Most States Get 'Satisfactory' Rating On Evolution Content

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Most states do "a satisfactory job" of explaining the theory of evolution in their academic standards, but 19 have benchmarks that rate from "unsatisfactory" to "disgraceful," an evaluation from a conservative-leaning think tank concludes.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia cover evolution in a way that gives students a thorough understanding of what scientists call "the central unifying concept of biology," says the report, "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching of Evolution in the States," released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

The fact that many states scored an A or a B on the foundation's scale shows that the subject is treated fairly well, especially because the foundation's earlier reports found state science standards lacking, the head of the group says.

For More Information

The report, "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States," is available online from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

"Some states have mediocre [science] standards across the board," said Chester E. Finn Jr., the foundation's president and an assistant U.S. secretary of education under President Reagan. Those standards are bound to be of similar quality in their sections on evolution, he said.

Fordham, a privately endowed Washington research and policy organization, has rated states' standards over the past several years, often giving giving them critical grades that reflect a generally conservative view of curricular issues. In addition, Fordham has supported policies on school choice that put it at odds with most liberals and public school groups.

On the theory of evolution, the Fordham report sides firmly with the scientific community and most science educators in stating that the topic must be taught, and against including alternative theories favored by creationists and other evolution critics.

The report's stance provoked some conservative Christians who attended a one-day conference convened here last week by Fordham and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to discuss the report.

"We will not be silent, and we will not go away," said Barrett Duke, the director of the research institute of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "A winner-take- all mentality will not help anyone," he said, referring to the report's uncompromising tone against creationism and similar theories rejected by mainstream scientists.

F-Minus for Kansas

In the Fordham Foundation report, states in the Southeast and the Great Plains tended to receive the lowest grades. The highest grades spanned the country from New England to Hawaii. Iowa does not have statewide standards and was not graded.

Kansas, which ignited the most recent debate over the teaching of evolution when its state board of education virtually eliminated the topic from science standards adopted in 1999, scored an F-minus, the lowest grade given.

Kansas' standards are a "disgraceful paean to antiscience" because they avoid "all discussion of the age of the earth, or any other topics touching on the history of the earth or universe," the report says.

The state's grade would jump to an A, however, if the board that takes office in January with some new members adopts a set of standards written by a committee of teachers and scientists that the current board rejected last year, the report adds.

Other states that received F's were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Two notable exceptions to the low marks among many Southern states are North Carolina and South Carolina, which received A's. North Carolina "conveys a well-integrated picture of the historical sciences" in high school, and South Carolina has a "thorough and challenging treatment of evolution," the report says.

California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island also earned A's.

All the states that received the top grade included a thorough discussion of human evolution—the most controversial portions of the theory for religious conservatives.

Most states scoring a C or lower failed to mention that the biological evidence suggests humans evolved from other species over the earth's 4-billion-year history.

Vol. 20, Issue 5, Page 12

Published in Print: October 4, 2000, as Most States Get 'Satisfactory' Rating On Evolution Content
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