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The Columbus Dispatch
September 27, 2000, Wednesday
ON SUBJECT OF 'E,' OHIO RANKS AN 'F'
BYLINE: David Lore, Dispatch Science Reporter
Biology teachers Linda Duellman and Sean Smith work in neighboring schools on
the Far East Side, but their teaching about the origins of life is miles
Duellman, at Walnut Ridge High School, teaches the scientific theory of
"It's only discussed as a theory,'' she said. "It should not disturb any
faith or personal belief to be taught a theory.''
Six blocks away, at Liberty Christian Academy, Smith teaches "100 percent
"I'll mention the theory of evolution, but in the main we teach what we
A national study issued yesterday says that Ohio needs to do a much better
job of guiding at least its public-school teachers through the thorny thicket
Ohio's reluctance to even use the word evolution in its biology standards has
earned the state a failing grade in a comparison of how the states handle the
The survey, conducted by retired California physicist Lawrence Lerner for the
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement
of Science, found 31 states with satisfactory standards in regard to
evolution and 18 -- including Ohio -- deficient.
The Fordham Foundation is a private education research foundation. The AAAS
is a nationally recognized organization of scientists and educators that
publishes Science magazine. Both organizations support the teaching of
The report card was based on an assessment of state education standards, not
on the practices of specific schools or school districts.
"Evolution treated here as if it were not proper conversation in polite
company,'' Lerner wrote in awarding the Ohio standards an "F.''
Neighboring Indiana and Pennsylvania each earned an "A.'' Indiana's education
system presents "an exemplary, straightforward treatment,'' Lerner wrote.
Many religious conservatives oppose the teaching of evolution or ask that
public schools give equal time to creationism.
While creationism comes in various forms, it generally is the belief that,
despite relatively minor adaptations over time, today's species are those
created by God as described in the Bible. Creationists, for example, reject
the notion that man and ape evolved from a common ancestor.
Although state standards influence what is put in textbooks and proficiency
tests, they don't necessarily control what teachers actually teach, Lerner
said in an interview.
Lerner's main objection to the Ohio standards is the State Board of
Education's reluctance to actually use the word evolution.
"If you don't mention evolution, you lose 20 points on the grading scale I
developed,'' he said.
State "grades,'' he explained, are based on several criteria, including
whether the standards use the "e-word,'' how they treat geologic and cosmic
evolution, and whether they specifically address human evolution.
"Ohio's (12th-grade) language is better than nothing -- it's just basic
biology,'' said Eugenie Scott, director of the California-based National
Center for Science Education.
The Ohio standard covers the mechanics of evolution but -- in avoiding the
word itself -- doesn't require that students understand the underlying
theory, she said. "A teacher can just talk about mosquitoes and students will
not recognize that these changes are a component of evolution, that living
things share common ancestors.''
Lerner and Scott agree that the big unknown is what teachers are actually
telling students about evolution theory.
As a public-school teacher, Duellman said she doesn't introduce creation
theories but doesn't object if students do. "I might mention there are other
theories, but I don't teach them,'' she said.
Duellman said she focuses more on biological mechanics, such as genetics,
than on philosophical discussions about where people come from. "But it
always comes up,'' she said.
"Students are familiar with the pictures from the textbooks of the monkeys
walking along and eventually walking upright as a man. So they ask, 'Is that
(evolution) the theory that we came from monkeys?' ''
At Liberty Christian Academy, Smith said, "Generally, I stick with the
curriculum and the curriculum does address both, although it addresses
evolution to a very small amount. But it does mention both ideas, and some of
Teachers in Catholic schools are expected to talk about Darwin and God, said
Jim Grove, director of school culture for the Diocese of Columbus.
"We don't see these as being opposed,'' he said. "We see this as a great
opportunity to weave these things together.
"In our graded course of study for science, we clearly talk about the
different theories of evolution that exist in the science classroom and look
at the whole concept of God and creation.''.
Theresa Bowser, a Bishop Ready High School biology teacher who has degrees in
archaeology, said she teaches that there is no contradiction between the
Bible and the theory of evolution.
Her students, she said, "are pretty vocal and ask a lot of questions about
"I think they're satisfied because I'm not negating everything they've
learned. They feel relieved because they don't have to give up their faith or
give up science. There's no need to choose.''
While church schools are free to teach the Bible, public schools are required
by the Constitution and the courts to keep religion out of the science
Scott said her concern is not that public schools are teaching the wrong
things but that they may not be teaching anything.
"I think the most widespread behavior is just dropping evolution,'' she said.
"Actual teaching of creationism (in public school) is a minor element.''
"Every public school has a graded course of study,'' said Lynn Elfner,
director of the Ohio Academy of Science. "Whether anybody pays any attention
to it is another thing. It comes down to the classroom teacher and what he or
she is comfortable with.''
The report is available on the Fordham Foundation's Web site at www.
GRAPHIC: Photo, Graphi, (1) Eric Albrecht / Dispatch Linda Duellman, a
biology teacher at Walnut Ridge High School, teaches the scientific theory of
evolution to her students. Ohio's reluctance to even use the word evolution
in its biology standards has earned the state a failing grade in a national
comparison of how the states handle the topic. (2) Graphi
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