Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Evolution would be theory No. 1

But panel advises that Ohio students also be exposed to other life concepts

By Liz Sidoti
The Associated Press
and Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - A state school board panel recommended science curriculum guidelines Monday that emphasize the teaching of evolution and encourage the critical examination of other scientific life concepts.

The Ohio Board of Education's academic standards committee simply put into writing what teachers already are allowed to do - teach students about evolution, including that there are competing ideas about how life originated and changed.

Earlier this year, Ohio became the latest battleground in the national debate over what high school biology students should know about evolution. Conservative groups that have failed to get divine creation taught in public schools began arguing that students should also learn about "intelligent design." That is the idea that a higher power must have designed life because it is so complex.

Critics say the concept is a version of creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has barred from being taught in public schools.

John Rowe, chairman for the science/health curriculum council for Cincinnati Public Schools, said Ohio made a wise decision in emphasizing evolutionary theory in the state's draft science standards.

"I'm fine with children being exposed to different ways of thinking, but just not in my science classroom," said the Clark Montessori physics teacher. "I don't want kids thinking science is when you makes things up randomly. You have to be able to test things. You have to be able to set up hypotheses to find out if they're wrong. If you can't do that, then it doesn't meet the definition of what science is."

Ohio is one of the first states to revamp its science curriculum since the Kansas state school board in 1999 became the center of the evolution debate when it stripped most references to evolution from its standards. Last year, a newly elected board restored the references.

The Ohio committee, which is creating teaching standards for all subjects, recommended that the 19-member school board approve the science guidelines. The board will hold a public hearing on the standards in November and will not formally adopt them until December. However, it will vote today on whether it intends to accept them.

Teachers already are allowed to examine scientific alternatives to evolution in their lessons. But board members say the standards now reinforce that for those who were uncertain about what they can and cannot teach.

"I think we have a very good set of science standards that excites students and (doesn't) scare them," said Joe Roman of Fairview Park, a co-chairman of the panel.

Teachers will not be required to follow the standards but will be strongly encouraged to, given that new student achievement tests will be based on them.

The panel agreed at the last minute to insert the statement reinforcing that teachers may examine competing theories to evolution - the longstanding theory based on Charles Darwin's research that life evolved by natural processes - as long as they are based in science.

Tom McClain, co-chairman of the panel, said he's comfortable with the language in the new standards stressing that scientists should continue to critically analyze evolutionary theory, but he felt strongly that evolution should be emphasized.

"Evolution is a longstanding theory that has enormous factual basis," he said. "The evidence on the theory continues to grow. Naturally, that would be part of the document."

Joel Roadruck, a parent in the Forest Hills School District who is a proponent of the intelligent design concept, said he'll be disappointed if the board votes today on anything less than standards allowing teachers to voluntarily talk about origin theories other than evolution, and the problems with evolution.

"We're not asking that intelligent design be included in the standard," he said. "But we would be wrong to come up with a state standard saying the only theory that should be taught is evolution."

Panel members did not characterize the new language as a compromise with religious groups and intelligent design supporters. Instead, they said that students knowing that a debate exists over Darwin's theory is good science.

"It was clear for the public that evolution should be singled out. In no other part of the standards did we receive 20,000 comments," said Deborah Owens Fink of Richfield, a board member who earlier this year had supported intelligent design being in the curriculum.

Michael Cochran of Blacklick, a board member who also supported intelligent design, said he was satisfied with the standards sent to the full board.

He said the change made Monday "allows teachers and students in Ohio to understand that there are dissenting views, competing views, of evolution."

A June poll by The Cleveland Plain Dealer found that three in five Ohioans favor that practice, called "teach the controversy."

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