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Pennsylvania School Board Issue

AAS ACTION ALERT 2001-03

(Sent to members in Pennsylvania only)

Summary

This ACTION ALERT summarizes a current effort underway in Pennsylvania to modify the Science and Technology Standards in the state education system in such a way as to decrease the overall level of scientific understanding.

It was forwarded to the AEB by a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers and is being forwarded to all AAS members in Pennsylvania on behalf of the AAS Astronomy Education Board.

Bruce Partridge, AEB Chair

Kevin Marvel, Associate Executive Officer for Policy Programs

American Astronomical Society

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This update deals only with the PA Science & Technology Standards and the Environment and Ecology Standards. As of April 21, with the publication of the announcement in the PA Bulletin, the final comment period has begun. Comments will be received by the PA Dept. of Education until 21 May 2001. It is imperative that your comments be heard. They can be sent to:

Dr. Peter Garland, Executive Director

PA State Board of Education

333 Market Street

Harrisburg PA 17126-0333

Dr. G. Kip Bollinger, PA Science Advisor

PA Department of Education

333 Market Street

Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333

There will also be a hearing in the House Education Committee (but not on the floor of the House). Information on committee meetings is found at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/CO/HM/COHM.HTM.

Contact your legislator, especially if s/he is a member of the Education Committee in either the House or the Senate; but contact your legislator anyway.

House Committee assignments are at http://www2.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/memberinfo/representatives_sc.cfm#edu

Senate Committee Assignments are at

http://www2.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/memberinfo/senate_committees.cfm#edu

Also contact members of the Board of Education who may be local to you. http://www.pde.psu.edu/regs/sbmembers.html

The current draft is available on the PDE website at http://www.pde.psu.edu/standard/science.pdf.

* * * * * * * * * *

There were a number of changes between the 'draft' standards and the current 'proposed' standards. Anj Petto from the National Center for Science Education has compiled and analyzed the differences between the two documents. The following are excerpts from "Creeping Creationism in Pennsylvania", Reports of the National Center for Science Education 20(4):13-15, 2000. Copies of the entire document may be requested from Andrew J Petto, PhD, Editor, National Center for Science Education editor@ncseweb.org

Section 3.2: Inquiry and Design

Old Standard

3.2.7.A.4 - Integrate new information into existing theories and practice.

New Standard

3.2.7.A.4 - Explain how new information may change existing theories and practice.

Old Standard

3.2.10.A.4 - Explain how new information may change existing theories and practice.

New Standard

3.2.10.A.4 - Integrate new information into existing theories and practice.

Old Standard

3.2.10.A.2 - Know that science is limited to the study of concrete aspects of the world and the universe.

New Standard

3.2.10.A.2 - Know that science is limited to the study of observable aspects of the world and the universe.

Section 3.3: Biological Sciences

Old Standard

3.3.10.D.1 - Analyze evidence of fossil records, similarities in body structures, embryological studies and DNA studies that support the theory of evolution.

New Standards

3.3.10.D.1 - Analyze evidence of fossil records, similarities in body structures, embryological studies and DNA studies that support or do not support the theory of evolution.

Old Standard

3.3.10.A - Explain the causes of similarities and differences found among living things.

New Standard

3.3.10.A - Explain the structural and functional similarities and differences found among living things.

Old Standard

n/a No comparable standard

New Standard

3.3.10.B.1 - Describe the relationship between the structure of organic molecules and the function they serve in living organisms.

Old Standard

n/a No comparable standard

New Standard

3.3.10.B.3 - Explain how cells store and use information to guide their functions.

Old Standard

n/a No comparable standard

New Standards

3.3.12.D.1 - [A]nalyze the impact of new scientific facts on the theory of evolution.

Section 3.4: Earth Sciences

Old Standard

3.4.12.A.3 - [I]nterpret the geological evidence for evolution to explain biological and astronomical changes.

New Standard

3.5.12.A.3 - [I]nterpret the geological evidence supporting evolution.

The changes in the standards reflect two specific trends. First, there is a general weakening of the explanatory power of evolution. The old standard asked students to know that evolution is the cause of the observed patterns of similarity and difference. The new standard eliminates this language in favor of standards that ask students to "describe", "explain", or "interpret" observations, but not their causes. Second, the standards in the Biological Sciences section specifically instruct students to challenge evolutionary theory in grade 10 (3.3.10.D) and grade 12 (3.3.12.D).

1. The main concern is that the proposed changes in the science education standards present Pennsylvania's students with an inaccurate representation of science as it is practiced and understood by professionals in scientific disciplines.

2. In particular there is a problem with the definition of science - limited to observable aspects of the world; the word observable can be misunderstood to limit science and scientists to what they can see and directly witness. Much of science - in the physical as well as biological sciences - is based on indirect observation and inference.

3. It is also inappropriate and incorrect to single out evolution from all other scientific theories as deserving of special criticism or debate. Evolution is well-accepted in the sciences as being at the foundation of our current understanding of biology and all fields dependent on the biological sciences.

Three Issues Raised by the Proposed PA Standards- scientific, educational, and constitutional.

1. Scientific: Evolution explains the pattern of similarity and difference among living things throughout the Earth's history and across its many habitats. More important, though, evolution provides the basis for scientific research in medicine, agriculture, biotechnology, pharmacology, and dozens of related fields. Because of this record of supporting productive research, evolution has earned its place at the foundation of the biological sciences.

2. Educational: If we are seriously want our students to be the best in the world in science and mathematics, then we need to teach them what 21st-century science really is and does. There are many rejected ideas in the history of science that we no longer take seriously - that the Earth is flat or at the center of the universe - yet which some people continue to proclaim. These are simply not a part of the scientific debate and therefore have no place in the science curriculum.

3. Constitutional: A series of state and federal court rulings have repeatedly found that the issues framed in the language found in the proposed Pennsylvania standards are derived from a particular, sectarian interpretation of biblical Scripture and that to mandate this language would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Evolution Defined:

Evolution is the scientific theory that explains the pattern of similarities and differences among organisms on earth throughout the earth's history and across its many environments. The essence of this theory is descent with modification - that all living things are members of a large family tree and that their similarities and differences reflect their relatedness through common ancestors.

There are several mechanisms and models that we recognize as responsible for evolution, including the slow, gradual accumulation of stepwise structural change (a.k.a. Darwinism) and other models based on alterations of regulatory processes, developmental processes, silent or "neutral" mutations, and more. While these are non-Darwinian, they are still evolutionary.

The difference between micro-evolution and macro- evolution is a false dichotomy - rhetorical ploy (red herring?). Evolutionary biologists recognize these as rooted in the same evolutionary processes - more like a continuum or spectrum of the scale of change between two taxa.

Evolution is indifferent to the origin of life. Any of the proposals for the origin of life would be acceptable to evolution, since evolution only requires that living things exhibit biological variation, that natural selection can act on this variation, and that successful variations can be inherited by descendants.

To read previous AAS Informational Emails visit http://www.aas.org/policy/InformationalEmails.html

To read previous AAS Action Alerts visit http://www.aas.org/policy/ActionAlerts.html

Comments, questions and complaints to: mailto:marvel@aas.org

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