The draft of Ohio’s science standards now includes language that encourages teachers to explain to high school students that scientists are still debating aspects of the theory of evolution.
Teachers should “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory,” according to a sentence added last week by the committee of state board of education members that wrote the latest draft.
The addition slightly changes the treatment of evolution in the state’s draft standards. Supporters of instruction in evolution have said that the draft considered by the committee gave a thorough and accurate explanation of the theory that started with the ideas of Charles Darwin. They still consider the Ohio draft to be a solid set of standards, even as they acknowledge that the new sentence gives teachers who want to criticize evolution an opening to do so.
“Evolution is in the standards,” said Eugenie C. Scott, the executive director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based group that supports the teaching of evolution. “The kids are going to be tested on the standards, so evolution will be taught.”
The latest addition, adopted by the state board committee on Oct. 14, opens the door for teachers to discuss the “intelligent design” theory, which suggests that some evolutionary changes happen so suddenly that they could be the work of a force such as God.
“The board should be commended for insisting that Ohio students learn about scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory as a part of a good science education,” said Stephen Meyer, the director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle organization that promotes intelligent-design theory.
“Such a policy represents science education at its very best, and it promotes the academic freedom of students and teachers who want to explore the full range of scientific views over evolution.”
Center of Controversy
Over the past year, Ohio has been at the center of the long- running debate over how to teach evolution, as its state board of education completes a revision of science standards mandated by state law.
More than 1,000 people filled a Columbus auditorium last spring for a debate between advocates of evolution and intelligent design staged by the state board. In recent weeks, both sides of the debate have pointed to polls that they say show public support for their positions.
Throughout the process, a small band of scientists has been promoting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. They say that the state should teach the controversy over whether evolution is the best explanation of biological diversity.
The National Academy of Sciences and other prominent science groups have urged Ohio to adopt standards that describe evolution as “the central unifying concept of biology” and “a critical component of many related scientific disciplines.” (“Eminent Science Group Reiterates Importance of Teaching Evolution,” April 28, 1999.)
Now that the science-standards committee has finished drafting its standards, the state board will listen to public comment on them at its meeting next month. The board has scheduled a vote on the standards at its December meeting. State law requires the board to adopt new science standards by the end of the year.
Since Ohio gives districts the final say over curriculum, local educators will decide how much emphasis to put on the debate over evolution, according to Patti Grey, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.