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Update from Kansas

As expected, when the Kansas state board of education heard a presentation about the current status of the Next Generation Science Standards on June 12, 2012, evolution was in the crosshairs. The Associated Press (June 13, 2012) reports that Ken Willard, a member of the board, described the draft as "flawed" and "distributed a nine-page letter criticizing the draft multistate standards from the group Citizens for Objective Public Education Inc., which lists officers in Florida and Kansas. The letter suggested that the draft standards ignore evidence against evolution, don't respect religious diversity, and promote secular humanism, which precludes God or another supreme being in considering how the universe works." Willard said of the letter, "I hope that it will be taken seriously and not as just information from a bunch of crackpots."

But Citizens for Objective Public Education is not exactly a well-known or a well-established group; its vice president Anne Lassey told the Associated Press that it was founded only in March 2012. Lassey is the wife of Greg Lassey, who was one of the authors of the so-called minority report of the committee that revised Kansas's state science standards in 2005; the report systematically deprecated the scientific status of evolution. The group's president, Jorge Fernandez, is a self-proclaimed young-earth creationist, with publications to his credit in Journal of Creation and on the True.Origin Archive website. The letter claimed that Citizens for Objective Public Education represents "children, parents and taxpayers who share our views"; Lassey told the Associated Press that the group has members across the nation.

"The draft multistate standards and Kansas' existing standards reflect mainstream scientific views that evidence supporting evolution is overwhelming," the Associated Press noted, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau agreed, saying that evolution is "the center of modern biology." Rosenau observed that the letter criticizing the NGSS included hackneyed criticisms of evolution from creationists, explaining, "This is a long-standing creationist strategy. You can muddy the waters around evolution and make it seem controversial." The letter's warnings that the draft standards promote humanism or atheism are reminiscent of warnings issued by the Kansas-based Intelligent Design Network, which was active during the last controversy over Kansas's science standards, helping to draft the minority report and lobby for its adoption by the board.

As one of the "lead state partners" of the NGSS development process, Kansas is committed to giving the standards "serious consideration" for adoption when they emerge in their final form. According to the Associated Press, the chair of the board, David Dennis, "said he'd like to have the board consider the new science standards by the end of the year. Under that timetable, the board would likely adopt evolution-friendly guidelines because Democrats and moderate Republicans, including Dennis, have a majority. ... But state Department of Education officials said the standards probably won't be ready for a board vote until early next year." With five of the ten seats on the board up for re-election in November 2012 and with Willard leaving the board to run for the state legislature, as many as six seats on the board may change hands by then.