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State Board of Education & Evolution: “Not a Bunch of Kansas Crazies”

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First let’s make this absolutely clear: Kansas’ State Board of Education is not deciding whether the teaching of evolution should be included in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). That’s already been decided in the affirmative by the scientists and educators who wrote the Framework for K-12 Science Education that the standards are based on.

And — second — state board Member Ken Willard says he regrets what he calls “the momentary indiscretion of sharing some personal thoughts with a reporter a few days ago that were blown out of proportion.” Those thoughts — which were about evolution and the teaching thereof — made news across the United States. Last Tuesday, during the state board’s monthly meeting — Willard told his colleagues he did not mean to draw that kind of attention to himself.

In addition to not wanting to draw attention to himself, Willard said he didn’t want a reputation as a “crackpot.”

“At some risk to myself, I do want to make that clear,” he said.

Something else he wanted to make clear, however, is that he is opposed to the adoption of national standards. Although the Kansas State Board of Education is one of 26 lead states helping to develop the NGSS, the state is not obligated to adopt those standards when complete. As a matter of fact, when the state education board met last September, there was some discussion of the potential political difficulty of introducing the new standards in a state where the teaching of evolution has long been controversial. And last March a question was raised about the inclusion of information on climate change.

Controversy over the teaching of evolution is not confined to Kansas, Willard said. He shared a letter of support he had received from an organization called Citizens for Objective Public Education Inc. In addition, he mentioned a call of support from a professor serving on the state of Georgia’s NGSS committee.

By mentioning that he had supporters nationwide, Willard said he wanted to “make it clear that it is not a bunch of Kansas crazies” asking questions about evolution. In addition, he asked why anyone would have to be embarrassed about asking questions.

“Many people are worried that Kansas is being embarrassed about asking questions or being inquisitive about this matter,” Willard said, reflecting on the fact that not all the calls and e-mails he had received had been from supporters. “I can’t imagine that anyone would be embarrassed about being inquisitive.”

Matt Krehbiel, an education department staff member heading the state’s NGSS efforts, updated the board on his committee’s progress during last Tuesday’s meeting. After receiving months’ worth of comments from all 26 state committees, the national organization in charge of writing the new science standards — Achieve Inc. — made a preliminary draft available for public comments this spring. That comment period closed June 1. Now work is underway on a second draft. Another public comment period is scheduled for this fall, and final standards are supposed to be complete by the end of this year (although Krehbiel predicts that deadline will probably be extended to the spring of 2013).

So, if the state committees aren’t commenting on what science should be included in the standards, what are they commenting on? Krehbiel says his committee members had a lot to say about the need for more clarity in the document. They also had suggestions about grade appropriateness of some material and colors used in the text.

Willard, a Hutchinson resident, is a former president of the National Association of State Boards of Education. This is not the first time he has attracted national attention by questioning the teaching of evolution in Kansas classrooms. He was first elected to the Kansas State Board of Education in 2003.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the state board recognized the achievement of a team of students from Baldwin City, Kan., who won a national engineering design contest for high school students. The Baldwin City High School team designed “an efficient, low-carbon-emission and environmentally friendly personal light sport aircraft” to win this year’s Real World Design Challenge. Student team members were Kaitlyn Barnes, Abby Clem, Carrie Dietz, Quint Heinecke, Mackenzie Johnson and Austin Kraus. They received their trophy last April at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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About jwmartinez

JoLynne is a journalist and educator. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Park University and is certified to teach high school journalism and English. Former employment includes work for Cable News Network and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to freelancing for clients such as the Kansas City Star and The Pitch.

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  1. Pingback: CPAs and Legislators and the Governor, Oh My! « KC Education Enterprise - October 5, 2012

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