Guest Opinions

These Idaho graduates ask Senate Education Committee to keep science standards strong

Boise High School teacher Ali Ward with her AP environmental science students in February 2017.
Boise High School teacher Ali Ward with her AP environmental science students in February 2017.

As proud graduates of Idaho public schools who are currently pursuing advanced degrees in the sciences, we hope that future generations of Idaho’s children and young adults will be able to benefit from the same educational resources that we did. However, changes made over the past year to statewide science standards by the Idaho House Education Committee handicap students’ learning, putting them at a disadvantage in both educational and work settings.

During the 2017 legislative session, the House Education Committee provisionally removed five sections from science standards on topics such as climate change, biodiversity, and human impacts on earth systems. In the 2018 session, instead of accepting the five sections rewritten by a team of educators, the House Committee voted to remove a sixth standard on renewable energy. Furthermore, they removed all supporting content across all standards, which is essential for guiding students and teachers. By removing this content from the legally defined performance standards, teaching on a range of environmental subjects becomes merely optional.

These decisions point to a worrisome trend in which politicians’ ongoing alterations to Idaho’s Science Content Standards are incrementally eroding the quality of our state’s public education. The Idaho Senate Education Committee will now decide in what form it wants to pass the standards. We urge lawmakers to adopt the amended five sections, and to retain crucial supporting content within the legal science standards.

Some argue that the House Committee’s changes will not prevent instruction on subjects like biodiversity and renewable energy. If this were true, why would the Committee remove the supporting content in the first place? Without a legal obligation to include these subjects, overburdened teachers may be less likely to present them. We worry that this will have the greatest impact on school districts without the resources or political will to continue teaching a full range of topics.

We believe that all students — not just those in wealthier districts or private schools — should have access to education that adequately teaches them about their environment, prepares them for higher education, and trains them for good jobs in the sciences. Idaho students are capable of great scientific achievement; cutting curriculum requirements will make meeting this potential much more difficult.

Last year, Idaho’s labor market was unable to fill 7,000 science, technology, engineering, and math jobs across the state. These are well-paid jobs, which collectively could have contributed $24 million in state tax revenue. Access to robust public education in the sciences is foremost in preparing students for careers in STEM. Recent changes to science standards move Idaho further away from nationally held standards, reducing Idaho students’ access to rigorous science education, and thereby hindering their future competitiveness in the workforce.

Having access to strong science training before college has been foundational to getting us where we are today. We hope the Senate Education Committee will look beyond near-term political tussles, and ensure the strength of Idaho’s public education into the future.

Katie McConnell holds a master of environmental science and is pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Anna Moeller holds an M.Sc. in wildlife biology and is pursuing a Ph.D. in wildlife biology at the University of Montana. Lindsay Sonderhouse is pursuing a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. All three are Boise High School graduates.