Georgia Regresses: Drops E-Word

Georgia is in the process of revising its 1997 “Quality Control Curriculum” (QCC) science education standards. The previous standards received a grade of F on Dr. Lawrence Lerner’s 2000 evaluation of science education standards produced for the Fordham Foundation. The earlier standards used the word “evolution,” but according to Lerner, “not in a way that encourages clarification of its role in the life sciences.”

The proposed GA science standards (“Georgia Performance Standards -- Draft”) are derived from the American Association for the Advancement of Science publication, Benchmarks for Science Literacy and from the Council on Basic Education Standards for Excellence in Education (SEE). Both of these documents include evolution as a critical scientific concept that must be taught. The Benchmarks specifically caution against picking and choosing among their recommendations. Although the Georgia Standards Draft reproduces long segments from the Benchmarks and SEE, there is systematic deletion of evolution. This includes biological evolution, as well as geological evolution, including statements about the age of the Earth. In some places, the Georgia Standards Draft also deletes human reproduction from the Benchmarks or SEE.

The state Superintendent of Education, Kathy Cox, calls evolution a “buzzword,” and claims that removing it will make teaching easier for teachers. She wishes to replace the word “evolution” with “biological changes over time.” Supt. Cox is on record as stating her support for teaching creationism through local option, and apparently believes that creationism is a “competing theory” (Dana Tofig, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 1, 2003). Supt. Cox has told reporters that the new standards would allow students to be taught, in the reporters words, “all legitimate theories,” and specifically mentioned Intelligent Design (ID) (Mary MacDonald, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 30, 2004). [Link has expired]

The Science standards, when accepted, will be used to determine questions on the high school exit exam, the CRCT. After a period for public comment, the State Board of Education will vote on the standards in May. Strong support for the inclusion of the word evolution has been shown by former Georgia governor and ex-President Jimmy Carter [Link has expired], and an on-line statement signed by thousands of scientists, teachers, and other citizens. The Georgia Academy of Sciences is on record supporting the unqualified teaching of evolution in the public schools, as is the University System of Georgia Biology Academic Advisory Comittee, according to which, “In order to properly prepare scientifically literate citizens/students, it is necessary for schools to teach biological evolution.”

NCSE Analysis

A major concern for keeping the word evolution in the standards is to ensure that the topic will be tested on the CRCT; if evolution is not in the science standards, it will not be tested on the CRCT. If it is not tested on the CRCT, it will very likely not be taught, because teachers are under great pressure to teach to the test. Concepts related to evolution, such as natural selection, adaptation, and genetics, may well be taught, but not in the context of evolution. The word “evolution” must be used for sound science education.

Contrary to Supt. Cox’s contention, removal of the word “evolution” does not make it easier for teachers. It makes it less likely that evolution will be taught. Teachers use state science standards as a shield against pressure from parents or administrators to avoid the topic of evolution.

Supt. Cox’s perception that the Draft will allow instruction in ID is very disturbing. ID proposes that some complex structures require an “intelligent agent” (God) for their creation; it is a sectarian religious view that should not be advocated in the public school classroom. Contrary to claims, ID “theory” is not being used by scientists to explain the natural world. On the contrary, the largest scientific society in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the author of the Benchmarks document used by Georgia in revising its standards) has called ID “inappropriate” as “subject matter for science education.”

Lerner’s data showed 10 states that did not use the e-word in their science standards: Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Since that time, Alabama, Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have revised their standards and included the word “evolution.” In dropping the word “evolution” from its revised standards, Georgia has regressed.