Permission denied in Kansas


Anticipating the Kansas state board of education's expected decision to adopt a set of science standards in which the scientific status of evolution is systematically deprecated, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have rejected the state department of education's request to use material from the NAS's National Science Education Standards and the NSTA's Pathways to Science Standards in the Kansas Science Education Standards. In a joint statement dated October 27, 2005, the NAS and the NSTA wrote:

While there is much in the Kansas Science Education Standards that is outstanding and could serve as a model for other states, our primary concern is that the draft KSES inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists. The use of the word controversial to suggest that there are flaws in evolution is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading. While there may be disagreements among scientists about the exact processes, the theory of evolution has withstood the test of time and new evidence from many scientific disciplines only further support this robust scientific theory.

In addition, the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution -- when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified -- and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas. Regretfully, many of the statements made in the KSES related to the nature of science and evolution also violate the document's mission and vision. Kansas students will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science endorsed the NAS's and the NSTA's decision in a press release issued on October 27, 2005. Alan Leshner said, "We need to protect the integrity of science education if we expect the young people of Kansas to be fully productive members of an increasingly competitive world economy that is driven by science and technology ... We cannot allow young people to be denied an appropriate science education simply on ideological grounds."

A story from the Associated Press (October 27, 2005) explains that "The two groups' positions mean department attorneys must scrutinize any standards the board approves to make sure they do not lift language from the national groups' material" and reports that board chair Steve Abrams (who favors the current draft of the standards) was unsure whether adoption of the standards would be delayed by the refusal to grant permission. The board is expected to discuss the standards at its next meeting, November 8 and 9, 2005.

A later story in the Washington Post (October 28, 2005) noted that the refusal to allow copyrighted material to be used in the Kansas science standards is a reprise of 1999, when the NAS, the NSTA, and the AAAS refused to allow their material to be used in a similarly flawed set of standards. (No material from the AAAS is included in the current draft.) The executive director of the NSTA, Gerald F. Wheeler, told the Post, "Science is not a dance card or jukebox where you can choose the songs you want."

Also, a story from The New York Times (October 28, 2005) added that material from the NAS's and the NSTA's publications appears throughout the draft standards; Steve Case, the chair of the original writing committee, commented, "In some cases it's just a phrase, but in some cases it's extensive ... You try to keep the idea but change the wording around; the writing becomes horrifically bad." Sue Gamble, a member of the board who opposes the current draft of the standards, said of the NAS and the NSTA's decision, "I think it will make a difference next year in the election."

(Updated with the final two paragraphs on October 28, 2005.)