OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - For the fourth time in eight years, the Kansas Board of Education is preparing to take up the issue of evolution and what to teach -- or not teach -- public school students about the origins of life.
After victory at the polls in November, a moderate majority on the 10-member board in the central U.S. state plans to overturn science standards seen as critical of evolution at a board meeting on Tuesday in Topeka.
New standards would replace those put in place in 2005 by a conservative board majority that challenged the validity of evolution and cited it as incompatible with religious doctrine.
The 2005 action outraged scientists across the United States, with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association refusing a request by Kansas to use copyrighted material in textbooks.
Voters in last year’s elections then swayed the balance of power on the board to moderates.
The move on Tuesday to rewrite the science standards would come a day after the birthday of evolution scholar Charles Darwin, who gained fame in 1859 for his book “The Origin of Species”.
Some religious groups argue that evolution cannot be proven and is not in accordance with Biblical teachings regarding the origins of life. Teaching evolution misleads and confuses students, opponents say.
But supporters say religion has no valid role in a science class and evolution is the foundation for understanding key concepts in biology and other scientific fields.
Adding fuel to the debate, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute issued a press release on Monday protesting the board’s planned move.
“You have a board in Kansas that is so extreme,” said John West, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a think tank focusing on science education and intelligent design.
That theory holds that an intelligent force -- which some proponents would say is God -- is probably responsible for some aspects of nature.
Still, some were cheering the board’s move to restore standards that anti-evolution forces rewrote in 1999, only to be followed with a rewrite by evolution supporters in 2001 and then the anti-evolution board in 2005.
“I‘m very much hoping that history repeats itself ... and the 2007 school board makes the right decision for Kansas students to restore the valid standards,” said National Center for Science Education executive director Eugenie Scott.
“These are standards that reflect science, rather than a politicized curriculum that miseducates students.”
The repeated changes have left schools and teachers scrambling to keep up. Educators say some aspects of a curriculum change can usually be implemented by the next school year but some, such as buying new textbooks, can take years.