State Hears From Thousands On Science Teaching Standards

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Thousands of people, including parents, professors and preachers, from Ohio and elsewhere have sent the state letters, e-mails or petitions about what public schoolchildren should be taught about life's origins and diversity.

The state Board of Education, which is trying to decide whether to teach alternatives to evolution, released its second draft of science curriculum guidelines Monday.

In the second draft of the new grade-by-grade science standards, evolution remains the only explanation for life that students should learn.

Some board members have asked the 41-member team writing the standards to include alternative ideas as well as evolution, the dominant concept based on Charles Darwin's research. Among the other concepts is intelligent design, or the idea that life must have been designed because it is so complex.

As of Friday, the board had collected 912 e-mailed or handwritten comments from people in more than a dozen other states, Canada and Portugal about the first draft of the science standards.

All but 109 of the documents specifically speak to evolution.

Another 3,259 people have signed an electronic petition sponsored by Ohio Citizens for Science, a pro-evolution group. The petition urges the board not to include intelligent design in the standards.

Beth Gianforcaro, a board spokeswoman, said the writing team will review the documents as it continues to revise the standards.

The board must approve the final version of the standards by years' end, and the public will be able to comment throughout the process.

Compared with feedback on the science standards, Gianforcaro said the state received far fewer comments from the public during the review process for English-language arts and math standards, which the board approved in December 2001.

Among the letters were some from scientists and science teachers, as well as Congressmen, school districts, professional organizations, clergy and college students.

Republican Ohio congressmen John Boehner, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, and Steve Chabot told board members in a March 15 letter that Congress believes that public school students examining controversial topics, such as evolution, are entitled to learn differing scientific views on those topics.

School districts in Hudson and Springfield sent the state letters asking it to refrain from making any changes to the current drafts that would undermine the teaching of evolution as the mainstream scientific community understands it.

The American Society for Cell Biology, representing 10,000 biomedical research scientists, told board members in a March 6 letter that "imposing the doctrine of intelligent design in the science classroom will compromise students' understanding of modern biology and leave them with devalued academic credentials."

Even individuals without a direct interest in Ohio's education system weighed in.

Bill Greene, of Buford, Ga., wrote in a Feb. 6 e-mail that the first draft of the standards failed to help students understand the full range of scientific views about life.

"Science standards and textbooks should not mandate the dogmas of the past when they are beset with increasing evidences of error and fraud, and when new discoveries can and do occur," he wrote.

Clare Johnson, of Madison, Wis., said in a Feb. 16 e-mail that she was appalled at the blatant attempt to get creationism into Ohio's science standards.

"Although I believe in a spiritual universe and 'the hand of God' guidance system, intelligent design is still theology and not a science. It should not be included in science classes," Johnson wrote.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)