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Joint Statement
from the National Research Council,
American Association for the Advancement of Science,
and the National Science Teachers Association
Regarding the Kansas Science Education Standards


September 23, 1999



A law firm representing the Kansas State Board of Education recently sought permission to reprint "selected portions" of the National Science Education Standards (published by the National Research Council), the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science), and Pathways to the Science Standards (published by the National Science Teachers Association). Our organizations originally gave tentative permission to the writing team from Kansas to incorporate portions of our publications into the Kansas Science Education Standards. But the standards that were approved by the Kansas State Board of Education in August contained substantive revisions that deleted any mention about the origins and evolution of the universe and life on Earth. Given this unfortunate development, we have revisited the issue of whether to grant permission.

Because the specific changes that were made in the revised Kansas standards were not highlighted in the request for permission, our organizations examined the entire document in detail (See Appendix). Both individually and collectively, we reached the same conclusion: As modified, the Kansas Science Education Standards do not, as the Kansas State Board asserts, "...embrace the vision and content" of the National Science Education Standards and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy. We also cannot accept the statements that "...the Kansas Science Education Standards are founded not only on the research base but also on the work of over 18,000 scientists, science educators, teachers, school administrators, and parents across the country that produced national standards, as well as the school district teams and thousands of individuals who contributed to the benchmarks. Thus, the Kansas Science Education Standards are consistent with both expressions of a unified vision for science education." (Both quotes are from the Kansas Science Education Standards "Acknowledgment of Prior Work," pp. 4-5.) If the current version of the Kansas Science Education Standards is adopted and implemented, we deny permission to use text from our publications for that purpose. We also collectively request that reference to and acknowledgment of the national Standards, Benchmarks, and Pathways be removed from the Kansas document.

Our decision to disassociate our documents and the organizations we represent from the Kansas Science Education Standards was made with difficulty and after considerable study of the revised document. Parts of the Kansas science standards are consistent with the goals of our documents. For many areas of science education, the version prepared by the 28-member writing team provides a model for other states to emulate. For example, the standards that stress the teaching of science through inquiry-based and interdisciplinary approaches complement the documents by all three organizations.

The Kansas Science Education Standards indicate that students should understand evolutionary processes that lead to changes within species (referred to as "microevolution" in the Kansas document). However, the Kansas standards effectively eliminated consideration of any aspects of evolution that examine origins of the Earth and life and processes that may give rise to the formation of new species (defined as "macroevolution"). By deeming that only certain aspects of the theory of evolution should be taught, the State Board of Education adopted a position that is contrary to modern science and to the very visions and goals that the Kansas Science Education Standards claim to espouse.

Thus, for the aforementioned reasons, and for the reasons we lay out in the attached appendix, we must disassociate ourselves and our organizations from the Kansas Science Education Standards.


Bruce Alberts
President
National Academy of Sciences; and
Chair
National Research Council

Stephen J. Gould
President
American Association for the Advancement of Science

Emma Walton
President
National Science Teachers Association

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Appendix

The origins and evolution of the Earth and living things are central themes in both the National Science Education Standards and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy. These ideas are considered to be critical to high-quality science education because evolutionary theory serves as the foundation for all areas of modern biology. The study of evolution also epitomizes how scientists gather evidence and construct explanations to account for phenomena that are not immediately visible or apparent.

The effects of selectively removing aspects of evolution and cosmology from the Kansas Science Education Standards:
    I. By selectively removing specific standards and indicators that correspond to the origins of life and the Earth, many Kansas students will not have formal opportunities to explore and think critically about the evidence for or against one of the most important set of ideas to be developed in the history of science. The elimination of selected aspects of evolutionary theory that are contrary to certain religious beliefs is thus anathema to both the vision and content of our publications.

    II. Teachers will not be expected to address questions that are likely to arise from discussions of aspects of evolution that are part of the current Kansas science standards. Two examples from the Kansas document illustrate this point.
        1. Benchmark 5 of the eighth grade Standard for Life Science calls for students to "...observe the diversity of living things and relate their adaptations to their survival or extinction." (emphasis theirs)

        This Benchmark goes on to state, "...Over time genetic variation acted upon by natural selection has brought variations in populations...Instruction needs to be designed to uncover and prevent misconceptions about natural selection...Using examples of microevolution, such as Darwin's finches or the peppered moths of Manchester, helps develop understanding of natural selection. (1) Examining fossil evidence assists the student's understanding of extinction as a natural process that has affected Earth's species." (p.52)
        A description of natural selection and its implications for change within species also is provided in Benchmark 2 in the 12th grade life science standards (p. 80). If implemented in life science classrooms, these benchmarks should lead students to ask questions about how species might have originated. However, the current version of the Kansas Science Education Standards provides for no similar expectations that students study those origins.
          2. Similarly, Benchmark 2 of the eighth grade Earth and Space Science Standard states:

          "The students will understand that past and present Earth processes are similar. ...Sedimentary rocks...show deposition of sediments over time...Glacial deposits show past ice ages and global warming and cooling. Some fossil beds enable the matching of rocks from different continents, and other fossil beds show how organisms developed over a long period of time. Students will need to apply knowledge of Earth's past to make decisions relative to Earth's future.' (p. 55)
          Such considerations of the Earth's geology should invariably lead to considerations about the age and origins of the Earth. However, our reading of the Kansas Science Education Standards indicates that no standards or benchmarks are included to address these important issues. Indeed, the concepts of time (especially very long periods of time) and its measurement appear to be absent from these standards. Because these concepts also are central to the documents that our organizations have produced, the Kansas standards do not adhere to the vision and content of national standards and benchmarks.

