The Akron Beacon Journal


Beyond evolution

Will state school board tackle the issues?

By Lawrence M. Krauss

The writer is the Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and the director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics, at Case Western Reserve University. He is also chair of the advisory board of Help Ohio Public Education, or HOPE, which describes itself as being focused initially ``on recruiting and supporting serious committed candidates for the Ohio Board of Education.''

For the first time since 2002, Ohio's State Board of Education can concentrate solely on improving public education without getting mired in inappropriate debates over science teaching based on religious attacks.

The people of Ohio owe 28-year school board member Martha Wise of Avon, now a candidate for the state Senate, a debt of gratitude. In February, the school board wisely discarded the creationist ``critical analysis of evolution'' lesson plan and the associated benchmark from its science standards.

The 2002 standards said students should be able to ``describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionaruy theory.'' A disclaimer was included that said the teaching of ``intelligent design'' was not required.

When the state board eliminated that critical analysis passage in February, it also adopted Resolution 31, which called for its achievement committee to determine whether a replacement was desirable, and if so, to propose one.

Since then, the board's chief creationist proponents, including Michael Cochran of Columbus and Deborah Owens Fink of Richfield, had worked hard to have a ``Controversial Issues Template'' introduced.

A draft of the template originally encouraged debate on such specific issues as stem cell research, cloning, global warming and evolution -- all hot social issues, but certainly not controversial scientific ones. Subsequently, the template was diluted to encourage students merely to conduct research and have open discussion in science classrooms.

On Wednesday, board member Wise introduced a resolution, approved by an overwhelming board majority vote of 14-3, to discharge the committee from further consideration of replacing the critical analysis language that was deleted in February.

Finally, after four years of needless debate and distraction, the state school board can proceed unimpeded with the important business it needs to focus on, namely, finding ways to improve public education, including the serious issues associated with school funding.

Of course, as in Kansas, we are not guaranteed that a new board, with five seats to be elected on Nov. 7 and four more to be appointed by the governor at the end of the year, might not return to fruitlessly debate the need to reconsider well-established science in the curriculum.

In this regard, it is interesting that Owens Fink, who is up for re-election and who voted against a motion to reconsider Resolution 31 at this week's meeting, left the board meeting before the final vote to have the committee end further consideration of the science standards issue.

One wonders whether she was concerned that participating in yet another vote on this issue would have added further validation to claims that she has helped derail the important work of the board with her fixation on this issue -- and further damaged her re-election campaign against challenger Tom Sawyer, the former congressman and Akron mayor who is campaigning strongly to move the board forward on a host of issues.

One can only hope that voters in Ohio, like the vast majority of current board members, have finally recognized that it is time to move onward, past this divisive nonissue, and attack the far more important issues facing public education in the state.

In so doing, we can hope that both the creationist attack, and Owens Fink, will soon be distant memories when the new board convenes.