Archive for Thursday, July 10, 2003

Board splits on evolution debate

Science-testing standards likely to stay unchanged in Kansas public schools

July 10, 2003


— The fight over teaching the origins of life has evolved into a stalemate.

And for the state's pro-evolution forces, that's good, because science standards in place require Kansas students to learn about evolution.

"The standards we have now are pretty good," said Adrian Melott, a Kansas University physics and astronomy professor. "I don't think we need to mess with them."

On Wednesday, the Kansas State Board of Education deadlocked 5-5 on whether it should conduct a comprehensive review of the standards, which are the basis for science tests given every other year to students in Kansas schools. The board plans to discuss the issue again in August.

Ironically, it was the pro-evolution members who wanted the review, saying science standards should not be treated any differently than standards periodically reviewed in other subjects.

And it was the anti-evolution board members who argued that a full review would be time-consuming and acrimonious.

"As far as the e-word is concerned, I don't think there will be any change there -- I don't think the votes are there," said board member Connie Morris, R-St. Francis. "Why should we put ourselves through the anguish?"

During the board's 30-minute discussion, members did not use the word evolution and only alluded to past controversies.

Melott speculated anti-evolution board members would just as soon see the issue disappear because several of them closely identified in the past with the anti-evolution stance were later defeated at the polls.

In 1999, the board made international news -- much of it negative for Kansas -- by de-emphasizing evolution in science standards.

After the 2000 election, the board shifted from having a 6-4 majority in favor of de-emphasizing evolution to a 7-3 majority for putting evolution back in the standards, which occurred in 2001.

Last year, with the evolution issue on the back burner, two conservative Republicans took two seats from GOP board members who supported putting evolution in the standards.

Now the board is split 5-5 on many issues.

Melott and several other KU professors were vocal in efforts to put evolution back in the standards.

Tim Miller, a professor of religious studies, said the current gridlock was OK with him. "As long as the right policies are in place," he said.

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