Published November 08, 2005
TOPEKA, Kan. – New science standards for Kansas' public schools, criticized for promoting creationism while treating evolution as a flawed theory, won approval Tuesday from the State Board of Education.
The board's 6-4 vote, expected for months, was a victory for intelligent design advocates who helped draft the standards and argued the changes would make teaching about evolution more balanced and expose studels teach science.
It's unclear how the new standards will affect what's taught in classrooms. Those decisions will remain with 300 local school boards, and some teachers have said they won't change what they teach. However, some educators fear pressure will increase in some communities to teach less about evolution or more about creationism or intelligent design.
Supporters see the proposed standards as promoting academic freedom.
"It gets rid of a lot of dogma that's being taught in the classroom today," said board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican who supported the board's action.
The board's vote was along ideological lines.
Member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City Democrat, said "This is a sad day. We're becoming a laughingstock of not only the nation, but of the world, and I hate that."
Kansas has attracted international attention, largely because the vote Tuesday was the third time in six years that the board has rewritten standards with evolution as the central issue. Hearings in May, in which intelligent design advocates attacked evolution, attracted journalists from Canada, France, Great Britain and Japan.
The Kansas board's action is part of an ongoing national debate over evolution. In Pennsylvania, a trial is underway in a lawsuit against the Dover school board's policy of requiring high school students to hear about intelligent design in their biology classes. In August, President Bush endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution.
The new standards contain an explicit disclaimer saying they're not designed to promote intelligent design, which argues that an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some natural features that are well-ordered and complex.
However, the standards repeat intelligent design advocates' arguments against evolutionary theory that natural chemical processes could have created the building blocks of life and that all life has a common origin.
In addition, the board rewrote the standards' definition of science, so that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena.
Many scientists argued such changes are designed to allow teachers and students to discuss God in the classroom. Critics contend creationists repackaged old ideas in new, scientific-sounding language to get around a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 against teaching creationism in public schools.
Kansas law requires the state board to update its academic standards regularly. In 1999, the board deleted most references to evolution in the science standards, making the state an object of international ridicule.
Two years later, after voters replaced three members, the board reverted to evolution-friendly standards. Elections in 2002 and 2004 changed the board's composition again.