A bill that could undermine science education in schools is moving through Oklahoma’s legislature ― again.
If the Oklahoma Science Education Act, which allows the state’s public school teachers to challenge scientific facts during classroom instruction, sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the seventh year in a row Sen. Josh Brecheen (R) has introduced some iteration of this bill.
The bill passed Thursday in the the House General Government Oversight and Accountability Committee after the House Common Education Committee declined to hear it. The bill, which already passed in the state’s Senate 34-10 last month, could proceed to the floor of the House for consideration.
The proposal seeks to create a classroom environment in which students “respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues” and in which neither the State Board of Education nor any school district officials can prohibit public school teachers from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”
Critics of this bill and the six failed ones that came before it say the language is merely a backdoor attempt to let teachers inject science denialism into lessons about climate change, evolution and other hot-button subjects.
"Oklahoma has an incredible and unique opportunity to attract businesses known for their focus on STEM professions. However, we diminish those opportunities every time legislation like this becomes legitimized by our state legislature." Rep. Cyndi Munson (D)
The bill “would allow science teachers to teach anything they pleased, while preventing responsible educational authorities from intervening,” the National Center for Science Education said in a press release Thursday. “No scientific topics are identified as controversial, but the main sponsor is [Brecheen], who introduced similar legislation that directly targeted evolution in previous legislative sessions.”
“Parents want our kids to be innovators and problems solvers, and evidence-based science education is an essential prerequisite,” Climate Parents director Lisa Hoyos said in a press statement.
“We urge legislators to stand up for students, and their right to science education free of political interference, by rejecting this misguided ‘science miseducation’ bill.”
Brecheen did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the bill’s purpose.
Cyndi Munson (D), one of the lawmakers who voted against the bill at Thursday’s hearing, told The Huffington Post that proposals like this one reflect badly on the whole state.
“Oklahoma has an incredible and unique opportunity to attract businesses known for their focus on STEM professions. However, we diminish those opportunities every time legislation like this becomes legitimized by our state legislature,” she said.
If it were to become law, it would complicate an already-existing student achievement issue, she said.
“[I]t puts our state in a dangerous situation when preparing students for national exams and future STEM careers. Currently, Oklahoma ranks 48th out of 50 on the Quality Counts Achievement Index. This is simply unacceptable.”
It’s unclear how this bill would conflict with Oklahoma’s existing science education standards, which include lessons on both evolution and climate change.
Climate change has had a pronounced impact on the state. The temperature in Oklahoma hit 99 degrees in the dead of winter earlier this year, and federal reports show that the increase in temperatures is changing crop growth cycles.
CORRECTION: This article previously stated that temperatures hit 100 degrees in the state in February. The temperature in Mangum, Oklahoma, tied a state record of 99 degrees, but didn’t officially hit triple digits.