WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 (AP)--Nineteen states got D's or F's in a report that evaluated how public schools teach evolution, raising a new issue in a continuing dispute between science and religion.
The report graded 49 states and the District of Columbia and gave the highest rankings to California, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. Kansas, whose standards were described as "disgraceful," got the lowest grade.
The report was commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and released Tuesday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science national headquarters.
Fordham is a private foundation in Washington that supports research, publications, and projects in elementary and secondary education. The AAAS is the world's largest general science organization and publisher of the journal Science. Principles of evolution are widely supported by members of the AAAS.
Following the six top-ranked states, four states got numerical grades in the 90s and were also given A's in the report.
Fourteen states were graded at B, seven got C, six were given D's, and 13 flunked. Iowa was not included because it has no statewide education standards, leaving that up to each local district.
Linda Holloway, former chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, said the report was deceptive and "very unfair."
"Clearly they have an ax to grind about evolution," she said in a telephone interview.
Kansas last year rekindled the issue of teaching evolution in public schools when the state board of education, led by Holloway, approved science teaching standards that minimized the importance of evolution and omitted the big-bang theory of the origin of the universe.
Other states have considered similar curriculum changes and some state legislatures have proposed laws that would forbid completely the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Evolution, a theory developed by Charles Darwin and others, holds that the Earth is billions of years old and that all creatures, including humans, evolved from simpler forms through a process of natural selection.
Related to biological evolution is the concept that the universe began with a "big bang" and that only later were the sun and the planets formed.
Teaching of evolution has been opposed by those who believe that the universe, the Earth, and its creatures were created abruptly by God.
Some proponents of divine creation have organized a concept, called creationism, that they proposed be taught along with evolution. In 1987, the Supreme Court barred states from requiring the teaching of creationism. Now some of the same proponents support other concepts, such as "abrupt appearance" or "intelligent design," that are linked to divine creation.
Lawrence S. Lerner, who compiled the report, said the conflict "is not really about science, but about religion and politics." He calls creationism "a pseudoscientific rival to evolution that the courts have repeatedly held to be thinly veiled religion."
Lerner, a former professor at California State University, Long Beach, said Kansas got such a poor grade because its guidelines forbid teaching anything about the age of the Earth or the universe.
"There is not a reference to the age of the universe because it changes all the time," explained Holloway. "Within a month after we adopted the standards, I heard three different ages of the Earth. That is kind of ludicrous to get them [teachers] to stick to one age when it changes all the time."
Lerner called the Kansas science education standards "a disgraceful paean to anti-science."
Holloway, however, said the report was part of "a campaign of deception" and that all districts in Kansas are still teaching evolution.
"All we did was allow local groups to decide how they wanted to teach evolution," she said. "That is a reasonable thing to do."
Warren Nord, a member of a panel assembled by AAAS to comment on the report, spoke in favor of education standards that would include religious concepts of creation along with concepts of evolution.
But Nord, director of the Program on Humanities and Human Values at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the report failed to evaluate the completeness of science education.
"A good science education should not limit itself to what scientists think, but should also explore the cultural context in which scientific claims are made," said Nord, noting that the report "doesn't address that."