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Ohio State Board of Education Repeals Critical Analysis Policy; Sends to Subcommittee for Further Review and Recommendation

COLUMBUS, Ohio — February 15, 2006.

Opponents of Ohio’s Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan convinced the Ohio State Board of Education (OSBE) yesterday to repeal both their benchmark requiring critical analysis of evolution and the approved lesson plan for teaching critical analysis of evolution. The Benchmark in Ohio’s Science Standards stated that students should “Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.” It also acknowledged that “The intent of this benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design.”

By an 11-4 vote, the OSBE complied with the Darwinists who were urging the OSBE to repeal both the benchmark and the lesson plan. The 11 Board members who supported repealing the policy were apparently unmoved by the fact that recent polls indicated that 68.8 percent of Ohioans believe that “[b]iology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.” While the policy was repealed, the vote drew support from pro-critical analysis Board members because of an amendment sending the lesson plan and benchmark to an OSBE subcommittee for further review, followed by recommendation to the Board.

Vote Took Place Without Board’s Attorney’s Legal Opinion, Public Input and Three Key Board Members
The vote took place before the OSBE gave the public any opportunity to speak before the Board on this issue. Moreover, multiple Board members spoke about the Board’s imprudence of deleting the carefully considered critical analysis of evolution benchmark — previously supported by a unanimous vote of the OSBE — without first obtaining a legal opinion from the Board’s attorney. Some Board members indicated the rapid push to repeal the critical analysis policy yesterday was the result of the fact that three key pro-critical analysis Board members were absent from yesterday’s meeting.

The motion to repeal the lesson plan and the critical analysis benchmark was proposed Board Member Martha K. Wise, who alleged that the lesson brought intelligent design into the classroom. Yet Board Member Deborah Owens-Fink stated “There was no intelligent design in that lesson. The areas that are covered in that lesson … are covered in every single biology textbook.”

Owens-Fink also found it ironic that “the same people that are saying delete the lesson because of litigation” did not support the motion to get an opinion from the attorney general.

“If the issue is truly about whether this lesson is constitutional or not constitutional” she said, then they “would have supported the motion,” she said. Some Board members claim to be afraid that this includes intelligent design, but she charged that “If this was truly your concern then you would want a legal opinion.”

Owens-Fink says the real issue for some Board members is pure opposition to critical analysis of evolution. She said, “I find that wrong. I find that very poor pedagogy. And I find that very inconsistent with what Ohians in this great state want, and it’s very inconsistent with the notion of the third frontier project that we’re gonna try to create citizens that can think critically, that can innovate, and can solve ocmplex problems for the next century.”

Owens-Fink explained that the “reality is” that they do not want the lesson because they believe that “anything that does not unquestionably support evolution is somehow inconsistent with good education.”

“This Board has very patiently dealt with this issue,” said Owens-Fink, as “the decision that we came to was to teach students an awful lot about evolution.” “It is not an issue of whether we’re going to teach evolution or not evolution. Or even whether we’re going to teach it as fact–we are teaching it as fact. The issue at hand has been, and continues to be, are we going to allow students to hear debates from the scientific community on this issue?”

Owens-Fink highlighted prestigious scientists who had written letters to the OSBE in support of critical analysis of evolution, as well as a biologist who was to testify before the Board supporting critical analysis. She also noted the widespread popular support for this policy, and supported the policy because it is “is intellectually honest.” She also rebutted the charge that she was singling out evolution by noting that she would like to see students benefit from critical analysis in many areas of the curriculum.

Owens-Fink also noted that there are 10 other lessons on evolution but only 2 on the critical analysis benchmark.

Rundown of How the Decision Happened:
During the period for miscellaneous business, Board Member Colleen Grady motioned that the OSBE should not take any action on this matter until the OSBE had received a legal opinion on the constitutionality of its policy from the Board’s legal counsel, Ohio’s Attorney General Jim Petro. Grady was “concerned about circumventing a process which had been used by the Board.” She stated that “as a member of the Board of education, I want to make sure that I have made a decision as part of an informed process.” At this time, however, a legal opinion is “one of the pieces that was missing.” Board member Carl Wick–who ultimately voted to delete the policy–also acknowledged that a legal opinion from the attorney general was vital for his own decision on this matter.

Earlier last week, Ohio Governor Bob Taft had called for Attorney General Petro to issue a statement on the constitutionality of the standards. Taft had stated that although he’s convinced the state’s 10th-grade biology teaching standards do not include intelligent design, there should be a legal review of lesson plan to ensure Ohio is not vulnerable to a lawsuit. (See Taft may re-ignite fuss over intelligent design by Mark Niquette, The Columbus Dispatch, Friday, February 3, 2006)

Then Board Member Martha K. Wise proposed an amendment to the motion which would immediately repeal both the critical analysis of evolution benchmark and OSBE-approved lesson plan on critical analysis of evolution. Wise’s amendment would also have incorporated the Ohio Academy of Science’s definition of science as “while not ‘believed in’ through faith may be accepted or rejected on the basis of evidence.”

Wise based her amendment upon the recent Dover ruling. She stated that the policy inappropriately “singled out” evolution, an approach rejected in the Dover ruling. Wise did not mention that the opposite outcome was reached in the Selman vs. Cobb County ruling where federal district court Judge Cooper found that the “singling out” of evolution was constitutionally acceptable because of the controversy evolution often caused in the community and the curriculum. (Judge Cooper ultimately found the Cobb County disclaimer unconstitutional on other grounds.) The Board disregarded the split in federal courts on this point and decided to move forward without hearing any legal opinion from their attorney, the Ohio Attorney General.

Finally, Board Member Eric C. Okerson proposed an additional amendment. Okerson’s amendment, which ultimately passed, rejected incorporation of the Ohio Academy of Science’s definition of science. Okerson’s amendment, however, still immediately repealed the critical analysis of evolution lesson plan and benchmark, pending review and recommendation from a subcommittee on the critical analysis policy. Okerson’s amendment sent the lesson plan and the benchmark to the OSBE Achievement subcommittee, co-chaired by Okerson and Board member Michael Cochrane. The achievement committee would review the lesson plan and benchmark, make any modifications, and make a recommendation to the Board for adoption.

Okerson’s proposal ultimately passed by a vote of 11-4.

Okerson’s amendment, though it repealed the lesson plan and indicator, was apparently viewed as a compromise as it garnished the vote of at least 2 Board members who had supported the critical analysis lesson plan at the January Board Meeting. As noted, three Board members who supported the critical analysis lesson were absent from the meeting.

Board member Jane Sonenshein supported Okerson’s amendment, but had previously urged repealing the lesson plan and indicator so the Board could be done with this issue and move on to other things.

But clearly this issue is not over under Okerson’s amendment. Okerson’s amendment sends the repealed lesson plan and benchmark to the Achievement Committee which is, co-chaired by a supporter, and an opponent of the critical analysis policy. The committee was charged with reviewing the repealed lesson plan and indicator, making any desired modifications, and making a recommendation to the entire Board for further action.

Board member Carl Wick asked Mr. Okerson to clarify the meaning of his amendment, as Mr. Wick indicated that the “good and valid” aspects of the lesson plan could be retained. Okerson stated that “the only thing I believe the achievement committee could not bring back would be the identical model lesson plan and benchmark,” because “the Board would have already ruled on that.” But Okerson made it clear that under his amendment, “If they [the Achievement Committee] brought back for the full Board’s consideration a modification to the existing model lesson or some other revision, I don’t say that they can’t include anything that’s in that.”

The OSBE will clearly revisit this issue in the future and take some form of further action.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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