NAS and NSTA Deny Copyright Permission for Kansas Standards

UPDATE: 10-28-05: The Kansas BOE issued a news release later yesterday saying that they were immediately addressing the copyright issue, and that they still intended to have the science standards on the November agenda. I have posted the news release in Comment 3 below. End update

From the National Academy of Sciences today:

Kansas Denied Use of National Science Education Standards National Science Education Standards.

October 26 – The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have refused to grant copyright permission to the Kansas State Board of Education to make use of publications by the two organizations in the state’s science education standards. According to a statement from the two groups, the new Kansas standards are improved, but as currently written, they overemphasize controversy in the theory of evolution and distort the definition of science.

These two organizations issued a joint statement, sent letters to the state BOE officially notifying them of this refusal to grant copyright permission, and released a lengthy response to those parts of the Kansas standards to which they object. All three of these documents can be downloaded from the NAS News Today webpage. These are strong and well-written statements, and, as a member of the writing committee, I appreciate this support from these national organizations very much .

Here are some excerpts, and a few comments.

From the joint letter:

While there is much in the Kansas Science Education Standards that is outstanding and could serve as a model for other states, our primary concern is that the draft KSES inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists. The use of the word controversial to suggest that there are flaws in evolution is confusing to students and the public and is entirely misleading. …

In addition, the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution – when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified – and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas. Regretfully, many of the statements made in the KSES related to the nature of science and evolution also violate the document’s mission and vision. Kansas students will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world. …

For these reasons and others that we detail in our individual responses, we must again dissociate our organizations and our publications from version 2-d of the KSES by denying copyright permission to the Kansas State Board of Education.

Ralph J. Cicerone, Ph.D. President, National Academy of Sciences, and Chair, National Research Council

Michael J. Padilla, Ph.D. President, National Science Teachers Association

Now what are some of the practical considerations of this?

  1. It will take a lot of time for someone to make changes to all the copyrighted material. We estimate that there is copyrighted material on almost every page of the 100+ page document. These changes will need to be made by someone who understands the science well enough to rewrite the material so that it clearly retains its meaning and content. In addition, the changes needs to be sufficiently different enough to satisfy the copyright restrictions, which will probably require lawyers talking to lawyers. Given that much of the copyrighted material is well-written, such a wholesale revision of the language will most likely result in an even more inferior product.

Therefore, this will delay when the standards will be adopted. We have been expecting the Board to consider the standards for adoption at their monthly meeting on November 8 or 9, but the this may now be as late as the early part of next year.

  1. This delay will have educational and political consequences. Any revisions in state tests based on the standards are now delayed until the 2006-2007 school year at the earliest. School districts are in a sort of “lame-duck” limbo with the old standards (which are quite good themselves), but no solid idea of when new standards will become effective.

Politically, this issue will be one of several main issues in next year’s elections for the BOE. Four of the six conservative Board members are up for re-election, and almost certainly all will have a pro-science challenger in the Republican primary. That means that we may know by next August if the Board will have a pro-science majority at the start of 2007: if so, we can be sure that the bad science standards will promptly be replaced and therefore will never really become effectively in place.

Of course, if the conservatives retain the majority (or even lose a seat to create a split 5-5 Board), we will be stuck with the bad standards for at least two more years (and probably with a court case over the issue.)

  1. In 1999, the same major science organizations also refused copyright permission, but in 1999 this was after the Board adopted the creationists standards. This time the NAS and NSTA have been pro-active, serving notice of the copyright denial before the Board vote. This means that if the Board would choose to ignore them and pass the standards as they are now, NAS and NSTA would probably have recourse to some type of restraining injunction. (Disclaimer: I’m no lawyer.) In addition, if the Board changes some copyrighted material, but does not do so thoroughly, they will hear about it: I am sure both NAS and NSTA and our leadership on the writing committee are quite familiar with the full extent of the copyrighted material as it is scattered throughout the document.

  2. In addition to denying copyright permission, the NAS and NSTA have written a critique of most of the material inserted by the creationist Board (material based almost exclusively on the “Minority Report” written by the Intelligent Design network’s John Calvert and the creationists / IDists on the writing committee.) This Review of the Kansas Science Standards is a valuable document by itself, systematically discussing why the additions of the creationists are bad science and don’t belong in the standards.

So thanks again to NAS and NSTA. My impression is that increased publicity about the activities of Intelligent Design/creationist movement during the last six months or so has raised the level of concern among the major science organizations. This is a much needed development, I think. They have resources and prestige that we grass-roots activists don’t have, so their support is most welcome.