Protests erupted Monday when Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction proposed a draft of science and history education standards modeled off of Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Scope and Sequence standards to the Arizona Department of Education.
Teachers, parents, and the Secular Coalition of Arizona rallied to protest the drafts, expressing concern that the standards would exclude evolution and climate change from the science curriculum, should they be approved. If approved, the standards would apply to kindergarten through 12th grade students in Arizona public schools.
Diane Douglas, the superintendent who proposed the standards, said she does not believe the state’s department of education will pass the newly-drafted standards, but she said proposing them was “the right thing to do.”
“I don’t have a lot of time left in office, and I’m at the point where I need to start telling tough truths and leave our kids in a good place,” Douglas said.
Douglas said the protesters criticized “what they incorrectly believed I put into our science standards draft.” Though the Barney Charter Schools are not private religious schools, Douglas said protesters were also leary about the standards because Hillsdale is a private Christian school.
But evolution and climate change are included in the drafted standards, Douglas said.
Though Douglas has subscribed to Hillsdale College’s Imprimis publication for more than a decade, she only became aware of the Barney Charter School Initiative when the faculty of Lake Havasu City District Schools in Arizona sent her a copy of the Barney Initiative’s Scope and Sequence science education standards. After reading over the standards, Douglas said she knew she wanted to use them as a basis for Arizona’s statewide standards for kindergarten through 12th grade public school curriculum.
“I thought, ‘This is phenomenal, this is what children need to be learning,’” Douglas said. “Education standards shouldn’t be written in words that only teachers understand.”
Last December, Douglas called Phil Kilgore, director of the Barney Charter Schools Initiative, and asked if she could use the Scope and Sequence standards as a basis for standards in the state of Arizona. Kilgore said he was happy to share it.
“When I first started looking at the standards and speaking with Kilgore, I was surprised that evolution was in the curriculum; however, I understand exactly where Hillsdale is coming from,” Douglas said. “I see in it the even-handedness that I would want to see in any standards that we have.”
Kilgore supported teaching evolution in the Barney Charter schools, which are all chartered by state public school districts.
“We don’t run away from it, even though it is contentious, and some families who come here bristle at it,” Kilgore said.
Matthew Young, Hillsdale College’s chemistry department chair and associate professor of chemistry, helped create the Barney Charter School’s science curriculum standards.
“Evolution is not controversial,” Young said.
He added that the dichotomy between evolution and theistic worldviews is false, and educational standards like those at Hillsdale can help to combat it.
In December 2016, Douglas helped pass new math and English language arts standards for the state of Arizona. Afterwards, she began working on the science and social studies standards, neither of which had been examined for more than 14 years.
Specifically, Douglas said she would like to emphasize the history of science and the scientific method in the new education standards.
“I hope the state board of education will consider and read through the standards over the course of the next month,” Douglas said. “Ultimately, my recommendation will be the Hillsdale standards.”