FYI Number 16: February 15, 2001
Biological and Cosmological Evolution Adopted in Kansas Education Standards
Yesterday, the Kansas State Board of Education voted 7-3 to accept Science Education Standards requiring twelfth grade students to "understand the major concepts of the theory of biological evolution" and "develop an understanding of the origin and evolution of the dynamic earth system."
Yesterday's action was in response to a controversial vote by the board in August 1999 revising the standards to de- emphasize evolution and remove the Big Bang Theory and the Earth's age. These 1999 revisions were criticized by numerous organizations, including the AIP Governing Board which issued a statement that "The AIP Governing Board views with alarm the recent action taken by the Kansas State Board of Education to remove biological and cosmological evolution from the State Science Standards...." The AIP Board supported other similar statements opposing the revised standards (see http://www.aip.org/gov/policy7.html).
The standards adopted yesterday cover all twelve grades, and are based the on work of the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association. These new standards recognize the controversy, stating "Science studies natural phenomena by formulating explanations that can be tested against the natural world. Some scientific concepts and theories (e.g., blood transfusion, human sexuality, nervous system role in consciousness, cosmological and biological evolution, etc.) may differ from the teachings of a student's religious community or their cultural beliefs. Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science or in any other field shall be taught dogmatically."
Under an introductory section, "Unifying Concepts and Processes in the Kansas Science Education Standards" there is a paragraph entitled "Patterns of Cumulative Change." As examples of such change are the "biological theory of evolution," "fossilization," and that "patterns of cumulative change also help to describe the current structure of the universe."
The eighth grade standard includes material on biological evolution and earth processes. About the latter, "students should know" that "Earth's history is written in layers of the rock, and "Some fossil beds enable the matching of rocks from different continents, and other fossil beds show how organisms developed over a long period of time."
One of the twelfth grade life science standards is that "all students will develop an understanding of . . . biological evolution." "Students will understand the major concepts of the theory of biological evolution," with one of the "indicators" being "That the theory of evolution is both the history of descent, with modification of different lineages of organisms from common ancestors, and the ongoing adaption of organisms to environmental challenges and changes . . . " A related "example" for one of the indicators is that "patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented in the fossil record. The fossil record provides evidence of simple, bacteria-like life back as far as 3.8+ billion years ago." Another example: "Natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the fossil record that correlates with geochemical (e.g., radioisotope) dating results. The distribution of fossil and modern organisms is related to geological and ecological changes (i.e. plate tectonics, migration.)" At this point, the standards add, "'Understand' does not mandate 'belief.'"
The twelfth grade earth and space science standard states "students will develop an understanding of . . . the formation and organization of the earth system and the organization and development of the universe." "Students will develop an understanding of the origin and evolution of the dynamic earth system." "The students will understand . . . the geological time scale and how it relates to the history of the earth." In addition, "Students will develop an understanding of the organization of the universe, and its development." "The students will understand" "expansion of the universe from a hot dense early state." Regarding the later, examples given are that "By studying the light emitted from distant galaxies, it has been found that galaxies are moving apart from one another. Cosmological understanding including the Big Bang Theory is based on this expansion." Also required is an understanding of the "organization and development of stars, solar systems, and planets." As an example, "Nebula, from which stars and planets form, are mostly hydrogen and helium. Heavier elements were, and continue to be, made by the nuclear fusion reactions in stars. The sun is a second generation star, which along with its planets was formed billion of years after the Big Bang."
The introduction to the revised set of standards states: "These standards should not be viewed as a state curriculum nor as requiring a specific local curriculum. A curriculum is the way content is organized and presented in the classroom. The content embodied in these standards can be organized and presented with many different emphases and perspectives in many different curricula." The standards are to be used in "assessing students' progress" and "they will serve as the foundation for the development of state assessments in science."
The standards may be viewed at http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us/Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics