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Ohio's Draft Standards Earn an A from National Science Standards Expert

Proposed creationist changes would be “shameful”, according to nationally recognized science curriculum expert.

March 11, Oakland, California — Ohio’s science education will improve from an F grade to an A if the new proposed statewide science standards are accepted as is, according to Dr. Lawrence Lerner, a nationally recognized expert on state science standards. But creationists may not allow that to happen.

In September 2000, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation released a study, compiled by Lerner, that evaluated each state’s treatment of evolution in its science curriculum. Ohio received a grade of F. Only Kansas, which had yet to correct the disaster of 1999 when the state board of education removed evolution from its assessment standards, fared worse. Kansas received an F-.

Ohio is now poised to move to the top of the national class with its newly drafted standards, according to Dr. Lerner. “The new draft treats evolution in exemplary fashion,” Lerner writes in a forthcoming issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education, published by the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California, that defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Lerner’s evaluation arrives just as Ohio’s proposed standards are embroiled in controversy. Opponents of evolution are attempting to modify the standards to downplay evolution in science classes and include “intelligent design” as an alternative. However, creationists have yet to produce any scientific results or research to support their position. “Why should Ohioans reserve a place in the science curriculum for a view that the mainstream scientific community doesn’t accept?” asked Dr. Eugenie C. Scott, executive director of NCSE.

Lerner concludes, “to tell K–12 students that there is a credible scientific explanation of the present state and history of the world other than evolution is to delude them and to distort their understanding of what science is. To adopt standards modified as the creationists have proposed is to put Ohio in the shameful position that Kansas has just vacated. Their version of the standards would receive an F — or worse. Ohio’s students deserve better.”

The National Center for Science Education is a nonprofit organization, based in Oakland, California, dedicated to defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools. On the web at www.ncseweb.org.



Ohio on the Brink:
Will Creationists Ruin Science Education in the Buckeye State?

Lawrence S. Lerner

It was a special pleasure to read the fall 2001 draft of the Ohio science standards. With respect to its treatment of the historical sciences, and especially biology, the new draft contrasts with the old (1996) document as day with night. (I reviewed Ohio’s Model Competency-Based Science Program, 1996 in its entirety in Lerner 2000c and specifically with respect to its treatment of evolution in Lerner 2000b; see also Lerner 2000a.)

The old document earned the grade F on account of its slippery avoidance of biological evolution. (“Evolution [is] treated here as if it were not proper conversation in polite company. The E-word is avoided and the evolutionary process occupies a near-negligible part of an extensive document” [Lerner 2000b: 15].) The new draft treats evolution in exemplary fashion — not only evolution as it is pertinent to the life sciences, but with respect to the earth and space sciences and the essential connections among these sciences as well. Moreover, the basic concepts underlying evolutionary processes in all these sciences are introduced at the most elementary levels and their treatment is continued and enriched in a consistent, pedagogically admirable manner as the student progresses through the grades. The treatment culminates in a sophisticated and comprehensive exposition of the sciences in their indissoluble evolutionary context at the high-school level. I would give the new standards, if enacted, an A.

It is interesting to note how the creationist coalition, the self-styled Science Excellence for All Ohioans (SEAO), which apparently consists of both young-earth and intelligent design creationists, has crafted the modifications they desire (see ). The intent is clearly threefold: to eliminate all references to the central role played by evolution in the historical sciences, to soft-pedal references to the great age of the earth and the universe, and to shoehorn a discussion of intelligent design creationism into the upper-grade specifications.

Since they have abandoned the possibility of sweeping evolution entirely under the rug, they have adopted the ploy of inserting “alternative” explanations. In making these proposals, the creationists have displayed their lack of understanding of the role of evolution in the sciences.

Now, creationists may argue at length for “alternative explanations” of the phenomena that are accounted for by evolution over the sweeping spectrum of the astronomical, geological, and biological sciences. But the K–12 classroom is not the place to do this. The function of K–12 science education is to inform students as accurately as possible about what scientists have done and are doing, and how they do it. Evolution is the central principle of the historical sciences as surely as Newton’s laws are the central principle of classical physics and conservation of mass and energy is the central principle of chemistry. On the other hand, creationists simply do not make contributions to scientific progress; these “alternative explanations” are simply not to be found in the peer-reviewed scientific literature (Scott and Cole 1985; Gilchrist 1997). Thus, to tell K–12 students that there is a credible scientific explanation of the present state and history of the world other than evolution is to delude them and to distort their understanding of what science is.

To adopt standards modified as the creationists have proposed is to put Ohio in the shameful position that Kansas has just vacated. Their version of the standards would receive an F — or worse. Ohio’s students deserve better.

References
Gilchrist GW. 1997. The elusive scientific basis of intelligent design theory. Reports of the National Center for Science Education 17 (3): 14–5.
Lerner LS. 2000a. Evolution: How does it fare in state K–12 standards? Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20 (4): 44–6.
Lerner LS. 2000b. Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States. Washington DC: The Thomas B Fordham Foundation.
Lerner LS. 2000c. The State of State Standards 2000. Washington DC: The Thomas B Fordham Foundation. Scott EC, Cole HP. 1985. The elusive scientific basis of creation “science”. The Quarterly Review of Biology 60 (1): 21–30.

About the Author
Lawrence S. Lerner is a nationally recognized expert on state science standards. He is Professor Emeritus, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, California State University, Long Beach.