No rush on new science standards
No rush on new science standards
State education board not likely to hurry a return to pro-evolution guidelines

By John Hanna - Associated Press, Lawrence Journal World, Wed, Nov 22, 2006
Topeka — While Kansas public schools are likely to get their fifth set of science standards in eight years, the officials who want to ditch the anti-evolution ones now in place aren’t planning to act immediately.

Two new Kansas State Board of Education members take office Jan. 8, ending a conservative GOP majority and giving control to a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans. That makes a return to standards treating evolution as well-grounded science — not a flawed theory — seem inevitable.

But board members and scientists who want to rewrite the standards also want to take at least several months to do it. They hope to reconvene a panel of educators whose evolution-friendly work fell by the wayside last year when the board’s conservative majority decided to adopt language suggested by intelligent design supporters.

Those wanting to rewrite the standards argue that schools either resisted the anti-evolution ones or decided to hold off on any course changes until after this year’s elections, given the chance that they would change the board’s membership.

“There’s no real, compelling reason that they have to be adopted in January,” said Steve Case, associate director of Kansas University Center for Science Education. “I don’t want the board to do anything in haste in a reactionary sort of way. They need to do it right.”

Intelligent design supporters don’t believe the board can do a good job of rewriting the standards. They contend the existing ones don’t promote their ideas but encourage an open classroom discussion of evolution and its flaws.

“We’re fighting entrenched authority, not only within the science institutions but within the academic institutions,” said John Calvert, a retired Lake Quivira attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network.

Moderate majority

Joining the board in January are moderate Republicans Sally Cauble, of Liberal, and Jana Shaver of Independence. While campaigning, Cauble said evolution had been well-tested. Shaver said last week that the board should rely on scientists and educators to write the standards — an approach likely to lead to evolution-friendly standards.

Such standards are used to develop tests for students that measure how well schools are teaching science. While they don’t dictate what schools teach — those decisions are left to 296 local school boards — scientists worry that any tilt toward intelligent design would encourage changes in the classroom.

Intelligent design says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some features of the universe that are complex and well-ordered. Many scientists view it as creationism, repackaged to get around a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited its teaching as a government endorsement of specific religious doctrines.

Kansas had evolution-friendly standards in 1999, when a conservative state board majority rewrote them to delete most references to the theory. That inspired international ridicule — and a voter backlash. The board returned to evolution-friendly standards in February 2001, just a month after a moderate majority took over.

Controversial changes

State law requires periodic reviews of academic standards, leading the board to consider changes last year, with a conservative majority back in charge.

Those changes included a definition of science that doesn’t specifically limit science to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.

Also, the new standards said evolutionary theory that all life had a common origin has been challenged by fossils and molecular biology. And, they said, there’s controversy about whether changes over time in one species can lead to a new species. Both statements echo intelligent design arguments, defying mainstream science.

“The sooner the teachers in Kansas get a clear directive of what is expected of them, the better it will be for science education,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which fights efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution. “Hopefully, this will not be a really drawn-out process and it won’t get derailed.”

But John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports intelligent design research, contends that if the new board is serious about writing good standards, it will have hearings and ensure that people with diverse views, including evolution critics, have a role.

If the board simply wants to “rubber stamp” the scientific establishment’s views, he said, “I don’t know why they’re going to even go through motions. They might as well just approve it.”