Ohio Board’s Science Advisory Committee Disavows Creationist Science Standard

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One of the main defenses of ID creationists on the Ohio State Board of Education is that in their “process”, the drafting of standards, benchmarks, and model lesson plans was vetted by several committees composed of scientists and educators. Father Michael Cochran brandished that argument during the January OBOE meeting, as did Jennifer Sheets, who was Board President during the development of standards and lesson plan. But processes can be subverted, Ms. Sheets, and this process was completely subverted. ODE packed the lesson plan writing committee with creationists and ignored its internal and external advisors and reviewers. And now we learn that ODE ignored the advice from members of its Science Content Standards Advisory Committee. And both sides on the Board claim they never heard about any of that!

In its addition of the “critical analysis” standard and benchmark the Board violated its own process. The benchmark at issue, H23 in the 10th grade life sciences standards, was inserted by the Board itself, not by the writing committee that was advised by the Science Content Standards Advisory Committee.

We know already that internal and external consultants to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) repeatedly warned that the “critical analysis” model lesson plan was a rehash of old and oft-discredited creationist canards. Now we know that ODE was also warned about the “critical analysis” standard early in the process. There was no lack of forewarning to ODE; one wonders why those warnings did not get to the Board from ODE.

Yesterday in an open letter to Governor Taft (see below), 75% (24 of 32) of the members of the Science Content Standards Advisory Committee, composed of scientists and educators, agreed that the standard is flawed.

The Ohio Board of Education accepted those standards in December 2002. The Board, however, added an indicator-benchmark singling out biological evolution from the rest of science by requiring students to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory”.

Many of us warned then that in singling out this one scientific theory that has historically been opposed by certain religious sects, the Board sent the message that it “believes there is some problem peculiar to evolution.” This message was unwarranted scientifically and pedagogically. We also noted that such wording created an opportunity to teach creationist misrepresentations of science to Ohio’s students. Indeed, such a lesson tied to this indicator was prepared and accepted by the Ohio Board of Education in March 2004. (Bolding added)

Moreover, at the January 2006 Board meeting, several creationist Board members argued that the model lesson plan and standard could be reviewed in future during the normal course of the “process” in ODE. However, when pressed, ODE senior management admitted that there is no such review process in place.

So there was a subverted writing process and there is no review process in place. Now only the Board can rectify its mistake. Governor Taft is to be commended for his recent stand, described here, on the undesirability of ID in Ohio public schools. Now he must follow through. His appointees were the main support for the creationist benchmark and lesson plan. They must rethink that support.

The full letter to Governor Taft is below the fold.

7 February 2006

The Honorable Bob Taft Governor of Ohio 77 South High St 30th Floor Columbus, OH 43215

Dear Governor Taft:

In 2001 Superintendent of Public Education Dr. Susan Tave Zelman asked us to serve on a committee to advise in the preparation of Ohio’s K-12 science content standards.

The Ohio Board of Education accepted those standards in December 2002. The Board, however, added an indicator-benchmark singling out biological evolution from the rest of science by requiring students to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.Ó

Many of us warned then that in singling out this one scientific theory that has historically been opposed by certain religious sects, the Board sent the message that it “believes there is some problem peculiar to evolution.” This message was unwarranted scientifically and pedagogically. We also noted that such wording created an opportunity to teach creationist misrepresentations of science to Ohio’s students. Indeed, such a lesson tied to this indicator was prepared and accepted by the Ohio Board of Education in March 2004.

Within the last six weeks Federal Judge John E. Jones III has determined that similarly motivated efforts by the Dover, PA school board are unconstitutional. At the same time the Ohio Department of Education released documents associated with the development of this lesson. These show that ODE’s own staff scientists repeatedly called portions of this lesson “a lie,” “wrong,” “inaccurate,” “oversimplified” and based on references they described as “highly religious,” “horrible,” and “non-scientific.” One reference was an outright creationist fabrication.

