Evolution of Kansas science standards continues as Darwin's theories regain prominence

The Kansas Board of Education, long ridiculed for its resistance to teaching evolution, prepared Tuesday to repeal rules backed by social conservatives and switch to science guidelines that embrace Charles Darwin's mainstream theories.
The new board, with a 6-4 majority of Democrats and moderate Republicans, was to debate and vote on what would be the fifth set of science standards for public schools in eight years.
The existing standards suggest widely accepted evolutionary concepts _ like a common origin for all life on Earth and changes in one species leading to a new one _ are challenged by new evidence. Those rules, adopted in 2005, were pushed by supporters of "intelligent design," which holds that life is so complex that it must have been created by a higher authority.
An alternative, drafted by scientists and educators, would treat evolution as well-supported by research. It also would rewrite the standards' definition of science to limit it to the search for natural explanations for what is observed in the universe.
But the State Board of Education's swing back was not likely to settle the issue, given many Kansans' religious objections and other misgivings about evolution.
"I don't think this issue is going to go away. I think it's going to be around forever," said board Chairman Bill Wagnon, a Topeka Democrat who supports evolution-friendly standards.
Last year, legal disputes or political, legislative or school debates over how evolution should be taught cropped up in at least seven other U.S. states. But none of those has inspired attention _ or comedians' jokes _ like Kansas has since a conservative-led state board deleted most references to evolution in rewriting the standards in 1999.
"There's this, I think, political agenda to just ensure that evolution is the driving, underlying notion that has to be accepted in Kansas science standards in order for Kansas to keep its head up in the world, which is just bizarre," said board member Ken Willard, a Republican who supported the 2005 standards.
The standards are used to develop tests that measure how well students learn science. Decisions about what is taught remain with 296 local school boards.
On the Net: