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FYI Number 154: November 3, 2005

Science Organizations Dispute Proposed Kansas Science Education Standards

On October 26, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association, in separate letters, informed the Kansas State Department of Education that it could not use their organization's copyrighted materials in the revision of the Kansas science standards. Both organizations disagreed with the draft standards as they relate to the theory of evolution. The Academy also disagreed with the redefinition of science in the Kansas draft. The American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a statement strongly supporting the action taken by both organizations. (See http://www.nationalacademies.org/morenews/20051027.html.)

The October 26 letters were addressed to Alexa Posny, Assistant Commissioner of Education at the Kansas State Department of Education. The National Academy letter, signed by its president, Ralph J. Cicerone, cites the request by the co-chair of the Kansas standards revision committee to "grant copyright permission to the Kansas State Board of Education to use the NSES [the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards] as a basis for the new Kansas standards, given the considerable changes in the content of evolution and the nature of science" in the proposed standard.

Cicerone noted "many positive changes in the current set of standards compared with the 1999 version," for which the Academy also denied copyright permission. Cicerone remarked that the new draft document "recognizes the overwhelming scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old, that the Big Bang is currently the accepted scientific explanation for the origins of the universe, and that evolutionary mechanisms such as natural selection are the predominant explanations for the diversity of life on Earth."

However, Cicerone stated, the Academy review of the new draft standards "finds that evolution is singled out as an area of science where there is major scientific controversy because of alleged weaknesses in the theory." Citing "tens of thousands of peer-reviewed papers" supporting and strengthening evolution "as the underlying basis for understanding biology," Cicerone criticizes the draft standards for attempting "to portray evolution as a theory in crisis."

The letter then states, "perhaps most troubling, however, is the attempt by those who prepared the revisions to redefine what constitutes science, from a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, to one that does not require natural explanations. . . . The power of science results from a strict adherence to seeking natural mechanisms and explanations for natural phenomena. By removing this critically important caveat from [the standards] . . . the line between science and other ways of knowing becomes blurred. Kansas students will be both confused and ill-served by an explanation of science that allows for supernatural explanations of the natural world."

The National Science Teachers Association letter warns that the draft standards "will result in Kansas students being confused about the scientific process and ill-prepared both for the rigors of higher education and for the increasingly technological and scientific challenges we face as a nation." NSTA President Michael Padilla offers to work with the Kansas State Department of Education, as did Cicerone. In his closing, Padilla states, "We do not maintain that science is superior to other ways of understanding our world nor do we think that scientific inquiry is inconsistent with a theological search for answers. Rather, there are profound differences between these ways of knowing and failure to understand them will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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