Kansas Board of Education Moving Fast to Rewrite Anti-Evolution Teaching Curriculum

A new majority on the state school board is moving more quickly than anticipated to rewrite anti-evolution science standards adopted less than two years ago.

The board decided Tuesday to put the science standards on its agenda later in the day, a move that would allow the board to take a final vote next month.

The existing standards, which treat evolution as a flawed theory and incorporate language favored by intelligent design proponents, were adopted in 2005 when the board had a 6-4 majority of conservative Republicans.

But in last year's elections, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans captured a majority. The new members were sworn in Monday and took control Tuesday. The new majority always was expected to bring back evolution-friendly standards, but previously they had talked about waiting at least several months.

The standards are used to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science. While they don't dictate what schools teach — those decisions are left to several hundred local school boards — scientists had worried that any tilt toward intelligent design would encourage changes in the classroom.

Intelligent design says an intelligent cause is the best way to explain some features of the universe that are complex and well-ordered. Many scientists view it as creationism, repackaged to get around a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited its teaching as a government endorsement of specific religious doctrines.

"I really question whether we need to look at the science standards again," said Kathy Martin, a Clay Center Republican who opposes the move to rewrite the standards.

Kansas had evolution-friendly standards in 1999, when a conservative state board majority rewrote them to delete most references to the theory. That inspired international ridicule — and a voter backlash. The board returned to evolution-friendly standards in February 2001, just a month after a moderate majority took over.

Sue Gamble, a Shawnee Republican who wants to rewrite the standards, said quick action is possible because a committee of educators worked on a proposal even after the conservative-led board adopted its version.

"We can take action next month," she said. "Local districts deserve to have high-quality education standards from which to build their local curriculums."