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Creationism issue may get new look

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

By Eleanor Chute, Post-Gazette Education Writer

The state Board of Education may revisit the issue of proposed state science standards and creationism at its meeting next week.

Last month, the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission told the board that two of the proposed standards for science and technology -- which some feared would foster the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public schools -- were unclear and unnecessary.

Peter Garland, executive director of the state Board of Education, said staff is "working hard" to see if it can get possible changes ready for next week's meeting on July 11 and 12 in Wilkes-Barre.

Otherwise, action likely would not take place until the board meets Sept. 12 and 13 in Harrisburg.

One of the two proposed standards would require 10th graders to "analyze evidence of fossil records, similarities in body structures, embryological studies and DNA studies that support or do not support the theory of evolution."

The other would require 12th graders to "analyze the impact of new scientific facts on the theory of evolution."

The commission noted that "numerous commentators have asserted that these standards will allow schools to teach 'creationism' or 'intelligent design' as part of the science curriculum."

However, the commission noted, a representative of the state board told legislators that "these standards were not intended to permit" such teaching but instead were "intended to encourage critical thinking among students."

The commission concluded the language doesn't clearly convey the board's intent and is unnecessary because other portions of the standards require critical thinking.

According to evolutionary theory, humans developed over millions of years from lower species of animals. Creationism supports the Biblical story of creation in which humans were created separately. Intelligent design states that an intelligent agent designed biological structures.

Before any academic standards can take effect, they must be reviewed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the House and Senate education committees and then go back to the state board for another vote.

The review commission typically issues comments for the board's consideration.

Andrew Petto, board member of the National Center for Science Education, which supports teaching the theory of evolution, said the commission's suggestion addressed his major concerns.

Petto, an associate professor who teaches science at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, said other theories, like atomic and gravitational theories, don't have special standards for critical thinking.

The commission's complete comments can be found at the commission's Web site, http://www.irrc.state.pa.us/.

The proposed science and technology standards are on the state Department of Education's Web site at http://www.pde.psu.edu/standard/stan.html.



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