Arizona’s state school board approved by a 6-to-4 vote a new draft of science and history standards on Monday, capping a tumultuous few months of policymaking.
The final draft restores language related to the teaching of evolution and climate change, some of which had been removed or weakened in earlier versions of the science standards. Now, among other references, it requires students to “gather and communicate evidence on how the process of natural selection provides an explanation of how new species can evolve,” language that the Arizona Science Teachers Association had urged the board to restore.
The science draft also includes an emphasis on science and engineering practices. But it does not contain the “disciplinary core ideas” in the shared Next Generation Science Standards, which about 20 other states have adopted.
Arizona Superintendent Diane Douglas was among those voting not to approve the standards.
Controversy erupted earlier this year when several teachers and administrators said that, during an “internal review,” the Arizona education department significantly watered down portions related to evolution. Fears that the standards would contain unscientific ideas were redoubled later when a creationist was among the group of people tapped to put finishing touches on the draft. Many attributed the changes to Douglas, who has said she believes the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution should be taught in schools. But she denied being the force behind the revisions at the board meeting.
Earlier in the meeting, Douglas made a motion to use the Hillsdale/Barney Charter Initiative plan instead of the draft science and history standards. They are a set used in charter schools sponsored by Hillsdale College, a private Christian institution located in Michigan with ties to the Trump administration. Douglas did not even get a second on the motion.
Douglas lost her bid to retain her position in the Republican primary, which means that both of her final attempts to shape policy in the state seem to have ended in disappointment.
The state’s history standards were generally less controversial than the science ones.
At the board meeting, members also heard several public comments from people from the Sikh community. They urged the board to adopt the history standards which reference Sikhism rather than the Hillsdale plan, which emphasizes world religions more in general, but doesn’t mention the East Asian faith.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.