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Evolution returns to Kansas

On February 13, 2007, the Kansas state board of education voted 6-4 to approve a set of state science education standards in which evolution is treated in a scientifically appropriate and pedagogically responsible way. These standards replace a set adopted in November 2005, in which evolution was systematically misrepresented as scientifically controversial. Those standards were the subject of intense criticism from scientific and educational organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association. Subsequently, the balance of power on the board changed, and supporters of the integrity of science education, who now enjoy a 6-4 majority on the board, quickly moved to restore evolution. Referring to the new standards, Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science told the Associated Press (February 14, 2007), "Those standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what evolution is."

A different Associated Press story (February 14, 2007) emphasized [Link broken] the role played by the two new members of the board, Sally Cauble and Jana Shaver, both Republicans. Both argued that the board should have deferred to the consensus of the committee of scientists and educators who wrote the original set of standards, which the board subsequently rewrote under the guidance of local "intelligent design" activists to impugn the scientific standard of evolution. "When you ask a committee to do something, and they do their time, and they give their knowledge, and you think they're worthy of that because you've asked them to serve on that committee, then you ought to let the process follow through," Cauble was quoted as saying. Similarly, Shaver said, "I looked at what the scientists and what people in the mainstream in the science community said about the standards and what they thought would be best for science education in Kansas."

The antievolution version of the standards was not in place long enough to be felt in the classrooms, or so the superintendent of the Wichita school system told the Associated Press: "We haven't changed our science books. We haven't changed our science curriculum ... I guess it's one of those things, if you wait long enough, this too shall pass." The February 13 vote was the board's fifth revision to the state science standards within eight years. But there is no guarantee that evolution's place in the standards is secure: the Associated Press's story observes, "State law will require the board to update the standards again by 2014, and elections before then could give conservatives a majority again." Nationally, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott predicted, attempts to compromise evolution education without mentioning supposed alternatives such as "intelligent design" will recur: "'evidence against evolution' is the creationism du jour."