Some Michigan lawmakers don't favor proposed science standards
Lawmakers are concerned over state control, "agenda-driven" science
State representatives Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills (left), and Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, are co-sponsoring legislation that would prohibit the state from adopting a new set of science standards for kindergarten-12th grade, called Next Generation Science Standards. (Courtesy photos / September 18, 2013)
Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, said he primarily worries that the state would lose control over what and how it teaches its students.
“I just don’t like turning over our standards to unelected bodies,” said McMillin. “It’s the same reason I don’t like Common Core standards.”
Michigan students must now be assessed against Common Core State Standards, a set of standards adopted by 47 states.
The Next Generation Science Standards are not federally mandated, but the states that adopt these standards would not be able to alter the language of the standards, according to the Next Generation Science Standards website. These were developed collaboratively between 26 states, the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Achieve, a nonprofit education reform organization.
“I have been leading the effort to stop the turning over our standards to private entities and retaining that control at the state level,” said McMillin. “I don’t care if these standards of Common Core were written by Rush Limbaugh and the Heritage Foundation, I would still oppose nationalizing our schools and giving away the ability to determine what’s taught in our schools.”
Worries over education content
McMillin and a cosponsor of the bill, Greg MacMaster, R-Kewadin, also question some of the science they think will be taught in the standards.
“It does get into controversial issues such as man-made global warming as fact,” said McMillin. “That’s still somewhat controversial.”
MacMaster said a concern of his was “agenda-driven” curriculum.
“We want to be able to use scientifically-proven education material in moving forward and teaching our kids, not anecdotal evidence or agenda-driven science,” said MacMaster. “It’s my understanding that this program coming forward is inviting hypotheticals and anecdotal information into the education environment and I think there needs to be more scientific instruction with scientific data.”
MacMaster, who earned a meteorological technical degree in atmospheric science from the Community Colleges of the Air Force and is a former meteorologist, said an example of his concern is climate change.
“For instance, let’s look at global warming. While many scientists are saying human interaction is contributing to global warming, if you look back hundreds and thousands of years, Michigan used to be under 20-30 feet of ice, and we used to be under 40 feet of water. There used to be palm trees in Scotland. Grand Traverse Bay used to be a dry canyon before streams started filling it in and the ice dam broke,” said MacMaster. “Before introducing humans (as a driver of climate change), they need to take a step back and look at hundreds of millions of years of data to show that humans are behind climate change. No one’s been able to refute my stance or position yet.”
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from about 280 parts per million to 387 parts per million since about 1850. The main source of carbon dioxide emission is fossil fuel use — about 75-80 percent — with deforestation contributing 20-25 percent, says Christopher Poulsen.
Poulsen is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan. He studies paleoclimate — the climate of the Earth over geologic time — as well as current global climate change.
Poulsen says that scientists know climate has fluctuated globally because of carbon dioxide over very long periods of time, but the increase in the amount of carbon dioxide over the past century has well outpaced what the natural environment can produce.
“On really long time scales, carbon dioxide can also vary due to natural phenomenon. It has to do with volcanic eruptions, the weathering of granitic rocks, the amount of organic matter buried,” said Poulsen. “But these processes are much, much slower. They don’t operate on 100 year time scales.”
Poulsen gave as an example a point in time at which there were crocodiles in Alaska and tropical trees in Antarctica, during the Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago.
“Both places were essentially where they are today, but the difference is the carbon dioxide was really really high,” said Poulsen. “Our best guess is the carbon dioxide concentrations were about four times what they are today.”