The Kansas board of education last week ordered a rewrite of its controversial science standards, but the revisions still will not address the theory of evolution.
The board voted 6-4 to assign the state education commissioner to work with lawyers to ensure that the standards adopted in August won’t violate copyrights held by three national groups that wrote model science standards in the past decade.
Kansas’ standards borrowed heavily from those models, but the groups denied the state board permission to use their work because the Kansas document ignores the basic tenets of evolution. (“Science Groups Deny Kansas Access to Their Standards,” Sept. 29, 1999.)
Changes ordered by the board are on schedule to be completed by December, according to Kathy Toelkes, a spokeswoman for the state education department. The delay won’t slow the development of statewide science assessments that are to be ready by the spring of 2001, she added.
While use of the state standards is voluntary for school districts, the document will be the basis for what appears on the assessment. Without a thorough explanation of evolution in the standards, the subject won’t be broached on the tests.
An Election Issue
At its regular monthly meeting last week, the board rejected an attempt to insert evolution into the standards. The board touched off a firestorm of criticism in the state and nationwide when it removed phrases such as “evolution by natural selection is a broad, unifying theoretical framework in biology.”
Despite the board’s stance against the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, most Kansas districts haven’t changed how they treat the topic.
“They’re out there using local control to fend for themselves,” said Steven B. Case, a steering-committee member of Kansas Citizens for Science, a group that emerged in opposition to the standards.
While the state’s lawyers are at work, the future of the debate has already moved into the political arena.
Four of the six board members who voted for the standards--and reaffirmed that vote last week--are up for re-election next fall.
Evolution promises to be a central issue in those elections. Linda Holloway, the board’s chairwoman and a supporter of its standards, faced an opponent for the Republican nomination to retain her seat even before the vote this past summer.
Sue Gamble, the vice president of the Shawnee Mission school board and Ms. Holloway’s challenger, said constituents in the suburban Kansas City region are highly critical of the board’s position.
“You cannot teach science if you take the unifying principle away,” said Ms. Gamble, a former president of the Kansas Association of School Boards. “People do feel that their education standards in Kansas have been degraded, and people don’t like that.”
Another board member who voted to downplay evolution in the standards acknowledged that he will probably face opposition in his quest to get the Republican nomination next year. But he expects his stance won’t deter his re-election bid.
“I’ve gotten lots of support,” said Steve E. Abrams, who represents the district south of Wichita in the southern part of the state. “Better than 70 percent of the messages have been encouraging.”
While the debate takes place, Mr. Case said, schools can continue teaching evolution, relying on the national standards or the version that a state writing team proposed but the board rejected.
“If we can delay until the election, we can minimize the damage,” said Mr. Case, who was a member of the committee that wrote the original standards document.
Beefing Up in N.M.
A few days before the Kansas board members stood firm in de-emphasizing evolution, their counterparts in New Mexico strengthened the treatment of the topic in their state’s content standards.
The New Mexico state board voted 13-1 to delete a sentence encouraging teachers to question evolution and insert one telling educators to demonstrate the theory based on Darwin’s ideas. Flora M. Sanchez, the board president, proposed the changes in part because the state’s standards had been compared with those in Kansas.
New Mexico’s changes take effect immediately.