Wednesday, December 11, 2002

New standards play down `intelligent design'

State board of education updates guidelines on science curricula

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Greater Cincinnati science teachers say they are relieved that the Ohio State Board of Education on Tuesday did not stress teaching "intelligent design" as part of the state's new science standards.

Teachers interviewed say intelligent design - the concept that changes in species are guided by a higher intelligent power - should not be taught alongside evolution in science curricula because it's not science.

"I want kids to learn evidence-based theories, not ones that aren't," said John Rowe, chairman for the science/health curriculum council for Cincinnati Public Schools. "Intelligent design doesn't hold up as a scientific idea in any way. It's not evidence-based."

The state school board unanimously approved science standards Tuesday that take a stronger stance on evolution and allow students to critique its legitimacy.

The 19-member board has struggled since January to write the science curriculum guidelines, which teachers will be encouraged - but not required - to follow because they will be the basis of new exams that students must pass to graduate.

Under the standards, evolution will be the only life concept covered on the tests, meaning that schools that currently avoid teaching evolution or only briefly cover the theory would risk putting their students at a disadvantage.

Students, however, disagree on whether intelligent design and evolution should be taught in science classes. Some said both should be taught as theories, while others said intelligent design should be relegated to the home, church or religion classes.

"I personally believe that both the theories of creation and evolution can co-exist in public schools," said Patrice Clair, a 17-year-old senior at Mariemont High School.

"All scientists have reached a point where they can no longer explain, with scientific evidence, the beginnings of life forms. I do not think that students should be limited to only one opinion or viewpoint."

The debate on whether intelligent design should be taught in Ohio schools has raged for months as the state board of education considered the new science standards. The standards are guidelines for teaching science to the state's 1.8 million public school students.

The new science standards emphasize evolution but allow critical analysis of the theory. However, the board added an amendment saying the standards do not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.

In October, the board indicated that it would unanimously adopt standards that included evolution, but added the wording that students should critique Charles Darwin's theory that life evolved by natural processes.

"Unfortunately, it's being misrepresented by adults who are fighting their own battles, and using these standards as a vehicle to fight their own battles," said Joe Roman, co-chairman of the standards committee.

Backers of evolution praised the board's action Tuesday, saying there is no way that intelligent design will be written into statewide achievement tests.

Critics argue that the concept is creationism, which the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited from public schools. Intelligent design supporters deny that, saying that the designer is not specified.

In Kentucky, the Core Content guidelines include the teaching of scientific theory, which includes the theory of evolution, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

"Teachers are expected to teach their students science concepts, and even though the statewide assessment may or may not include a specific question on evolution, the theory is discussed in the appropriate context," she said.

In November, the Indiana Department of Education issued a memorandum that said the department does not mandate what science curriculum should be taught.

However, science content must be consistent with the nature of science, or the connection between theory and experiment, the memo states. That means the explanations for how the world works must be based upon physical evidence and subjected to experimental verification, as well as peer review, according to the state department of education.

Ohio's local school districts still have the power to decide whether to address intelligent design or other theories, in addition to evolution. Some already teach other concepts.

People on both sides of the issue applauded Tuesday's vote, but some students say they would like to be taught all sides of the debate - even in public schools' science classes.

"All schools should teach the theories of evolution," said Amy Olding, a 16-year-old junior at East Central High School in St. Leon, Ind. "I think they should teach that there could be a scientific theory and a religious theory. Students should be taught all the different possibilities so the student can decide."

Many science teachers, however, say the theory of evolution, which deals with change of species over time, is supported with scientific evidence, such as how bacteria are adapting to antibiotics. They say intelligent design and creationism don't have empirical data to support those concepts.

However, some teachers say they discuss creationism and intelligent design if it comes up in class, but not as a scientific theory.

"Teachers may acknowledge there are people who believe each organism was created individually and hasn't changed, and there are people who believe earth is only 6,000 years old," said Don Axe, secondary science curriculum leader for Kings school district in Warren County.

"I don't think it hurts to point out that those are beliefs and not supported by scientific evidence," he said. "But to incorporate those as science standards would mean students would have to be tested on them and show proficiency in intelligent design and creationism. That would not be appropriate for the science classroom."

Linda Sutphin, secondary science curriculum leader for Mason schools in Warren County, said intelligent design is not written in the district's curriculum because it's not considered science.

"It always comes up and the teachers definitely entertain the discussion, but all the while stressing that evolution is based on evidence and that this is what is scientifically considered to be the way life changed on earth and how we got the diversity of life we have now," she said.

Intelligent design would not come up unless a student raised the topic, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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