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Kan. board votes to inform students of evolution controversy

TOPEKA, Kan. (BP)–The Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 Nov. 8 to alter the science standards in public schools in favor of Intelligent Design, further igniting a nationwide battle over how much students are taught about the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution.

Science standards, required by Kansas law to be updated regularly, are used to develop student achievement tests for measuring how well schools are performing in that subject area. Local school boards and administrators determine the curriculum at their schools, but by deciding what students are expected to know for state assessment tests, the state standards will most likely affect what students are taught.

“These are absolutely great science standards. I have no doubt about it, positively no doubt whatsoever,” board chairman Steve Abrams of Arkansas City said, according to The Wichita Eagle newspaper.

Conservative board members sought to give students a balanced view of evolution, but critics said they were only promoting a “repackaged form of creationism” in alluding to Intelligent Design.

The latest move is part of a years-long struggle in Kansas, which began in 1999 when the Kansas school board voted 6-4 to adopt science standards in which most references to evolution were eliminated. But in the next elections, voters ousted those board members who favored the measure and in 2001, a more moderate board voted 7-3 for new science rules restoring evolution’s previous place in the standards.

Subsequent elections allowed conservatives to regain the majority on the board, and the new leaders have now voted to change the standards once again, this time opening the way for ideas such as intelligent design and creationism.

Evolution supporters from all over the country protested the board’s move long before it happened, saying Intelligent Design cannot be evaluated by science and should have no part in a science education.

Less than two weeks before the vote, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association announced that they would not grant Kansas permission to use their science curriculum if the proposed draft of the new standards was not altered. The two key groups said the board had overemphasized uncertainties about evolution and failed to make clear that supernatural phenomena have no place in science, according to a report in The Washington Post Oct. 28.

The draft “inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists,” the groups said in a joint statement.

When the same issue arose in 1999, the groups also withheld copyright permission for the science materials Kansas sought to use that year. This time, board members approved the standards with a caveat directing a copyright lawyer to remove direct references to the groups’ materials. The caveat was necessary because the names appear on nearly every page of the 100-page document and could not be removed in time for the scheduled vote.

Officials with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association said the new standards “will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world.” Other critics of the standards said there is no significant controversy over evolution and evidence ranging from the fields of paleontology to molecular biology shows all life on Earth originated from a single simple life-form, The Post noted.

But the board, except for two Republicans and two Democrats who objected to the standards, said high school students should be told that aspects of the widely accepted evolutionary theory are controversial and there is a “lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code.”

Observers say the Kansas board of education drama is bound to continue as four of the six board members who voted yes will face re-election next year and so far three of them will run against an opposing candidate.

“If this issue can be resolved by voting these people out in the next elections, the standards will never get in place enough to make a court case worthwhile. They’ll be lame ducks,” Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, told The Post.

Even so, the latest vote puts Kansas at the forefront of a contentious nationwide debate. Authorities in Pennsylvania and Georgia are arguing similar evolution-related cases, and in August President Bush said he believes students ought to be taught “both sides” of the argument in public schools.

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