Kansas Vote on Evolution Victory for Local Control

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Kansas Vote on Evolution Victory for Local Control


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The clash that led up to the recent adoption of anti-evolution science standards by the Kansas School Board was as much about local school authority as it was about teaching biology.

In adopting a set of ad hoc standards instead of those drafted by an official panel, the board's 6-4 majority said it showed "greater sensitivity to issues and concerns voiced by members of the citizenry."

"What this is about is not evolution, but the authority of the local schools to decide," said board member Scott Hill, who was in the majority on the Aug. 11 vote.

Kansas school districts now have a choice on what to emphasize in science, he said.

"The controversy will actually strengthen evolution teaching in some districts," Mr. Hill added.

The Kansas board vote, which drew international attention, is a case of local-school advocates clashing with the growing national and state movements to unify education standards, according to those involved.

So far, 45 states have turned to the 1996 National Science Education Standards for a model. So did Kansas in June of 1998, when it was time to upgrade its benchmarks in science.

A 27-member writing committee, using the standards provided by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), had been expecting a 7-3 vote to back its product.

This spring, however, conservatives on the board felt that too much study of evolution was being mandated, a situation they and their religious constituents viewed as dogmatic.

In Kansas, the science standards outline what material students should know in various grades. The state tests them on the standards to evaluate the school's progress.

To alleviate that mandate, the conservatives drafted an alternative set of standards that excluded the large-scale concepts in evolution.

Board member Val DeFever, a Republican and for 14 years a schoolteacher, voted against the conservatives' draft but still has gotten 500 e-mails decrying the outcome.

She sees religion and politics as behind the conservative move, but added that an aversion to federal standards, which she approves of, also motivated the ad hoc action.

The board frequently has been divided 5-5 since a group of social conservatives won seats in the 1996 School Board race. …

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