Archive for Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Kansas flunks evolution test

Science group calls Sunflower State disgraceful

September 27, 2000


— In a new chapter of a dispute that pits science against religion, a national organization of scientists gives schools in 19 states unsatisfactory grades for teaching evolution.

The report, released Tuesday by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, grades 49 states and the District of Columbia, on the basis of how well evolution is included in the state science education standards. California received the highest rank. Kansas, whose standards were described as "disgraceful," got the lowest grade, an F-minus.

States that received F's from the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the basis of how well evolution is included in science education standards:Kansas, Wyoming, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Florida, Alabama, North Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi, West Virginia and Tennessee.

Six states, including California, were graded at 100. Four states were graded in the 90s and were given A's in the report.

Fourteen states were graded at B, 7 got C, 6 were given D's and 13 flunked.

Iowa was not included because it has no statewide education standards, leaving that up to each local district.

Linda Holloway, former chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, said the report was deceptive and "very unfair."

"Clearly they have an ax to grind about evolution," she said in a telephone interview.

Kansas last year rekindled the issue of teaching evolution in public schools when the State Board of Education, led by Holloway, adopted testing standards that downplayed the importance of evolution and omitted the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe.

Leonard Krishtalka, director of Kansas University's Natural History Museum, said he was disappointed that the association failed to recognize that Kansas voters unseated the creationist members of the board in August primary elections.

"That should have sent a signal to the AAAS that what happened last year was an aberration, and that indeed those lousy science standards never went into effect," he said.

"Clearly they have an ax to grind about evolution."

Linda Holloway, former chairman, Kansas State Board of Education

Krishtalka said the survey "should have graded us on existing science standards, which are very good."

Other states have considered similar curriculum changes and some state legislatures have proposed laws that would forbid completely the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Evolution, a theory developed by Charles Darwin and others, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that all life, including humans, evolved from simple forms through a process of natural selection.

Related to biological evolution is the concept that the universe began with a "big bang" and that only later were the sun and the planets formed.

Teaching of evolution has been opposed by people who believe that the universe, the Earth and its creatures were created abruptly by God.

Some proponents of divine creation have organized a concept, called creationism, that they proposed be taught along with evolution. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court barred states from requiring the teaching of creationism. Now some of the same proponents support other concepts, such as "abrupt appearance" or "intelligent design," that are linked to divine creation.

Lawrence S. Lerner, who compiled the report for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said that the conflict "is not really about science, but about religion and politics." He calls creationism "a pseudoscientific rival to evolution that the courts have repeatedly held to be thinly veiled religion."

Lerner, a former professor at California State University, Long Beach, said that Kansas got such a poor grade because its guidelines forbid teaching anything about the age of the Earth or the universe.

"There is not a reference to the age of the universe because it changes all the time," explained Holloway. "Within a month after we adopted the standards, I heard three different ages of the Earth. That is kind of ludicrous to get them (teachers) to stick to one age when it changes all the time."

Lerner called the Kansas science education standards "a disgraceful paean to antiscience."

Holloway, however, said that the report was part of "a campaign of deception" and that all districts in Kansas are still teaching evolution.

"All we did was allow local groups to decide how they wanted to teach evolution," she said. "That is a reasonable thing to do."


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