Two incumbents and another candidate who support the state's newly adopted science standards were defeated in Republican primaries Tuesday.
The winning moderate Republicans and the Democrats they face in November elections say they want to scrap the new guidelines--which passed last year on a 6-4 vote--when the new board starts work in January. "We expect to have a very busy January," said Sue Gamble, who defeated incumbent Linda Holloway. "This has been a bone of contention among all of us as we've talked over the past several months."
Steve Abrams, a conservative who helped write the new standards, said he expects the new board to reject them. He also said he could not explain why he was the only incumbent to survive the primary.
Critics argued that the board's decision to play down evolution in science classes made the state look backward; proponents said it lets local school districts decide what to teach.
The standards also provide the basis for statewide student assessment tests in science, which are scheduled to be introduced next spring.
Gamble said she isn't sure what will happen to the new tests. She said one option is to keep using the current tests, which include questions on evolution, until new ones are developed.
Gamble and other moderates hope to adopt a version of the standards that was written by a committee of 27 science educators. The board did not vote on those standards, which called evolution by natural selection "a broad, unifying theoretical framework in biology."
Abrams said that description overstates the significance of evolution, which he views as a flawed theory. "The science data does not support what they said," Abrams said.
Holloway, the board's chairwoman when it approved the standards, spent $35,000 on television ads defending that decision. She said before the election that such high-profile campaigning, unprecedented for board races, was necessary to combat negative publicity.
"You had a reaction to a decision by the board that was somewhat too far out," said University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis. "It wasn't in the broadly acceptable range of decisions, and people came out and expressed their opinions."
The board's decision generated unprecedented campaign contributions and drew international attention. On Wednesday, national groups that had criticized the board's action lauded the primary results.
"This is a victory for Kansas children, who should not be deprived of one of the most important cornerstones of modern science," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. "Teaching biology without evolution is like teaching civics without the Constitution."
The theory of evolution, developed by Charles Darwin and others, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over hundreds of millions of years.
Among those disputing the theory are creationists, who maintain that evolution cannot be proved and that the Earth and most life forms came into existence suddenly about 6,000 years ago, largely as described in the Bible.
Debate over the issue has heated up in other states. Efforts have included attempts to delete evolution from science standards and tests, and including a disclaimer in textbooks playing down the importance of the theory.