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6:26 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Evolution remains public school standard

State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

State schools chief Diane Douglas details Monday why she wants education standards crafted by a Christian college to have to be used in Arizona schools. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX – The state Board of Education on Monday rebuffed a bid by schools chief Diane Douglas to adopt standards for public schools crafted by a Christian college for Arizona.

But whether schools may be allowed to use the standards crafted by Hillsdale College remains an open question.

Several board members said it might be appropriate to have that as an option for schools that choose not to follow the standards for history, social studies and science that the board did adopt – barely – by a 6-4 vote. And Jared Taylor, one of the dissents, said he hopes to revisit the issue at future board meetings.

What is clear is that the new standards incorporate some last-minute changes proposed by the Arizona Science Teachers Association. And the most notable change includes a clear statement that “the unity and diversity of organism, living and extinct, is the result of evolution.’’

Sara Torres, the group’s executive director, said these standards will “protect teachers of science from being put in a position of teaching non-scientific ideas.”

After the vote, Douglas insisted she was not against the teaching of evolution. And Douglas said she even is willing to concede that “science, to some degree, has proven adaptation of species.’’ Where she parts company is taking the next steps.

“Show me where any scientist has proven or replicated that life came from non-living matter or that, in the example we see in the museums, that man evolved from an ape,’’ Douglas said.

“There’s no proof to that,’’ she continued. “Let’s teach our children all those different things and let them study them.’’

The process of revising the standards started two years ago. But they came into sharper focus after there were some revisions, some initiated by Douglas and her aides.

What they prepared to present to the board last month proved unacceptable to the science teachers.

They sought – and got – restoration of language that says students should be asked to analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models “to make evidence-based predictions of the current rate and scale of global or regional climate change.” And they wanted students to be able to construct an evidence-based explanation for how the availability of natural resources and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

And they specifically convinced the board to adopt the language about evolution.

Douglas, for her part, said her objections went beyond any specific change. She argued that the standards the board adopted are, in effect, just minor modifications of what has been going on for decades, a system she said is failing Arizona students.

For example, she said 56 percent of third graders cannot read or write at grade level. And 47 percent cannot do basic arithmetic.

And she said 60 percent of students entering the Maricopa community colleges need remedial classes.

“Hillsdale are the best standards for our students if – and that’s a big if –giving them the education to which they are entitled, which I define as for success post K-12 and as citizens of our great state and nation, is more than just lip service,” Douglas, who is also a member of the board, argued to others on the panel.

But the Hillsdale proposal came under scrutiny at least in part amid concerns that they were not so much standards as actual curriculum of what is to be taught. And then there was the emphasis on Judeo-Christian teachings, far more than in current state standards in teaching comparative religions.

For example, under the concept of lasting ideas from ancient civilizations, it mentions the idea of a “covenant” between God and man, and “important stories” like creation and the calling of Abraham. That continues into the New Testament with stories on the baptism of Jesus, walking on water and the resurrection.

Douglas bemoaned the proposal as just another in a long line of so-called “reforms” that are “just more fads, gimmicks and tricks, with lots of testing added on for good measure.” She also said there has been “inadequate” input from parents and the community.

“They should be telling us what they expect and what they need for their children’s education and not being told what will be put upon them,” she said.

That lack of community input also bothered Patricia Welborn, another board member, though she wondered aloud if more could be done. She was one of the four votes against the new standards.

Taylor, the chief executive of Heritage Academy, a charter school, had more specific objections to making these standards mandatory. One, he said, was the failure to provide “age-appropriate” content to students in kindergarten through third grade.

“You ask them to do a lot of conceptual work,” he said. “And their brains aren’t ready for it.”

Taylor said schools should be free to adopt either the standards approved by the board on Monday or the Hillsdale standards, which were developed for charter schools.

Not all of Monday’s testimony and debate surrounded the issues of science or even teaching history.

A group from the Sikh community urged board members to ensure that their own faith is taught to students when they learn about world religions.