Ga. educators dispute science education

Schools chief proposes to revise curriculum, replace term `evolution'

January 30, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA - Georgia students could graduate from high school without learning much about evolution, and may never even hear the word in class.

New middle and high school science standards proposed by state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox strike references to "evolution" and replace them with the term "biological changes over time," a revision critics say will further weaken learning in a critical subject.

Outraged teachers have told the state it is undercutting the science education of young Georgians.

"Just like any major issue people need to deal with, you need to know the facts," said David Bechler, head of the biology department at Valdosta State University.

A member of the committee that worked on the biology standards, Bechler said he was stunned to learn that evolution was not in the final proposal.

"Whether you believe in creationism or not, evolution should be known and understood by the public," he argued.

Cox declined requests for an interview on the issue. A spokesman issued a statement Wednesday that said: "The discussion of evolution is an age-old debate and it is clear that there are those in Georgia who are passionate on both sides of the issue - we want to hear from all of them."

Cox, a Republican elected to the state's top public school position in 2002, addressed the issue briefly in a public debate during the campaign. The candidates were asked about a school dispute in Cobb County over evolution and Bible-based teachings on creation.

Cox responded: "It was a good thing for parents and the community to stand up and say we want our children exposed to this [creationism] idea as well. ... I'd leave the state out of it and I would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories."

Biology is a gateway course to future studies of the life sciences. And scientists consider evolution the basis for biology, a scientific explanation for the gradual process that has resulted in the diversity of living things.

If the state does not require teachers to cover evolution thoroughly, only the most politically secure teachers will attempt to do so, said Wes McCoy, a 26-year biology teacher at North Cobb High School. Less experienced teachers will take their cue from the state requirements, he said.

"They're either going to tread very lightly or they're going to ignore it," McCoy said. "Students will be learning some of the components of evolution. They're going to be missing how that integrates with the rest of biology. They may not understand how evolution explains the antibiotic resistance in bacteria."

The state curriculum does not preclude an individual public school system from taking a deeper approach to evolution, or any other topic. And the proposed change would not require school systems to buy textbooks that omit the word.

But Georgia's curriculum exam, the CRCT, will be rewritten to align with the new curriculum. And the state exam is the basis for federal evaluation, which encourages schools and teachers to focus on teaching the material that will be tested.

The revision of Georgia's curriculum began more than a year ago as an attempt to strengthen the performance of students by requiring greater depth on essential topics.

The new curriculum will replace standards adopted in 1984 that have been criticized by many educators as shallow. The state Board of Education is expected to vote on the revised curriculum in May.

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