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The San Francisco Chronicle
SEPTEMBER 27, 2000, WEDNESDAY, FINAL EDITION
California Gets A' in Evolution Education; 19 other states fail to make the
grade in national survey
BYLINE: Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer
California is among just six states that received high marks for their
teaching of evolution, while 19 states faired poorly and Kansas flunked, with
a curriculum deemed "disgraceful," according to a new report that promises to
spur the decades-old debate between science and creationism in the schools.
The report, commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Ohio and
released yesterday by the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, considers how well evolution is included in the state science
education standards of 49 states and the District of Columbia.
The states were each given a letter grade, with California and five other
states -- Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and Rhode Island
-- receiving a perfect 100 percent. They ranked high for introducing at least
some of the basic processes of biological evolution early on, building on
them later, making evolution the centerpiece of the life sciences and
maintaining the continuity of historical sciences.
Twenty-five other states received grades ranging from A to C, or from very
good to satisfactory. But six states -- Arkansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin,
Virginia, Alaska and Illinois -- received an unsatisfactory D, and 13 others
an F or worse, which the report says indicates their "standards are quite
useless for purposes of teaching evolution."
The states with a failing grade were: Wyoming, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, New
Hampshire, Florida, Alabama, North Dakota, Georgia, Mississippi, West
Virginia and Tennessee. Kansas's grade was F-minus. Iowa was not included in
the report because it allows local districts to set education standards.
Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley
and an author of books about evolution, criticized the report.
"I think it is a pile of nonsense and the enlistment of the cultural and
financial power of the scientific enterprise in a program of indoctrination
and not education," he said.
He called it part of an "anti-religious movement" that forces students to
"They are taught an ideology. They are told to believe and not to ask any
questions," he said.
The author of the report, Lawrence S. Lerner, a professor emeritus at the
California State University at Long Beach, calls "creation science," a
"pseudoscientific rival to evolution that the courts have repeatedly held to
be thinly veiled religion." He said that objections to the teaching of
evolution are expressed in elementary and secondary education in various
ways. In some states, the fundamental concepts and facts are covered only
briefly but the word "evolution" is carefully avoided in favor of "change
In others, the "subject is avoided altogether or barely mentioned, reducing
the sciences -- especially the biological sciences -- to disjointed lists of
facts," he says in the report.
The teaching of evolution in schools evokes bitter controversy, Lerner says,
and the issue has galvanized states in the past few years.
The Kansas Board of Education made headlines last year when it dropped the
big-bang theory of the origin of the universe and revised science teaching
standards to emphasize creationism over evolution.
In giving Kansas the lowest grade of all the states, Lerner calls the state's
science education standards a "disgraceful paean to anti-science.
Linda Holloway, former chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, said
the report was deceptive and "very unfair."
"Clearly they have an ax to grind about evolution," she told the Associated
Kentucky's D-rated science standards earn a comment from Lerner that "It
appears that young Kentuckians are to be sheltered from any exposure to
evolution and other dangerous words and theories."
"It is a problem for science literacy in this country," said Molleen
Matsunura, of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley. "It is
not new, but it is something to worry about."
She said that college science professors are reporting students coming in
unprepared, having never heard of evolution, and that students who do not
learn evolution will not pass the science subject section of the SAT or the
Advanced Placement test.
Matsunura said California ranked high in the new study because the State
Board of Education has adopted a curriculum framework and science standards
that include the teaching of evolution.
The state approved a policy in 1989 stating that discussions of scientific
facts or theories "related to the origins of the universe, the Earth, and of
life" are appropriate to the science curriculum, while discussions of "divine
creation" are appropriate to the history, social science and English
EVOLUTION IN THE SCHOOLS
A new report ranked each state according to how well
it taught evolution in its public schools. Top scoring states
earned the highest grade of: A, which was deemed excellent.''
The lowest scoring state received an: F-, Considered disgraceful.''
Iowa (No grade)
A: 90-100 Excellent
B: 80-89 Good
C: 60-79 Satisfactory
D: 40-59 Unsatisfactory
F: 0-39 Useless or Absent:
F-: Negative values Disgraceful
Source: Lawrence S. Lerner, professor emeritus, California
State University, Long Beach
E-mail Tanya Schevitz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chronicle wire services
contributed to this report.
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