Pennsylvania could finally see an overhaul of its K-12 science standards after 18 years, potentially renewing a long-standing political battle over climate change and evolution.
But the timing of the pandemic has caught the attention of lawmakers elsewhere.
Lawmakers are focused on getting children back to classrooms and securing funding for next year, officials said, after schools closed by COVID-19 spread in March.
“These micro-issues are pale compared to the overall well-being of our children,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the state’s House Republican Caucus, when he was reached on Friday.
The State Board of Education moved forward on Wednesday an update to Pennsylvania K-12 science standards. Adopted in 2002, the existing state standards are among the oldest in the country.
An independent commission will review the proposed standards with input from the state legislature, which does not need to approve the standards but can veto or propose a bill to remove them.
Gov. Tom Wolf, however, who supports the standards, could veto this bill, creating an impasse between Republicans in the legislature and the Democratic governor.
“Modernizing science education standards in schools is vital to the future success of students and important to strengthening Pennsylvania’s economy and creating jobs,” Wolf said in a press release Wednesday.
At the K-5 level, the new standards would focus on the environment, ecology, technology and engineering. At level 6-12, these are divided into two sets of standards: environment and ecology, and technology and engineering.
The new draft standards are also state-specific, include cross-cutting concepts, and teach students to use scientific research to make decisions – things some people thought were missing in previous drafts.
In the past, efforts to change state standards have stalled the review process, although some schools adopted draft standards from 2009 and 2010 and the board approved computer standards in 2018.
While most states have adopted next-generation versions of science standards, Pennsylvania has been noticeably absent from this list – one of only six states.
The new interim standards are based on a National Research Council framework and Next Generation standards, both of which recognize the impact of human actions on natural systems.
Evolution by natural selection has been controversial among some religious groups since its inception and has sparked ongoing debate over its teaching. And climate change remains a controversial topic in the Pennsylvania GOP-led legislature. Some committees have invited climate change deniers to testify.
State House Democratic Caucus spokesman Bill Patton, when reached on Friday, acknowledged the topic can generate political controversy, but noted Democrats would trust the Board of Education to create impartial standards.
“We want to give the benefit of the doubt to education experts rather than injecting politics into them,” he said.
Locally, a West York Region School District board member recently suggested removing a geography textbook for its climate change sections. The board voted to remove the manual, but overturned the decision in a subsequent vote.
A handful of states updated their standards this summer to include climate change and evolution as a larger part of their curriculum.
But that was when the spring closings were still seen as temporary mitigation efforts.
With the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down as the fall semester begins, Mike Straub, spokesperson for State House GOP, said on Friday that the curriculum had taken a back seat to ensure students were on track. school.
Lawmakers are certainly in favor of matching scientific standards to modern challenges, he said, but the current focus is on educating students.
“There are still so many questions swirling around,” he said, noting the challenges of financing transport and the need to determine the impact on next year’s budget.
Patton agreed that for House Democrats, reopening schools is at the forefront of discussions, but added that updating the standards was long overdue, especially in the current climate.
“The pandemic has demonstrated more than anything else how important and useful science can be,” he said.