Our own review of the lesson finds it to be a pointed attempt to insert old and discredited creationist content in Ohio’s science classrooms. The pedagogy is weak at best, of negative, misleading and debilitating educational value. This lesson is devoid of scientific thinking or the scientific method. It is wholly without merit. And while the lesson’s authors assiduously avoided using the words “intelligent” and “design,” the lesson embodies intelligent design creationism poorly concealed in scientific sounding jargon. Such cheap ploys are a disservice to Ohio’s children and an insult to the intelligence of its good citizens. Nonetheless, this lesson, along with the associated science indicator, has passed because of overwhelming support by your appointees to the Ohio Board of Education.

Documents released by your office show that a member of the Ohio Board of Education worked “behind the scenes” and made threats “to bring the state down” on your office and the Board if this indicator-benchmark-lesson combination was not supported. The ODE documents show this threat was carried out and was effective.

Governor Taft, we compliment for your recent support of science-only standards and Model Curricula for Ohio’s children. Thank you for your efforts to improve education in Ohio and for all the efforts and hope you have placed in the “Third Frontier” and development of a high technology economy in Ohio, especially in the broad areas of biotechnology. However, we cannot envision how such development efforts can succeed when such blatant attempts to misuse and subvert the quality of public education in Ohio are permitted to stand.

Sincerely,

Copy to: Dr. Susan Tave Zelman; Superintendent of Public Education

Members of the Science Content Standards Advisory Committee signing the 7 February 2006 Letter to Governor Bob Taft

Note: Institutional affiliation as listed by the Ohio Department of Education during service on the Science Standards Advisory Committee. Affiliations provided for identification purposes only and are not meant to imply institutional support; signatories are expressing their individual opinions. Chris Allen Educator Worthington City Schools

Chris Andersen College of Education Ohio State University – Newark

Bill Badders Educator Cleveland Municipal Schools

Richard Benz Educator Ohio SchoolNet

James Bishop Ohio Resource Center The Ohio State University

Patricia Bosh Educator Columbus City Schools

Francis Broadway College of Education University of Akron

Diane Cantrell (now retired) Deputy Chief Division of Soil and Water Conservation Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Phil Case Washington-Morgan-Meigs Tech Prep Consortium

Scott Charlton Educator Lebanon City Schools

Carol Damian Board Member Ohio Mathematics and Science Coalition

Lynn E. Elfner CEO The Ohio Academy of Science

Ron Fabic Educator Brunswick City Schools

Jenny Gee Educator South-Western City Schools

Joan Hall Educator National Middle Level Science Teachers Association

Spencer Reams Educator Benjamin Logan Local Schools

Steve Rissing Dept. of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology The Ohio State University

William Slattery Department of Geological Sciences Wright State University

Len Simutis President, ENC Learning, Inc.

Mano Singham Department of Physics Case Western Reserve University

Kathleen Sparrow K-12 Science Learning Specialist Akron City Schools

Tom Stork Educator Athens City Schools

Piyush Swami College of Education University of Cincinnati

Daphne Vasconcelos Research Scientist Battelle

24 Comments

Governor Taft is to be commended for his recent stand… on the undesirability of ID in Ohio public schools.

Unless, of course, Taft is just following the DI directive that “Intelligent Design” is to be relabled “Teaching the Controversy”.

Here’s what the wingnuts at the Discovery Institute had to say…

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 8 /PRNewswire/ – An elected Fellow of The American Association for the Advancement of Science today urged the Ohio State Board of Education (OSBE) to keep its evolution lesson plan that presents some of the scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution. Lyle H. Jensen, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as a Member, American Academy of the Arts and Sciences and a Professor (Emeritus) with the Department of Biological Structures and Department of Biochemistry, University of Washington wrote to the OSBE: “While students should surely learn about the scientific strengths of evolution, they should also have the opportunity to learn about scientific weaknesses with the theory. I strongly urge you to retain the Critical Analysis of Evolution Lesson Plan so that Ohio students are objectively informed concerning the facts of biology and trained to be better scientists.” Election as a Fellow of AAAS, such as Jensen, is an honor bestowed upon members by their peers. Fellows are recognized for meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has only 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. “Currently there are propaganda efforts underway by Darwinists to try and persuade people into thinking promoting critical thinking about evolution is somehow bad for students and science education,” said Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “Darwin-only lobbyists are trying to bully the Ohio State Board of Education into pulling a lesson plan that was created by a science advisory committee that included teachers, science educators, and scientists from across the state simply because it presents some of the scientific evidence that challenges Darwinian evolution,” added Luskin. “Students should learn more about evolution, not less, including the theory’s strength and weaknesses.”

Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading think tank dealing with scientific challenges to Darwinian evolution, seeks to increase the teaching of evolution. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. The Institute opposes any effort to mandate or require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education.

SOURCE Discovery Institute Web Site: http://www.discovery.org

Luskin blames “Darwin-only lobbyists”. Let’s see. Among them are the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ohio Academy of Science, the Presidents of 17 public universities in Ohio, and over a dozen more professional and academic organizations. Yup. Those darn “Darwin-only lobbyists”. It’s a shame they couldn’t find any real evolutionary scientists to … oh. Wait. Sorry. Thought I was writing for the Disco Institute there for a moment. Luskin’s mindwarp is contagious!

RBH

Mr. Christopher:

Here’s what the wingnuts at the Discovery Institute had to say…

I thought, in honor of the flagellum “propellor,” that we were calling them wing butts now.

I wonder if Jensen is aware that he is signing off on the claim that, according to evolutionary biologists, mitochondria and chloroplasts “evolved” from a single organellar ancestor, a single endosymbiotic event. This is, after all, what is in the Ohio lesson plan, and what he is supporting.

Note that the Ohio antievolutionists are not proposing this themselves, this is how they represent the position held by the mainstream scientific community.

Art wrote

Note that the Ohio antievolutionists are not proposing this themselves, this is how they represent the position held by the mainstream scientific community.

Which compounds the fraud of that model lesson plan.

RBH

I think that emphasizing the alleged creationist and ID roots of the Ohio evolution lesson plan was the wrong approach in opposing this plan. I think that the following points make more sense to lay people and should have been emphasized –

(1) Supplemental material could confuse the students if that material conflicts with what is in their textbooks. Textbooks often have their own questions for students, suggestions for projects, and teachers’ guides for using the textbooks.

(2) Many of the reference materials in the lesson plan are out-of-print, outdated, and/or beyond the level of 10th graders.

(3) It is wrong to spoonfeed sample answers to the students.

(4) The material in the lesson plan should not be included in statewide tests because (1) some school districts will not adopt the lesson plan and (2) some students from out of state will have missed the Ohio 10th grade.

The above letter that some members of the Science Content Standards Advisory Committee (SCSAC) sent to the governor does not address any of the above issues. The letter’s criticisms calling the lesson plan “highly religious,” “horrific,” and “an outright creationist fabrication” are probably not going to be taken seriously. Also, the OCS’s criticism of the lesson plan covered items #2 and #3 above but not items #1 and #4, and I suspect that the OCS’s objections regarding #2 and #3 were largely obscured by the overemphasis on the alleged creationist and ID roots of the lesson plan. And even the plan’s critics concede that a lot of the stuff in the lesson plan was not too long ago considered to be good science.

Anyway, because of the reasons above, I think that a school district or school would be stupid to adopt the lesson plan. This looks to me like a tempest in a teapot.

Only 75 percent of the SCSAC members signed the above letter to the governor saying that the evolution lesson plan is flawed. That is hardly an overwhelming consensus. Yet as a result of the lesson plan, the principal author of the Fordham Foundation report on state science standards not only wanted to flunk Ohio on evolution but also wanted to drop the state’s overall science grade from B to F (by my own calculations, loss of the points for evolution should have only dropped the state to a B-minus or C-plus).

Andy, the problem isn’t out-dated materials in the lesson plan. The problem is that this is just one more attempt to wedge creationism into public education.

