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Georgia Revises Draft Science Standards

On February 19, the Georgia Department of Education released revised versions of proposed new science standards, with major changes in the sections dealing with evolution. When the drafts of the Georgia Performance Standards for Science were first released for public comment in January, the word "evolution," as well as most of the significant concepts related to this topic, were not included in them.

Scientists and other citizens immediately questioned the use of phrases like "changes over time" in place of "evolution," as well as the failure to include concepts like natural selection and the very long geological history of the earth. These omissions were made more striking by the identity, often word for word, of almost all other sections of the standards with their acknowledged sources (the Project 2061 Benchmarks from the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS] and the Standards for Excellence in Education from the Council for Basic Education).

Reports by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the removal of evolution, both word and concept, from the standards were picked up by other news media and made headlines across the country and overseas from Ireland to India. A storm of criticism of the department's actions followed from citizens (almost 13,000 signatures to an online petition), professional organizations such as AAAS and the National Science Teachers Association, Georgia university faculty groups, newspaper editorials, and even former President Jimmy Carter, who issued a statement supporting evolution education. Some Georgia legislators introduced a bill requiring the state to adhere to suggested national standards, like those of AAAS, as a whole.

Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox at first defended the omission of the word "evolution" as removing a "buzzword" that might prevent people from considering the rest of the standards. Her comments led to even more criticisms, including the suggestion by the governor, considered a political ally of Cox and not an evolution supporter, that she might have been "thinking out loud" and that it was a mistake to omit evolution.

On February 12, the Department of Education re-convened the committee which prepared the science standards in the first place, which then revised the life science sections to include evolution material which had been omitted in the first draft. The revised drafts have been posted on the Department's website and will remain available for public comment for several months before being considered by the state Board of Education, which has the final word on them.

However, supporters of science education will continue to review the proposed standards. A section describing student tasks related to the evolution material is still incomplete, as indicated by the notation "more tasks to come" at that point. In other states, opponents of evolution have attempted to insert material in similar locations to weaken or subvert the classroom presentation of evolution. In addition, problems with other sections of the standards have been pointed out by reviewers but not dealt with in the new revisions.