USD 383 becomes first district to reject new science standards

USD 383 becomes first district to reject new science standards

In a 6-0 final action vote, Manhattan-Ogden USD 383 became the first school district in Kansas to reject the science standards passed by the Kansas State Board of Education on Nov. 8, 2005, Mike Herman, associate professor of biology, said.The standards allowed non-natural explanations of natural phenomena.

“I think what has us all concerned is when we look at the state standards, there is a door that opens toward Intelligent Design,” board member Beth Tatarko said. “You watch presentations, you listen to the speakers, you really press them on the issue, and it is about religion.”

At their Feb. 1 meeting, the board members were presented with a resolution, which was compiled and presented by faculty and professional staff of K-State science departments, that recommended this action. The resolution included the names of 157 professionals.

“There’s much that can be said. In the end, I am elected on this board to do what I think is best for our students, and I thought about it long and hard,” Dave Colburn, USD 383 board member, said. “The other people I had to listen to were the teachers of our school district. They’ve gone through a process themselves receiving the schooling, the certification, so when they say what’s best for our students is to support the K-State resolution, then that goes a long way with me.”

USD 383 will continue teaching science education according to the state standards developed on March 9, 2005, which are consistent with all major professional science organizations in the United States, the resolution states.

This resolution was re-submitted for Wednesday’s meeting and included the names of additional faculty members and graduate students. At least 14 science professionals, concerned parents and community members and students spoke in favor of accepting the resolution.

The K-State resolution stated five primary concerns:

  1. Adoption of these standards will diminish the quality of science teaching in USD 383.
  2. The Kansas State Board of Education standards have created enormous negative publicity, which threatens the efforts of K-State and local businesses to recruit qualified professionals.
  3. The standards singled out evolution for criticism, while excluding other scientific theories for such criticism.
  4. Concern exists that U.S. students are falling farther and farther behind in world norms.
  5. The changes made to science standards are based on the belief that evolutionary science is based on an atheistic philosophy.

“The recent change in the state science standards threatens the very heart of what scientific study is about: observable and testable questioning of nature,” Alan Schurle, senior at Manhattan High School, said. “Offering supernatural explanations for natural phenomena would be taking an extraordinary step backward.”

Schurle was recently named a semi-finalist in the Intel Science Talent Search, and he said his success is due to his excellent science education and his teachers.

“I am concerned with offering future generations the same opportunities that have been granted to me,” he said.

However, not all feedback the board received was in favor of rejecting the current state standards.

“It is important to have a definition that allows legitimate scientific work and excludes work that cannot be supported by experiment and by logic,” Richard Nelson, MHS science teacher, said in a letter addressed to the Board of Education. “However, under their definition, work that has not supported an evolutionary conclusion has been discouraged or disregarded, not because it lacked scientific quality, but because it had religious implications other than evolutionary thought.”

Another concern voiced was that disregarding state standards could give students a misconception of how democratic societies should function.

“The KSU faculty has proposed that the school board disregard the rulings of elected officials,” Joyce Nelson, parent of three USD 383 students, said in a letter. “Apparently, they feel it is acceptable to pick and choose which laws/rulings the school board should abide by. Is this the message we want to communicate to our children and teachers?”

One concern the board members had about accepting the resolution was whether doing so would decrease students’ performance on state assessments. The new standards technically will go into effect in fall 2007, and state assessments are expected to be written in accordance with these new standards in spring 2008, USD 383 superintendent Bob Shannon said.

Further, alternate assessments, like a science exam written by ACT, are being considered, John Staver, professor of education, said at the Feb. 1 board meeting.

There are no legal or financial ramifications that likely could result from accepting the resolution, Shannon said.

In fact, the board might have faced more repercussions for implementing the new science standards, Tatarko said.

“After studying Kitzmiller v. Dover, schools who choose to teach Intelligent Design are going to pay a very high price,” Tatarko said. “The school district is liable for those costs. If we had someone in our district teaching Intelligent Design right now, those costs would come back to us.”

Board members are also concerned that the recent controversy of evolution might have intimidated some teachers from teaching evolution in the classroom, and the board is interested in maintaining the determined standards, board member Nancy Knopp said.

Knopp also suggested the possibility of looking into the implementation of a new social science class, such as philosophy, that would allow other viewpoints to be discussed, if the interest exists, she said.

Though USD 383 is the first district in the state of Kansas to reject the state science curriculum, Herman said he hopes that others will follow suit.

“I’ve talked to colleagues in Lawrence, and they’ve commented casually that they think it’s a good idea,” Herman said. “The board made a bold move tonight by accepting and approving the resolution. It’s important for the students of Manhattan, and it could be important for the state of Kansas in the end.”