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Science groups fight Kansas over standards

Two national groups say Kansas can't use their copyright material in proposed science standards that critics contend promote creationism.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two national groups say Kansas can't use their copyright material in proposed science standards that critics contend promote creationism.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association notified the Department of Education in writing. They made separate letters from their presidents public Thursday, a day after the groups and state officials confirmed to The Associated Press that they had been sent.

The State Board of Education expects to vote next month on the proposed standards, which incorporate language sought by intelligent-design advocates expressing skepticism about evolution. The board's conservative majority contends it wants only to give students a balanced view of evolution, but critics say they're promoting intelligent design, which detractors describe as a repackaged form of creationism.

"Evolution is singled out as an area of science where there is major scientific controversy because of alleged weakness in the theory," academy President Ralph Cicerone wrote. "In fact, the vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for how the diversity of life arose on this planet."

Making sure language isn’t lifted
The two groups' positions mean department attorneys must scrutinize any standards the board approves to make sure they do not lift language from the national groups' material.

The standards, which must be updated periodically under Kansas law, are used to develop student achievement tests for measuring how well schools are performing. However, they don't mandate how science is taught in the 300 school districts.

Kansas officials had expected the groups to deny permission because the proposed standards represent a shift from treating evolution as a well-established theory crucial for students in understanding science.

"They are such adamant evolutionists," said board Chairman Steve Abrams, who favors the proposed standards. "I'm surprised they haven't done it already. Everybody knew it was coming. That's just the way they are."

The groups also withheld their permission in 1999, when the board removed most references to evolution from the standards. Two years later, after elections changed the makeup of the board, the standards became evolution-friendly again.

As for this year's proposal, teachers' association President Michael Padilla wrote, "Although the majority of the draft Kansas standards could proudly serve as a model for other states to emulate, there are significant errors regarding the theory of evolution."

Nationwide issue
Evolution is an issue in other states, too. In Pennsylvania, a federal trial is under way after parents sued the Dover school district over a policy requiring teachers to make a statement about intelligent design before teaching evolution.

President Bush has endorsed teaching intelligent design alongside evolution, and a recent poll suggested a majority of Americans favor allowing creationism in classrooms, something the U.S. Supreme Court has banned.

In Kansas, intelligent-design advocates have attacked evolutionary theory, which proposes that mutation and natural selection are behind the development of species from common ancestors. Intelligent design says some natural features are best explained by an intelligent cause.

While the proposed standards incorporate ideas from intelligent design, there's also a disclaimer saying the goal isn't to promote that idea as an alternative to evolution.

Abrams didn't know whether the groups' stance would delay adoption of the standards.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which supports intelligent-design research, said the denials probably won't have any lasting effect apart from "expressions of opinion."

"I think these groups have become lobbying organizations," Chapman said. "They've set themselves up to be the arbiter when in fact they're partisan. That's obvious now, or it should be."