Topeka Evolution is sure to receive much attention in State Board of Education races, but candidates also are talking about such issues as student testing, teacher preparation and the relationship of board members.
Five of the 10 state board seats will be filled in the Nov. 7 general election, and four districts have contested Republican primaries Aug. 1.
The board's decision last August to approve science testing standards that de-emphasize evolution brought unprecedented attention to the board and student testing.
Several candidates are focusing on the board's 1997 decision to change the way the state tests students in math, science, social studies, and reading and writing. In an effort to make the tests more objective, the board decided tests should have more multiple-choice questions and fewer open-ended or essay questions.
New tests for math and for reading and writing were introduced last year, while new versions of the social studies and science tests will go into effect next year.
Mary Douglass Brown of Wichita, who holds the 8th District seat, said the new tests provide a much better way of assessing knowledge.
Brown also praised a new test that diagnoses students' reading ability in the second grade, as well as "totally revamped" math and science testing standards.
She said an international study a few years ago revealed the need for better math education in the United States.
"The only thing that kept us from being at the bottom was Ceylon and South Africa," Brown said.
Sue Gamble, running against incumbent Linda Holloway of Shawnee for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District, supports a return to the old tests.
Gamble, a Shawnee real estate agent who has spent 13 years on the Shawnee Mission school board, said open-ended questions force students to apply their knowledge.
The old adage "show your work" still makes sense today, she said.
Candidates also want to make sure that the teachers giving those tests are prepared to do their jobs.
An emphasis on teacher preparation is about the only campaign plank that Brown and her primary opponent, Carol Rupe, have in common.
Rupe, who coordinates the Wichita school district's tutoring program, said better pay and alternative ways to become licensed to teach would make it easier to recruit good teachers.
Brown favors allowing people without licenses to teach under the supervision of a veteran teacher for a year, at which time they would become certified.
She said this would entice people who have much knowledge and experience in a subject but don't have a teaching degree or license.
"Do they really need it if they can be a good teacher?" Brown asked.
Other candidates say board members, who have deadlocked 5-5 on several issues in recent years, must work to reduce rancor among themselves.
"I see a need for people to stop calling each other names," said Brad Angell, a Junction City woodworking-shop owner seeking the GOP nomination in the 6th District.
That seat is open because incumbent Scott Hill, a Republican from Abilene, is not running for re-election.
Angell's opponent, Salina attorney Bruce Wyatt, said attending the board's meetings made him believe members should assume a greater leadership role in shaping education policy.
"The longer I sat, the more I became convinced that the board needed some additional leadership and direction," Wyatt said.
Roger Rankin of Longton, seeking the Republican nomination for the 10th District, said the board needs to regain the respect of Kansas educators and improve its relationship with legislators.
"For the State Board of Education to be effective, they need to work with the Legislature and must understand the Legislature provides the funding," said Rankin, a former superintendent of the Elk Valley School District.
Rankin's opponent, incumbent Steve Abrams, said board members disagree on issues but it doesn't affect their ability to get things done.
"We work together all the time," said Abrams, of Arkansas City.
Abrams said he supports changing licensing requirements to attract better teachers, and he said the new reading tests for second-graders could turn out to be "the most important thing that we've done."