As for the 75% not being an overwhelming majority of the committee, what, in the name of everything that is reasonable, do you consider ‘overwhelming’? Had President Bush won the last election by a 3:1 ratio, I suspect he would have considered the victory to be overwhelming.

Say hello to Larry for me please.

Andy a.k.a. Larry, The real problem is the intrusion of Creationism/IDiocy into the science classrooms. Please do not try to obfuscate the discourse with irrelevant strawman arguments.

Andy H misrepresents several things about the situation. Let me touch on a few.

First, Andy H wrote

I think that emphasizing the alleged creationist and ID roots of the Ohio evolution lesson plan was the wrong approach in opposing this plan.

The “alleged” is a misrepresentation. When one finds quotations in the lesson plan as it was originally presented to the board that match text in creationist materials, it’s a bit stronger than “alleged”. Presenting fake references that exist only as “citations” on creationist web sites is a bit stronger than “alleged”. FInding direct parallels between the so-called challenging “aspects” only in creationist literature but not in the professional lilterature of biology is a bit stronger than “alleged”. Mapping the distortions in the lesson plan onto creationist ancestors for three and more decades is a bit more than “alleged”. And it was easy to do. Finding public boasting about the creationists being able to pack the writing committee was easy; it’s a bit past “alleged”.

Andy H wrote

The letter’s criticisms calling the lesson plan “highly religious,” “horrific,” and “an outright creationist fabrication” are probably not going to be taken seriously.

The letter is reporting what ODE’s own experts told it before the lesson plan was adopted. That provides (a part of) the legal basis for invoking the “intent” prong of the Lemon test. The Board can’t plead ignorance, because its agent (ODE) was forewarned.

Andy H wrote

(3) It is wrong to spoonfeed sample answers to the students.

It’s even more wrong to “spoonfeed” them falsehoods that misrepresent and distort the state of the science.

Andy H further blathers on about 75% not being an “overwhelming consensus”. Of the responding committee members, many of whom have moved since the committee was in existence, the 24 represent 100% of the responding members.

Finally, Andy H attempts to second guess the Fordham group that evaluated the Ohio Science Standards, arguing for a lesser drop in Ohio’s grade. Telling lies about science in science classes is a binary event; it’s pass/fail, not graded on a curve.

RBH

“Andy H” Fafabaloobapalopbimbam misrepresents everything he talks about, including his own name. I’m reminded of something Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

Please don’t feed the troll. Just let Andlarry keep talking. The best possible arguments against him, as far as I can tell, is the hysterical laughter most of his posts generate.

That’s not a joke, either. Sometimes, you just have to let people talk, because if you give them enough rope, they’ll hang themselves for you.

Back on topic, the fact that the Ohio board has been repeatedly forewarned that this is bad science is probably enough to establish intent, when combined with their statements about religion. What I am also curious about is if they have recieved any legal counsel on this from state agencies? Does anyone know anything on that end?

AD asked

Back on topic, the fact that the Ohio board has been repeatedly forewarned that this is bad science is probably enough to establish intent, when combined with their statements about religion. What I am also curious about is if they have recieved any legal counsel on this from state agencies? Does anyone know anything on that end?

One member of the Board asked the Attorney General of Ohio (Jim Petro) for an opinion, but he declined to give one on the ground that the request had to come from the full board. Petro is in a tight primary race for the Republican nomination for Governor against Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell has allied himself with rabid self-proclaimed Christocrats, and Petro is moving as far to the right as he can to counter it. That has a number of potential political ramifications that I won’t explore here.

The Board also has an in-house lawyer who has been singularly quiet in public. One doesn’t know what he’s telling members of the Board privately. Three members of the Board are lawyers. Two have publicly opposed keeping the creationist glop, while the other (Father Michael Cochran) is one of the two thought leaders on the board pushing hard for the glop.

