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Board passes teaching standards

Evolution focus of science classes

Friday, July 13, 2001

By Pamela R. Winnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- The State Board of Education yesterday overwhelmingly approved science standards that strongly endorse the teaching of evolution in science classes in Pennsylvania's public schools.

"We're very pleased that they went through," said Charles B. Zogby, state education secretary. "The standards reflect good science."

Thirteen members of the board voted in favor of the standards and two voted against them. Three legislative members of the board -- Sen. Allyson Schwartz, D-Philadelphia, Rep. Jess M. Stairs, R-Mount Pleasant and Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-Schuylkill -- all abstained because the House and Senate will vote on the standards later this year.

Board member Larry Wittig, a school board member in Schuylkill County, moved that a vote on the standards be tabled because the changes were made "at the eleventh hour" and warranted further study. His motion was defeated.

Wittig and board member David Saxe, a Penn State University education professor, cast the two votes against the standards.

"This is a step backwards," said Saxe, who, along with Wittig preferred the previous version of the standards, which contained language requiring that students evaluate data that "supports and does not support" the theory of evolution.

That language proved highly controversial, drawing 120 letters in the last year, mostly from scientists. Critics said the language could open the door to the teaching of creationism, the biblical account that the world and all living things were created in six days.

The majority of the board disagreed with the dissenters.

"I'm satisfied that the standards can move us along," said Rhoades.

Gov. Tom Ridge, in praising passage of the science teaching standards, avoided the evolution controversy.

"We're a big step closer to having -- for the first time -- clear, tough academic standards in science, technology, ecology and the environment," Ridge said. "These subjects are critical to any child's education."

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