Topeka After months of debate, anger and confrontation, a 6-4 majority on the State Board of Education today is expected to embed criticism of evolution into school science standards.
Supporters of the standards say they contain important information about the shortcomings of evolution in explaining the origins of life, while opponents say the standards improperly open up science class to discussions about creationism and religion.
But despite the highly charged, political atmosphere, the vote will have no immediate practical impact on teaching science in Kansas classrooms, officials said Monday.
The standards are used as guidelines for school districts to prepare for statewide science tests.
None of the controversial parts of the standards are keyed to the tests, which aren't scheduled until 2007. Those linkages between standards and tests could happen later, but the composition of the board could change by then with four supporters of the standards up for re-election next year.
Still, critics of the standards say the measure could have short- and long-term consequences.
"It will weaken the teaching of science," Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said.
But the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a major promoter of intelligent design, praised the proposed Kansas standards "because they expand the information presented to students about biological and chemical evolution by including some of the scientific criticisms of these theories."
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, vice chairman of the education committee and a critic of the standards, said there is fear the measure is the "camel's nose in the tent and will lead to further inroads of religion in school."
He added, "The biggest impact will be on the reputation of the state of Kansas. It will reinforce in some people's minds that Kansas is backwards and illiterate."
State Board of Education Board member Bill Wagnon, whose district includes Lawrence, said the standards, which he opposes, will have no effect on good science teachers.
"Well-trained science teachers will ignore the state board; badly trained science teachers will be confused," Wagnon said.
At the college level, Craig Martin, chairman of the Kansas University Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, said the standards will have no effect on what KU offers.
"It just increases our frustration level in that we will get students who are poorly trained," Martin said. "They'll come in with religion and science mixed up in their heads."
If anything, the standards may force college instructors to include more evolution in their classes to compensate for the subject being de-emphasized at the lower level, he said.
But the Lawrence school board has planned no changes to the way it teaches science, which includes evolution instruction.
Just in case, however, Mark Desetti of Lawrence, a lobbyist for the Kansas National Education Assn., said he is thinking of writing a letter to the school district to make sure that if intelligent design is discussed, he wants his daughter to be allowed to leave.
"If they're going to teach religion, it has to be from the standpoint of the religion that I'm raising my daughter," he said.
Meanwhile, the controversy that has raged in Topeka and elsewhere has been little felt by the local school board.
"We really haven't heard any controversy in Lawrence, as far as people advocating one side or the other," said board president Leonard Ortiz. "It's our intent to continue teaching evolution within the context of biology unless (intelligent design) becomes mandatory."
John Olson, a physics teacher and head of the science department at Free State High School, also downplayed the significance of the state board's vote today.
"All it does is open the door for people to feel free to bring it (intelligent design) up in a school setting," Olson said. "It's not going to change the curriculum around here."
- Staff writer Dave Ranney contributed to this report.
Evolution in Kansas
- 6News video: Some question group's move with elections nearing (07-08-06)
- 49abcnews.com video: Discovery Institute starts ad campaign weeks before elections (07-07-06)
- 6News video: Film explores evolution circus (01-03-06)
- 6News video: Group takes shot at Mirecki through postcards (12-15-05)
- 6News video: Mirecki resigns from KU department post (12-07-05)
- Education board to revisit debate over evolution (02-11-07)
- As old board departs, new evolution stance takes shape (12-14-06)
- Biologist speaks for intelligent design (12-08-06)
- Cultures clash in Democratic primary (07-06-06)
- Education department spokesman leaves job (06-15-06)
- Evolution, religion comments put heat on department spokesman (05-26-06)
- KU profs support evolution skepticism (02-21-06)
- Science teachers pan new standards (02-14-06)
- 'Dodos' circling around I.D. (01-04-06)
- Attorneys in I.D. case spread message (01-04-06)
- Professor blasts KU, sheriff's investigation (12-10-05)
- Kansas ranks last in science (12-08-05)
- Discovery Institute
- Evolution timeline: Events related to the Kansas controversy
- U.S. District Court Ruling in Kitzmiller et al v. Dover Area School District (PDF)
- Center for Science and Culture: A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism
- Parody: Intelligent Design Society of Kansas
- Mirecki press release (.pdf)
- More evolution coverage
- LJWorld.com's Evolution in Kansas coverage