The Kansas board of education made good last week on its newest members’ promise to return the concept of evolution to the state science standards, a move that was applauded by scientists around the country.
Meanwhile, as policymakers in the Sunflower State affirmed their commitment to the teaching of evolution, their counterparts in Alabama gave the subject a less ringing endorsement. Included in the new science standards approved by Alabama education officials this month is a disclaimer that declares evolution to be a “controversial” theory.
In Kansas, the 10-member state school board voted 7-3 on Feb. 14 to replace controversial benchmarks set in 1999 with a version of the science standards that includes sections on the origin of the universe, the development of Earth, and dinosaurs and their fossils, said Val DeFever, a board member.
Such references had been removed a year and a half ago by the then-sitting board, many of whom objected on religious grounds to prevailing scientific explanations for the origins of the universe and species. Reversal of that action became a virtual certainty after four new members deemed more moderate on the issue were elected in November.
“We put the science back into science,” Ms. DeFever said. “I can now feel confident that we’re providing students of Kansas with world-class standards.”
While state tests cover material outlined in the standards, Kansas districts are not compelled to align their curriculum with them.
Praise for the Kansas decision came from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, both based in Washington, and the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association. After the 1999 change, the groups had revoked the copyright permission they had given Kansas to reprint sections of their science standards. (“Science Groups Deny Kansas Access to Their Standards,” Sept. 29, 1999.)
“Students in Kansas will once again have the opportunities to explore and understand what have become important foundations of modern life, earth, and physical sciences and will be better prepared to be productive members of our increasingly scientific and technological world,” says a statement released by those groups following the vote.
But the decision was criticized in other circles.
“They’ve legislated censorship,” said John H. Calvert, the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, an organization based in Shawnee Mission, Kan., that advocates the view that the world was created by a force other than nature. “We’ve told them what they’ve done is unconstitutional.”
But Mr. Calvert said that neither he, nor members of his organization, had plans to challenge the action in court at this time.
Alabama Move Debated
In Alabama, the state board of education unanimously approved a revised set of science standards at its Feb. 8 meeting after some debate over the disclaimer on evolution included in the preface, said Thomas E. Salter, a spokesman for the state education department.
“It is controversial because it states that natural selection provides the basis for the modern scientific explanation for the diversity of living things,” the preface to the standards says.. “Since natural selection has been observed to play a role in influencing small changes in the population, it is assumed, based on the study of artifacts, that it produces large changes, even though this has not been directly observed.”
Some members of the public complained about the preface’s characterization of the theory of evolution as “controversial,” but they did not object to the way the standards themselves treat the topic, Mr. Salter said.
Alabama already includes an insert in state-approved biology textbooks that says evolution and other explanations of the origins of life “should be considered as theory, not fact,” Mr. Salter noted. He said that statement would continue to be placed in those books.
A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 2001 edition of Education Week as Evolution Restored to Kansas Standards, But Called ‘Controversial’ in Alabama’s