          Although the Kansas standards do not preclude discussion of such topics, the Board's statement that "...[the standards] will serve as the foundation for the development of state assessments in science" suggests that many teachers will not spend time on topics that are not included in statewide tests.

          III. Some statements in the Kansas Science Education Standards appear to directly contradict each other, epitomizing some of the serious shortcomings of the document. For example, the introduction to the 12th grade Earth and Space Science standards states:
              As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, students should develop an understanding of energy in the Earth System, geochemical cycles, the origin and evolution of the Earth system, and the origins and evolution of the universe. [emphasis ours] (p. 86)
              However, on the next page, Benchmark 4 indicates that:
                Students should develop an understanding of the universe. The origin of the universe remains one of the greatest questions in science. Studies of data regarding fossils, geologic tables, cosmological information are encouraged. But standards regarding origins are not mandated. [emphasis ours] (p. 87)
              IV. Knowing about and understanding a scientific theory does not mean that students must accept that theory. The Kansas document eloquently states this premise in several ways:
                  Teaching with Tolerance and Respect: Science studies natural phenomena by formulating explanations that can be tested against the natural world. Some scientific concepts and theories (e.g. blood transfusion, human sexuality, nervous system's role in consciousness, cosmological and biological evolution, etc.) may conflict with a student's religious or cultural beliefs. The goal is to enhance understanding, and a science teacher has a responsibility to enhance students' understanding of scientific concepts and theories. Compelling student belief is inconsistent with the goal of education. Nothing in science or any other field of knowledge should be taught dogmatically. (Nature of Science, pp. 5-6)

                  The students will develop scientific habits of mind. Science requires varied abilities depending on the field of study, type of inquiry, and cultural context. The abilities characteristic of those engaged in scientific investigations include: reasoning, intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, appropriate skepticism, open-mindedness, and the ability to make logical conclusions based on current evidence. (Eighth Grade Standard 7, History and Nature of Science, Benchmark 1, p. 65)

                  [Students should be able to] Emphasize the critical abilities of analyzing an argument by reviewing current scientific understanding, weighing the evidence, and examining the logic so as to decide which explanations and models are best. In other words, although there may be several plausible explanations, students should be able to use scientific criteria to determine the supported explanation(s). (12th-Grade Standard 1, Science as Inquiry, Benchmark 1, p. 71)
                All of the goals that are articulated in these statements would seem to demand that Kansas' students be exposed to all aspects of scientific ideas and developments, including those that might be considered controversial. By removing any expectation that students will study aspects of biological evolution, earth science, and cosmology that deal with origins, the Kansas State Board of Education has effectively negated what it claims to support as effective science education.

                V. The teaching and learning of science are unnecessarily politicized.

                1. In the Glossary to the Kansas standards document, with one exception, descriptions of complex scientific terms or concepts are afforded up to six lines of text. However, more than half a page is devoted to describing "falsifiability," the idea that a theory must be testable in ways that can demonstrate that the theory is untenable. Part of this description includes a footnoted reference to a court case that actually ruled on whether creation science could be taught in science classes in Arkansas(2). (p. 98)

                2. Similarly, Benchmark 3 of the eighth-grade standards on "Science as Inquiry" expects that
                    The students will analyze how science advances through new ideas, scientific investigations, skepticism, and examining evidence of varied explanations. (p. 40)
                  An indicator that students have mastered this benchmark is that they will:
                      Identify faulty reasoning of conclusions which go beyond evidence and/or are not supported by data in a current hypothesis or theory. (p. 41)
                      Skepticism and the ability to evaluate when conclusions exceed the limits of data collected are critical to scientific literacy and we support the goals of this benchmark. However, the example supplied for this indicator is that eighth-grade students will:
                        Analyze hypotheses about characteristics of and extinction of dinosaurs. Identify the assumptions behind the hypothesis and show the weaknesses in the reasoning that led to the hypothesis. (p. 41)
                      Besides the fact that the levels of analysis expected by this benchmark are not appropriate for eighth grade students, the wording of this specific example ("show the weaknesses in the reasoning that led to the hypothesis") represents at least an implicit attempt by the Kansas State Board of Education to undermine a currently accepted body of knowledge. In fact, data gathered and analyzed by scientists from many disciplines lend increasing weight to the prevailing scientific ideas about how dinosaurs became extinct. Also, by specifically stating that the hypothesis is weak, the statement contradicts the goal of the standard and the benchmark that seeks to have students develop the ability to analyze evidence.

                      Statements such as these, which attempt to discredit prevailing scientific theory, politicize the teaching and learning of science. Hence these kinds of statements are antithetical to the documents we have published.

                      __________________________________

                      Notes

                      1. This statement in the Kansas Science Education Standards is excerpted from Pathways (p.76) but the sentence has been modified in the Kansas document. The original sentence in Pathways does not refer to microevolution. The sentence in Pathways also includes the words 'over time' at the end of the sentence, thus changing the science and the implications for students. (back to text)

                      2. The Kansas standards claims that "In the United States, Falsifiability in Science can even be considered 'the law of the land,' because of the decision of a Federal Judge (Overton) in a famous trial." The case to which this reference refers is McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, in which a federal court in 1982 held that a "balanced treatment" statute violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Arkansas statute required public schools to give balanced treatment to "creation science" and "evolution science." In a decision that gave a detailed definition of the term "science," the court declared that "creation science" is not in fact a science. (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, 529 F. Supp. 1255, 50 (E. D. Ark 1982) U.S. Law Week 2412. (back to text)