A newly constituted Kansas state school board debated the merits of yet another set of science standards last week, this time vowing to reinstate references to evolution and the origin of the universe the old board had deleted a year and a half ago.
The 10-member board is slated to vote on the proposed standards at its Feb. 13- 14 meeting. Seven members have stated that they will vote in favor of the revised document, according to board member Janet Waugh.
“We have the support, and there’s no doubt we’ll do it,” Ms. Waugh declared.
The latest set of proposed state science standards is the sixth in a series written by a committee of 27 science experts. The standards would replace the version adopted with the controversial exclusions in August 1999, said John R. Staver, a co-chairman of the science committee and the director of the Center for Science Education at Kansas State University.
The new version includes discussion of evolution, the origin of the universe, and the development of Earth as propounded by most scientists, he said. The document also articulates a “statement of tolerance” to guide teachers of students who disagree with such concepts. For example, it suggests that they talk with their families and “other appropriate sources” about the issues on their own time.
“If you are considering the questions and issues of God, science is the wrong tool,” Mr. Staver argued. “The proper tool is religion. When I face those questions, I leave my science background and go to church.”
Committee members who removed their signatures from the 1999 standards in protest will happily endorse the 2001 standards, he said.
Though the standards aren’t binding on districts, they provide the basis for state tests.
Science Groups Pleased
The National Science Teachers Association, based Arlington, Va., is also willing to endorse the new standards, said Cindy Workosky, a spokeswoman.
The NSTA, the National Research Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science revoked the copyright permission they had extended to Kansas to reprint sections of their science standards immediately after the 1999 decision. (Science Groups Deny Kansas Access to Their Standards,” Sept. 29, 1999.)
“We’re thrilled with the progress that’s been made,” Ms. Workosky said. “The earlier draft did not fully represent the teaching of evolution. They selectively took out key concepts.”
Meanwhile, the public will have a month to comment on the proposed standards.
“I’m disappointed that we’re going to go backwards,” said Steve E. Abrams, who supported eliminating the topic of evolution from the standards. The board member spent a good portion of the two-hour question-and-answer session last week firing questions at the standards committee. “It is wrong to teach evolution,” he repeated in an interview.
It was expected that the board would respond positively to the proposed standards.
Voters in Kansas ousted three conservative board members in last November’s elections, in large measure as a result of the dispute over the science standards, and ushered in four moderates who favored revisiting the issue. Seven members of the new board are deemed moderates; three are seen as conservatives.
Opposition To Continue
Nevertheless, those who oppose teaching evolution in Kansas schools say they won’t stop fighting for their cause.
The tolerance clause “that everyone is applauding as so wondrous is a mechanism for censorship,” contended John H. Calvert, the managing director of the Intelligent Design Network, an organization based in Shawnee Mission, Kan., that opposes the proposed standards. “I really believe that truth will prevail.”
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2001 edition of Education Week as Kansas Board Likely To Reinstate Evolution in Standards