Ping (zestyping) wrote,

Just what did the Kansas School Board approve?

After a bit of digging around on the Web, i found the Science Curriculum Standards that were approved yesterday by the Kansas State Board of Education. They are among the meeting materials for that day's board meeting (pages 263 to 383 of the 438-page document). The standards begin with a rationale statement that has this to say about evolution (page 265):

Regarding the scientific theory of biological evolution, the curriculum standards call for students to learn about the best evidence for modern evolutionary theory, but also to learn about areas where scientists are raising scientific criticisms of the theory. These curriculum standards reflect the Board's objective of: 1) to help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist on this topic, 2) to enhance critical thinking and the understanding of the scientific method by encouraging students to study different and opposing scientific evidence, and 3) to ensure that science education in our state is "secular, neutral, and non-ideological."

From the testimony and submissions we have received, we are aware that the study and discussion of the origin and development of life may raise deep personal and philosophical questions for many people on all sides of the debate. But as interesting as these personal questions may be, the personal questions are not covered by these curriculum standards nor are they the basis for the Board's actions in this area.

Evolution is accepted by many scientists but questioned by some. The Board has heard credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory. All scientific theories should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered. We therefore think it is important and appropriate for students to know about these scientific debates and for the Science Curriculum Standards to include information about them. In choosing this approach to the science curriculum standards, we are encouraged by the similar approach taken by other states, whose new science standards incorporate scientific criticisms into the science curriculum that describes the scientific case for the theory of evolution.

We also emphasize that the Science Curriculum Standards do not include Intelligent Design, the scientific disagreement with the claim of many evolutionary biologists that the apparent design of living systems is an illusion. While the testimony presented at the science hearings included many advocates of Intelligent Design, these standards neither mandate nor prohibit teaching about this scientific disagreement.

Among the statements recommended by the KSBE are the following (all part of Grades 8-12, Standard 3, Benchmark 3), shown on pages 247 to 249. Note the addition of unsupported challenges to evolution and particularly the language about "microevolution" and "macroevolution". The KSBE contracted the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL) to review the science standard; the column on the right shows what McREL had to say about each statement and how the KSBE responded.

Statement in Science Curriculum Standards McREL Review and KSBE Response
Patterns of diversification and extinction of organisms are documented in the fossil record. Evidence also indicates that simple, bacterialike life may have existed billions of years ago. However, in many cases the fossil record is not consistent with gradual, unbroken sequences postulated by biological evolution. Criticized by McREL for "additional specificity that undercuts the indicator", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
Biological evolution postulates an unguided natural process that has no discernable direction or goal. Criticized by McREL as a "confusing or unclear statement", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
The view that living things in all the major kingdoms are modified descendants of a common ancestor (described in the pattern of a branching tree) has been challenged in recent years by:
  1. Discrepancies in the molecular evidence (e.g., differences in relatedness inferred from sequence studies of different proteins) previously thought to support that view.
  2. A fossil record that shows sudden bursts of increased complexity (the Cambrian Explosion), long periods of stasis and the absence of abundant transitional forms rather than steady gradual increases in complexity, and
  3. Studies that show animals follow different rather than identical early stages of embryological development.
Criticized by McREL for "supporting content not found in comparison documents", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
Whether microevolution (change within a species) can be extrapolated to explain macroevolutionary changes (such as new complex organs or body plans and new biochemical systems which appear irreducibly complex) is controversial. These kinds of macroevolutionary explanations generally are not based on direct observations and often reflect historical narratives based on inferences from indirect or circumstantial evidence. Criticized by McREL for "supporting content not found in comparison documents", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
Explains proposed scientific explanations of the origin of life as well as scientific criticisms of those explanations. Criticized by McREL for "supporting content not found in comparison documents", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
  1. A lack of empirical evidence for a "primordial soup" or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere;
  2. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells; and
  3. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.
Criticized by McREL for "supporting content not found in comparison documents", but retained by the KSBE science subcommittee.
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