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September 27, 2000, Wednesday
National survey gives New Mexico a C grade in teaching evolution
BYLINE: Lawrence Spohn firstname.lastname@example.org / 823-3611
For once New Mexico is not at the bottom of the heap, but it still only
merited a C in how well its schools teach the scientific concept of
The state was given 73 out of 100 possible points in a national assessment
performed for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation on the way schools in each
state teach evolution.
New Mexico ranked 26th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The 51-page report, "Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the
States," makes the point that the concept of evolution is not only the core
of biology, but also of geology, physics, chemistry and astronomy.
It concludes that political and religious impediments in many states to the
teaching of evolution seriously handicap students' understanding not just of
biology but all science.
New Mexico Board of Education Chairwoman Flora Sanchez and Superintendent
Michael J. Davis could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Dave Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, said: "I think
before our standards were revisited last year and improved, we were going to
get an F too." His organization's members were among scientists who
successfully fought to change a state Board of Education standard last year
that would have required New Mexico teachers to also present alternative
views to evolution.
"New Mexico has been making progress, but obviously there is still a lot of
room for improvement," Thomas said.
The report was issued Tuesday at a symposium in Washington, D.C.
Written and researched by Lawrence S. Lerner, professor emeritus in the
College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University at
Long Beach, the report ranked states based on their evolution education
It slams 19 states for a "weak to reprehensible job of teaching evolution, in
most cases making it nearly impossible to teach the sciences properly."
Ten of these states "never use the word evolution (in the curriculum), and
three entirely avoid teaching biological evolution," according to the report.
Kansas, which ranked last, "goes so far as to delete all references, direct
or indirect, to the age of the Earth or the universe, including even
radioactive decay," according to Lerner. It was the only state receiving a
grade of F-.
In a statement issued today, Lerner said, "Almost all science is the study of
evolution of one system or another.
"Given the far-reaching ramifications of evolution in the life sciences to
say nothing of the other historical sciences a complete and proper exposition
of evolution is an essential component of state science standards.
"Shortchanging, distorting or omitting evolution not only harms the teaching
of life sciences, but makes it difficult for the student to come to a clear
understanding of how science works," Lerner said.
Thomas said anti-evolution groups have tried to cast the issue in terms of
local control of schools or giving equal time to opposing views.
But he said the opposing views simply are not science, and teachers need to
be able to follow basic national standards that provide an equitable science
education to all students.
"The speed of light is the same in Datil as it is in Espanola," he said. "The
charge of an electron is the same in Kansas as it is in New Mexico. And two
plus two is four, no matter where you are."
ON THE NET
"Good Science, Bad Science: Teaching Evolution in the States" can be viewed
at or downloaded from the Fordham Foundation at www.edexcellence.net.
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