The Science Standards Issue in Kansas
The Fordham Foundation Review of the Standards
The Fordham Foundation, a respected conservative educational research
institution, recently gave the Kansas Science Standards the worst rating
of any state in the country: an F with a score of only 9 out of 100 points.
The Fordham report explained how a committee of highly qualified people
selected by the Board itself had produced a set of standards which would
have attained one of the highest ratings among the state standards reviewed.
But, the Report states, The State Board of Education gutted the document,
removing almost every reference to the theoretical backbones of the sciences
having historical content - astronomy, geology, and biology - and replacing
some of the material with nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent.
Later, the Board voted to have their standards sent out for an external review.
Two months later, they reneged on this vote. As Lawrences Board member
John Bacon remarked, Why pay money to have somebody else criticize us.
How Did This Happen - The Influence of Creation Scientists
Several state Board members cooperated with a group of creation scientists,
led by Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America
(CSAMA), who believe in the literal Genesis story. In June, CSAMA sent Board
member Steve Abrams an alternative version of the science standards
which supported their belief that the universe and all life was created during
a six-day period no more than 10,000 years ago.
In late July, a self-appointed Board committee of Abrams, Scott Hill and Harold
Voth used the Willis document to revise the standards. They deleted
all the objectionable evolutionary, geological and cosmological material from
the standards that failed to support the Genesis story.
The Board committee also inserted over 240 sentences that they took verbatim
from the Willis document - the nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent mentioned
by the Fordham report.
However, the Board did not acknowledge their use of the Willis document. The
Board minutes for August stated that Board member Bill Wagnon stated
that the subcommittee should acknowledge the sources for its materials. Mr.
Hill stated the subcommittee had not taken any language, verbatim, so as to
require an acknowledgement."
Mr. Hills statement is false. Documented evidence of the creationist
source for the science standards additions can be found at www.sunflower.com/~jkrebs.
The Board also changed the definition of science from seeking natural explanations
for what we observe in the world around us to seeking logical explanations,
in order to accommodate God and :intelligent design as a possible cause
And last, the Board deleted references to global warming and to issues regarding
resource depletion, clearly revealing that their motivations went beyond merely
the evolution issue.
The Boards Rationalization of Their Actions
The Board has continually attempted to minimize the effects of their actions,
and to hide their religious and political motivations.
Local Control: First, they have said that their motivation was to give local
control of the issue to individual school districts. But the point of
state standards is to ensure uniform educational opportunity for students.
Evolutionary knowledge is considered essential world-wide. Students need to
know it. To allow districts to omit this at their discretion is irresponsible.
The real reason local control is useful to the Board is that it allows fundamentalists
in each school district to apply local pressure on science teachers, who, without
the support of state standards for the deleted topics, will be reluctant to
risk the controversy of a local conflict.
Microevolution still in the standards: Another rationale presented by
the Board is that microevolution - change within species - is still
in the standards. Only macro-evolution - evolution of species
- was taken out. This is a deceptive distinction. Within science, there is
no controversy that supports the distinction that microevolution is acceptable
and macroevolution is not.
Evolution not banned: : This claim is false for scientific reasons,
and deceptive for educational reasons.
The Board inserted this sentence from Tom Williss CSAMA document: Natural
selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but does not add new information
to the existing genetic code. This false "fact" supports the
creationist idea that "microevolution" can cause variations within
the genetic makeup of each created species, but that "macroevolution" can
not happen because the evolutionary processes do not contain mechanisms capable
of changing one species into another. This sentence from the standards effectively
bans the teaching of macroevolution, because the standards clearly state that
the mechanisms for macroevolution do not exist.
In addition, the Board says that the only educational consequence of deleting
macroevolution is that it just wont be tested on state assessments. However,
school districts are under great pressure to do well on state assessments,
so it is increasingly common for teachers to omit content that is not being
tested. Also, schools routinely use the state standards as their guiding framework
for the time-consuming work of writing course outcomes. Absence of standards
on evolution and the other deleted topics will then be reflected in the absence
of those topics in individual courses.
Evolution a theory, not a fact: Board members have also objected to
the deleted topics because they were being taught as fact, not theory. John
Bacon made this point when he objected to the Big Bang by saying I wasn't
here, and neither were they. Based on that, whatever explanation they may arrive
at is a theory and it should be taught that way.
The Board obviously doesnt understand what a theory is, confusing it
with a guess or hypothesis. The science committee defines theory as a
well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world ... Evolution
and the Big Bang are taught as theories, for they are well-substantiated
and widely accepted explanations. Interestingly enough, the Board deleted the
words well-substantiated from this definition, opening the door
for guesses and hypothesis to have equal status with well established science.
Board member Steve Abrams, the prime collaborator with the creationists, recently
wrote a letter to Southwestern Colleges newspaper, The Collegian, entitled "A
Defense of the New Science Standards." After listing a number of typical
creationist arguments for a young earth and the intelligent design of
all species, he concludes:
I believe it is an error to teach that macroevolution is a "fact." ...
There is no doubt it takes faith to believe the God of the Bible. That is exactly
what He tells us. I would suggest it takes more faith to believe macroevolution.
If both take faith to believe, where do you put your faith?
The Board added clarity and specificity: The Boards cover letter
to the standards, adopted in April, states that the Board strengthened the
science standards by providing greater clarity and specificity as to
what students should know and be able to do. This statement is misleading.
The standards written by the science writing committee were a great improvement
from the last version of standards adopted in 1995, indeed adding the improvements
mentioned by the Board. The revisions made by the Board, and the subsequent
rewrite necessary to avoid copyright issues, have certainly muddied that clarity.
Also, the additional examples added by the Board in the interest of greater
specificity were, as mentioned earlier, taken verbatim from the Willis
creationist draft and without exception further the case for creationism, not
I urge all Kansans to work to have the current science standards overturned,
and the science writing committees original standards adopted.
Jack Krebs: member of Kansas Citizens for Science (www.kcfs.org)