Kansas approves new science standards

06/11/2013 6:55 PM

06/11/2013 8:53 PM

The Kansas school board has approved new multistate science standards for public schools that treat evolution and climate change as key concepts to be taught from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

The State Board of Education voted 8-2 on Tuesday for standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council. The new guidelines are designed to shift the emphasis to doing hands-on projects and experiments and blending material about engineering and technology into lessons.

Kansas uses its standards to develop statewide tests to judge how well schools are teaching, which in turn influence what happens in classrooms.

“I can concentrate on teaching processes — teaching kids how to think like scientists,” said Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a physics teacher at Hays High School who traveled to Topeka to publicly endorse the new standards as vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science.

“I'm more concerned whether they can design and analyze an experiment. That's what science is all about.”

Past work on science standards in Kansas has been overshadowed by debates about how evolution should be taught. The latest standards were adopted in 2007 and treat evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept, but Kansas law requires the academic standards to be updated at least once every seven years.

Though the new standards drew some criticism over their treatment of evolution, it wasn’t nearly as vocal or public as in the past. Democrats and moderate Republicans control the board, so social conservatives promoting skepticism of evolution were likely to find little support.

The same political factors blunted criticism of the standards’ treatment of climate change as an important concept that should be part of lessons in all grades, rather than addressed separately in upper-level high school classes.

One of the board's dissenters, Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, criticized the standards for what he saw as their lack of objectivity on evolution and climate change, which he said are presented “dogmatically.” The other no vote came from board member John Bacon, an Olathe Republican.

“This non-objective, unscientific approach to education standards amounts to little more than indoctrination in political correctness,” Willard said.

During a public comment session, Rex Powell, a retired Spring Hill business and organizational consultant, said the new standards promote “an atheistic worldview.” Powell is a member of Citizens for Objective Public Education, which formed last year to contest the new standards.

“They are standards for religious indoctrination rather than objective science education,” Powell said.

But Fred Hereen, a father of five from Olathe, said the new standards reflect mainstream science and will help students distinguish it from “carnival science.” Hereen is a member of Climate Parents, a group advocating teaching about climate standards, and he presented petitions signed by more than 2,500 Kansans in favor of the new science standards.

He said the new standards’ emphasis on climate change is “critical.”

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