Dr S James Gates resigned from the Maryland State Board of Education at its regular meeting today, the Baltimore Sun reports.
He was one of the most respected members of the state’s board, having begun serving seven years ago. He said he resigned because he believes Governor Larry Hogan’s executive orders to force schools to start the school year after Labor Day and end it by June 15 had taken the power to direct educational policy away from the independent school board.
“I do not now confidently work in an environment I perceive as supportive of education nor respects the independence of the board,” the paper quoted him as saying in a letter, which was addressed directly to the governor.
Dr Gates is a theoretical physicist and a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013.
He cited physicist Richard Feynman in once saying if you can’t explain physics to the guy sitting on a bar stool next to you, then you don’t understand physics yourself.
“Your executive order has the remarkable potential to damage both the most at risk and the most ambitious students in Maryland,” he continued, addressing Governor Hogan. “Ultimately, with this directive the state of Maryland will risk losing in the future its national standing of having one of the country’s best educational systems.”
A spokesman for the governor’s office sent a response, which the Sun reported. “Ultimately, the board members are free to their own opinions, misguided as they are, but they won’t stop the governor from doing what is clearly right and what the vast majority of Marylanders want to see done,” said Douglass Mayer, Mr Hogan’s spokesman.
Despite his departure from the board, Dr Gates’s understanding of science and the need to educate students in science pushed the board toward the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 students in the state. This change in state standards is now working its way through schools and will steer students at all levels, from elementary to high school, to understand science more deeply for many years to come.
“Until now, in-depth science education has been for an elite few. These standards will make it an integral part of education for every student,” he said when the board was considering the NGSS. “These standards provide the foundation for the jobs of tomorrow. They can be the key to unlocking the American dream.”