Science Standards Issue: Jack Krebs
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Jack Krebs
jkrebs@sunflower.com

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of Education gutted the document, removing almost every reference to the theoretical backbones of the sciences having historical content - astronomy, geology, and biology - and replacing some of the material with nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent.”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 Lawrence’s 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. Hill’s 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 in science.

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 Board’s 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 Willis’s 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 won’t 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 doesn’t 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 College’s 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 Board’s 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 valid science.

Conclusion

I urge all Kansans to work to have the current science standards overturned, and the science writing committee’s original standards adopted.

Jack Krebs: member of Kansas Citizens for Science (www.kcfs.org)

Last updated September 7, 2003