RBH

One correction to the above: Four members of the current board are lawyers. The fourth, a Taft appointee, also votes in favor of the glop. She was President of the Board when the process was being subverted, and clings to her defensiveness about it having happened on her watch.

RBH

Only 75 percent of the SCSAC members signed the above letter to the governor saying that the evolution lesson plan is flawed. That is hardly an overwhelming consensus.

How many were too busy? How many didn’t know about it? How many stay away from all things politics? How many were ill? HOw many retired and enjoying their vacation in Arizona? etc. etc. etc.

75% is an outstanding penetration of the group when all the various factors of participation are accounted for.

RBH,

Thanks for the answer. I’d be interested to see, if they choose to formally implement this, what kind of responses they are getting from their legal counsel. It’s an important factor in who might end up ultimately paying the bill, and that’s a deterrent to doing stupid things, to a point.

It would look bad, after all, to be the person responsible for blowing millions of taxpayer dollars defending an unconstitutional policy. That plays well with a small segment of voters, but plays very poorly with a large one.

Comment #78491 Posted by RBH on February 9, 2006 10:20 AM

The “alleged” is a misrepresentation.

To me, “alleged” is an appropriate adjective. There is nothing in the lesson plan that would appear to a typical objective observer to be obviously creationist-inspired or ID-inspired. Anyway, whether or not the allegations are true does not matter to me because I feel that the lesson plan should be scrapped for other reasons.

Presenting fake references that exist only as “citations” on creationist web sites is a bit stronger than “alleged.”

The report of the Ohio Citizens for Science did not claim that any of the references were “fake” – this report only claimed that some were out-of-print, outdated, too advanced for 10th graders, and/or creationist.

The letter’s criticisms calling the lesson plan “highly religious,” “horrific,” and “an outright creationist fabrication” are probably not going to be taken seriously.

The letter is reporting what ODE’s own experts told it before the lesson plan was adopted. That provides (a part of) the legal basis for invoking the “intent” prong of the Lemon test. The Board can’t plead ignorance, because its agent (ODE) was forewarned.

But the lesson-plan writing committee told the board otherwise – so who was the board supposed to believe? And you said that “both sides of the Board claim that they never heard” that the ODE ignored the advice of the advisory committee – how can that be ? And what was the big secret about this advice – why are you learning about this advice for the first time now ? And why did it take so long for the advisory committee to send a letter to the governor? The Dover opinion was one reason why the committee decided to send a letter now (though the Dover situation was different because it directly involved ID), but the committee certainly had plenty of reasons to send the letter earlier. Anyway, there is nothing in the lesson plan that is obviously creationist-inspired or ID-inspired. And I think that a court would be more interested in how a well-informed – but not expert – objective observer would view the lesson plan than in how the the advisory committee views it.

Also, describing the lesson plan in such exaggerated terms as “highly religious” is going to hurt the credibility of the ODE science experts who criticized the lesson plan.

There is something else that is very fishy about your above report – your statement, “The benchmark at issue, H23 in the 10th grade life sciences standards, was inserted by the Board itself, not by the writing committee that was advised by the Science Content Standards Advisory Committee.” I thought that the writing committee was “packed with creationists” – so why was it necessary for the Board itself to insert the benchmark at issue?

Andy H further blathers on about 75% not being an “overwhelming consensus”. Of the responding committee members, many of whom have moved since the committee was in existence, the 24 represent 100% of the responding members.

All I saw was that 75 percent of the members of the committee signed the letter. You could have clarified the situation without referring to my observation as “blather.” What basis do you have to assume that 100 percent of the responding members signed the letter ? Anyway, if 25 percent of scientists in a general poll said that ID has some scientific merit, that would be national news — that was the sort of thing I was referring to.

Finally, Andy H attempts to second guess the Fordham group that evaluated the Ohio Science Standards, arguing for a lesser drop in Ohio’s grade. Telling lies about science in science classes is a binary event; it’s pass/fail, not graded on a curve.

