The evolution wars in Texas are still simmering, but creationists in Kansas have suffered a series of routs in recent years. Chalk up another on Tuesday, when the Kansas State Board of Education adopted new curriculum standards that require students in all grades to learn about evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts.
Creationists took control of the Kansas board in the late 1990s and promptly moved to dumb down instruction on evolution in the state’s public schools. Over the next several elections, creationists and moderates alternated in winning control of the state board. As a result, the state’s science standards — particularly what they required students to learn about evolution — changed frequently.
But moderates have now controlled the Kansas board since 2006, and that control was clear when the board voted 8-2 on Tuesday to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). More than two dozen states and the National Research Council have worked to develop those standards. NGSS is not part of the Common Core standards project, and neither one is a federal project. But critics have lumped the two together as examples of federal intrusion into state education policies. (The Texas Freedom Network has taken no position on NGSS or Common Core.)
“When I first read the NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards], I was very excited to see it was just a clear description of what I’ve been striving toward for the past 10 years,” said Julie Schwarting, a biology teacher at Free State High School in Lawrence and president of the Kansas Association of Biology Teachers. “It really included all of the things I think are great ways to teach science.”
But the science standards have also drawn criticism from religious conservatives because they treat the evolution of species as a scientific fact and offer no discussion of religious-based theories such as creationism or intelligent design.
Rex Powell of Spring Hill, a member of Citizens for Objective Public Education, or COPE, said the new standards would teach, “that life is a random occurrence, not a creation.”
“These are the tenets of non-theistic religion like atheism and religious humanism,” Powell said, adding that they promote, “an atheistic world view in the minds of impressionable children. They are standards for religious indoctrination rather than objective science education that touches religious issues.”
State board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said he shared that view. In a lengthy prepared statement that he read to the board, Willard said “both evolution and human-caused climate change are presented in these standards dogmatically,” and that the standards amount to “little more than indoctrination in political correctness.”
Willard and board member John Bacon, who also voted against the standards, once were part of a majority on the board which pushed through science standards in 2005 that deleted references to macro-evolution.
But that majority did not last. In 2006, voters elected a moderate majority, which immediately repealed those standards and replaced them with the current standards that emphasize evolution as a key principle of all science.
Four year ago, creationists on the Texas State Board of Education succeeded in passing flawed science curriculum standards that they hope will force publishers to include arguments against evolution in their new textbooks and other instructional materials for science. The state board is scheduled to adopt those new science materials in November, and the Texas Freedom Network is working with scientists to review the materials publishers submitted this spring.
Elections in 2010 and 2012 have weakened the creationist faction on the Texas board, but we still expect that faction to push for rejecting or forcing publishers to alter instructional materials that don’t challenge evolution. After all, that faction includes Ken “Cat-Dog” Mercer, R-San Antonio, and David “Gobbledygook” Bradley, R-
BeaumontBuna. In addition, Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, is the third creationist in a row Gov. Rick Perry has elevated to board chair.
The Texas board has its first opportunity to address the new science materials at its meeting in July. Stay tuned.