standards in every academic content on a six-year cycle. This legislation would make it more difficult to update science standards in response to scientific advancement in the future."

Supporters, like bill sponsor Rep. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque, agree that it's better to let the PED change standards administratively. But no one from the state's education agency has explained the delay in putting the NGSS into place.

In 18 other states and Washington, DC, the most controversial issues surrounding Next Gen adoption have been human-caused climate change and the theory of evolution. Both are referenced in New Mexico's current standards, but are much more thoroughly addressed in the Next Gen standards. The new standards are much more hands-on, changing not just what students learn, but how they learn it. Currently, 61 percent of high school juniors fail New Mexico's standardized proficiency tests.

"It's unfortunate the governor would veto a bill aimed at making New Mexico students competitive in 21st century STEM education," Romero texts SFR. "The Next Gen science standards are highly vetted standards that provide the best, most modern approaches and content to STEM education. If our children are to be competitive in the modern world, they need to be held to the best standards available. The governor continues to fail at delivering for New Mexico children."

Neither the governor's office nor Skandera has answered SFR's questions about the reason for the delay or whether human-caused climate change or evolution have contributed to it.

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