I am not “second guessing” the Fordham group – I was just following the group’s own grading system. There were states that got zero evolution points but did not get a failing overall grade. Anyway, I don’t think that the Fordham report is worth anything, for the following reasons – (1) the rating categories are generally vague and highly subjective (e.g., organization, quality, and seriousness), (2) there is no correlation between the Fordham ratings and student achievement, and (3) the variation of the quality of science education within a state is often greater than the variation between states.

Iowa has the right idea – no state standards. Who needs them ? No one bothers Iowa. No one makes fun of Iowa. No one threatens to sue Iowa. There are no suggestions that high-tech companies will avoid Iowa, that universities there will have a hard time hiring science faculty and getting scientific research grants, or that Iowans will face discrimination if they seek education or employment outside the state.

Why wait then, Larry?

Pack up and move to Iowa*, right away. You’ll want to be sure to bring along your own Confederate flags, though.

* (Although, preferably, to a part that is not yet wired for the Internet.)

Andy H, why do you continue to dishonestly violate Panda’s posting policy number six, which prohibits multiple identities?

I am not “second guessing” the Fordham group — I was just following the group’s own grading system

Good one, Larry. Keep it up…you might make the NBC lineup.…

Y’all follow Fordham as well as you do Judge Jones; i.e., not well at all.…

Comment #78517 Posted by RBH on February 9, 2006 12:43 PM

One member of the Board asked the Attorney General of Ohio (Jim Petro) for an opinion, but he declined to give one on the ground that the request had to come from the full board. Petro is in a tight primary race for the Republican nomination for Governor against Kenneth Blackwell.

Well, that’s understandable – he’s a politician, so why should he stick his neck out unnecessarily ? Also, maybe he felt that the Board as a whole did not want his legal opinion. Remember what happened to the Dover board when it acted against the advice of a private message from the board’s attorney — the Dover opinion quoted the message (how the message lost its attorney-client privilege was never determined) and used it against the board.

Blackwell has allied himself with rabid self-proclaimed Christocrats, and Petro is moving as far to the right as he can to counter it.

Some people just can’t see that ID and stuff like school prayer are separate issues.

The Board also has an in-house lawyer who has been singularly quiet in public. One doesn’t know what he’s telling members of the Board privately.

It is probably standard procedure for him to be quiet in public. For example, California’s Brown Act (possibly the most detailed open-meetings law in the USA and possibly a model for laws in other states) says that closed meetings may be used to discuss active or possible litigation. See Sec. 54956.9 at http://www.vanguardnews.com/brownact.htm .

Landarry H. Wrote:

Some people just can’t see that ID and stuff like school prayer are separate issues.

You wish they were separate issues; they are both Establishment-clause violations.  See Kitzmiller v. Dover (oops, I forget, you hae a mental disability which does not allow you to understand anything that contradicts your dogma).

The Board also has an in-house lawyer who has been singularly quiet in public. One doesn’t know what he’s telling members of the Board privately.

It is probably standard procedure for him to be quiet in public. For example, California’s Brown Act (possibly the most detailed open-meetings law in the USA and possibly a model for laws in other states) says that closed meetings may be used to discuss active or possible litigation.

Are you acknowledging that the Board appears to be trying to get into legal difficulties regarding the standards?

NYT story about this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/14/e[…]olution.html

Ohio Expected to Rein In Class Linked to Intelligent Design

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Article Tools Sponsored By By JODI RUDOREN Published: February 14, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Feb. 13 — A majority of members on the Board of Education of Ohio, the first state to single out evolution for “critical analysis” in science classes more than three years ago, are expected on Tuesday to challenge a model biology lesson plan they consider an excuse to teach the tenets of the disputed theory of intelligent design.

A reversal in Ohio would be the most significant in a series of developments signaling a sea change across the country against intelligent design — which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone — since a federal judge’s ruling in December that teaching the theory in the public schools of Dover, Pa., was unconstitutional.

It ain’t over till it’s over… The vote is scheduled for today I believe. Let’s wait and see what happens.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on February 8, 2006 4:50 PM.

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