Antievolution standards adopted in Kansas

At its November 8, 2005, meeting in Topeka, the Kansas state board of education voted 6-4 to adopt the draft set of state science standards that were rewritten, under the tutelage of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific status of evolution. The vote was expected, since in the past the antievolution majority on the board consistently ignored protests and expressions of concern from, among others, the committee that wrote the original standards, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a group of 38 Nobel laureates (PDF), the mayor of Lawrence, a number of business leaders and economic development recruiters hoping to promote biotechnology enterprises in the greater Kansas City area, the chancellor and the provost of the University of Kansas, the educational research company hired to evaluate the standards, and the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association, both of which denied the state permission to use their copyrighted materials in the standards.


Among those deploring the vote was Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who said in a statement, "This is just the latest in a series of troubling decisions by the Board of Education. If we're going to continue to bring high-tech jobs to Kansas and move our state forward, we need to strengthen science standards, not weaken them. Stronger public schools ought to be the mission of the Board of Education, and it's time they got down to the real business of strengthening Kansas schools." Marvalee Wake, the president of the American Institute for Biological Sciences, added in a press release issued on November 8, 2005, "Unfortunately the Kansas State Board of Education is determined to disregard advice from the scientific community." The National Science Teachers Association commented in its November 9, 2005, press release, "The standards, as approved, contain significant errors regarding the scientific theory of evolution that compromise the document's integrity, as well as all of science."

Observers are reminded of the situation in 1999, when the board voted to adopt science standards in which evolution and related concepts were absent; in the subsequent election, three of the four antievolution incumbents lost their party's nomination, and the new board voted 7-3 to restore evolution to the standards. Challenges to three of the present antievolution incumbents have already been announced. In District 3, Harry McDonald, a retired science teacher and the president of Kansas Citizens for Science, will be challenging John Bacon in the Republican primary. In District 5, Sally Cauble, a retired teacher, will be challenging Connie Morris in the Republican primary. And in District 9, Kent Runyan, a professor of education at Pittsburg State University, will run as a Democrat against Iris Van Meter. Also, a new political action committee, the Kansas Alliance for Education, reportedly hopes to help to oust the six conservatives on the board, following the advice of The New York Times in its November 10, 2005, editorial "to once again dump the board members responsible for this lunacy."

Meanwhile, the effects of the vote are not going to be immediate. As the Lawrence Journal-World (November 9, 2005) explained, "For all the hue and cry, the vote will have no immediate practical impact on teaching science in Kansas classrooms, officials said. The standards are used as guidelines for school districts to prepare for statewide science tests. None of the controversial parts of the standards are keyed to the tests, which aren't scheduled until 2007." Despite the declaration [Link broken] in the October 2005 issue of Popular Science that teaching biology in Kansas ranks as the third worst job in science -- behind only manure inspector and human lab rat -- state board of education member Bill Wagnon told the Lawrence Journal-World (November 8, 2005), "Well-trained science teachers will ignore the state board; badly trained science teachers will be confused." Confused, or -- even worse -- imbued with a sense of entitlement to teach evolution badly: consider a recent exchange on WBUR radio between a science teacher who uncritically supports the standards and KCFS's Jack Krebs.

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