Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Evolution restored: Board approves new science standards

February 14, 2001


— Evolution has been restored as a central theory in Kansas' science curriculum, ending a debate that subjected the state to international ridicule over the teachings of the origins of man.

The State Board of Education voted 7-3 Wednesday to approve new science standards to be used in developing tests that will be given to students later this spring. The tests will include questions on evolution, which will now be considered one of the unifying concepts of the state's science curriculum.

The new standards will replace ones adopted in August 1999, which omitted references to many evolutionary concepts. Those standards brought Kansas international attention and criticism from scientists and science groups who saw evolution's de-emphasis as a step back.

"I believe now that we have science standards that the rest of the world could look to," said board member Carol Rupe, of Wichita, who voted for the new standards.

Voting with Rupe were Chairman Sonny Rundell, of Syracuse; Sue Gamble, of Shawnee; Val DeFever, of Independence; Janet Waugh, of Kansas City; Bill Wagnon, of Topeka; and Bruce Wyatt, of Salina.

Voting against the new standards were Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City; John Bacon, of Olathe; and Harold Voth, of Haven.

In casting his opposition, Abrams rejected depictions of the old standards as being crafted by religious conservatives. He argued repeatedly that evolution is a flawed theory and that he wasn't espousing any religious doctrine in questioning its teaching.

"What I do espouse is that this is not good science," Abrams said of the new standards.

School districts didn't appear to change their science courses after the board imposed the standards that de-emphasized evolution, but critics feared teachers would begin playing down the theory's importance in response.

The changes adopted in August 1999 sparked intense arguments that heavily influenced last year's races for five State Board of Education seats.

The die for changing the standards was cast last fall when voters ousted two board members who voted for de-emphasizing evolution, including then-chairwoman Linda Holloway, of Shawnee. Mary Douglass Brown, of Wichita, was also defeated.

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.

Some religious fundamentalists and others object to the teaching of evolution, saying it contradicts the biblical account of creation.

The board caused an uproar in 1999 when it voted 6-4 in favor of science standards that critics said stripped evolution from its accepted place at the center of biological studies. Gov. Bill Graves called the board's action "terrible, tragic, embarrassing."

The 1999 standards deleted references to macroevolution but included references to "microevolution," or changes within species.

Those standards also mention natural selection, the idea that advantageous traits increase in a population over time, but omit any reference to the big-bang theory of the universe's origin.

Supporters of those standards said they leave the decision about what to teach in the classroom up to local boards of education.

Kansas is one of several states, including Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska, where school boards have attempted to take evolution out of state science standards or to de-emphasize evolutionary concepts.

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