A subcommittee of the State Board of Education may be backing down from grade-by-grade science standards mandating that students be taught that Darwin's theory of evolution explains the development of life on Earth.
In 20 proposed changes to the teaching guidelines, students would still be taught about evolution but references would underscore that it is just a theory about human life.
The subcommittee yesterday asked the 45-member writing team of mostly science teachers who drafted the standards to review the proposed changes for possible inclusion. Among the suggestions: replacing "evolution of life" with "evolution theory" and in other instances replacing "evolution" with "speciation."
Another change would eliminate a reference to the "origin" of life on Earth.
Despite repeated calls by several committee members, the recommendations do not mention "intelligent design" -- the concept that a supernatural life force was responsible for life on Earth.
Intelligent design advocates on the subcommittee said the fight over that issue is not over, but they are pleased with the suggestions made at the board's monthly meeting in Columbus yesterday.
"It's a start," said Deborah Owens Fink, a board member from Richfield and leading advocate for intelligent design.
"There seems to be a heightened sensitivity to (presenting evolution as) theory vs. fact and about the controversy over the origins of life."
Owens Fink and other critics of evolution had asked board members to lighten what they perceived as a strong endorsement of evolution in the standards. They wanted evolution presented as one theory, leaving open the door for others.
Committee chairman Thomas E. McClain, a board member from Columbus, put together the proposed changes with co-chairman Joseph D. Roman of Fairview Park.
McClain said the suggestions are a compilation of the concerns raised by board members and will be reviewed by the writing team at its June 24-26 meeting.
"These aren't final recommendations in any way," McClain said. "We just want to know how the writing team feels about this."
He said inclusion of intelligent design was not among the suggestions because no committee member specifically asked for it.
In January, the committee voted 5-3 to include intelligent design in the standards, but the resolution was never implemented after McClain and Roman persuaded their colleagues to take more time to research the issue. In March, the school board hosted a panel of four national experts on both sides of the issue that attracted hundreds to Columbus' Veterans Memorial auditorium.
Since then, the 45-member writing team released a second draft of the proposed guidelines, opting against adding intelligent design.
"It hasn't been settled," Owens Fink said. "It is my hope that the writing team will consider the public input and this committee's vote."
Yesterday's suggestions come after months of debate on whether students should be taught evolution or other ideas, most notably should intelligent design be included in instruction.
Although most in the science community support evolution, public opinion polls have shown that most Americans believe in creationism or intelligent design and want it included in classroom instruction.
The committee is expected to issue its recommendations this fall with a vote of the 19-member school board expected in December. The guidelines will become the basis for new state standardized tests.
File Date: 06.10.02