Evolution of Ohio's school board

'Evolution' of Ohio's school board
Cincinnati Enquirer, editorial, Sept 24, 2006
For all the noise and hype building around some state and local election campaigns, there's one important race you're not hearing enough about.

That's the Ohio Board of Education election. where five of 19 positions are up for vote (including those representing Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties) and so, indirectly, may be the state's position on the teaching of creationism.


That issue has virtually held the state board captive for the last five years and now appears to have a stranglehold on the school board race. Most candidates for the five seats appear linked to groups lobbying on one side or the other of the issue. Observers say the election is seen as an opportunity to undo or, conversely, to reinforce the board's current position, which supports the teaching of evolution.

This issue has been not just a political hot potato but an obstacle to educational improvement for the state's 1.85 million students. Time, energy and expertise that could have been spent on issues with far more impact have been consumed by five years of board bickering and maneuvering on evolution/creationism.

That's terrible stewardship of resources in the name of, not just bad science, but bad educational leadership.

In 2002, the state board adopted a science curriculum that allowed individual districts to decide whether to teach intelligent design, which says that some complexities of life are best attributed to an unseen intelligence rather than explained by evolution. In 2004, the board approved a model lesson plan that encouraged students to critically analyze evolution.

Those moves came even after the U.S. Supreme Court banned creationism from public school science classrooms in 1987, and science associations howled at the inclusion of "pseudo science." This year a federal judge in Pennsylvania added further legal weight to the argument by putting intelligent design under the creationism umbrella and ruling that its teaching violates separation of church and state.

Finally, in a February vote, a majority of the board reversed its previous rulings and fully supported teaching evolutionary theory. It was the correct decision in keeping with the best thinking of most of the scientific community.

There is no reason creationism can't be discussed with students in classes on philosophy or religion, but it is not appropriate to label it as an alternative to hard science.


That vote should have put an end to the issue. And it should have opened board members' eyes to the far more pressing concerns competing for their time and attention.

If they want to find an issue more worthy of their obsession, they could band together to push for a solution to school funding - a discussion that has clearly not evolved in this state from nearly the time of Darwin.

Or they could examine the state's curriculum in light of continued performance disparities between minority, urban and rural students and their white, suburban counterparts.

Or they could even take on the inexcusable absence of a comprehensive health and physical education curriculum - an indefensible lack in light of the obesity epidemic engulfing our children.

Worse still, that "missing" health curriculum isn't just an ancillary issue. State board member Martha Wise and many health educators across the state say the board's conservative leanings caused members to skirt sex education, thereby stalling the adoption of new health and P.E. standards.


That's a chilling scenario that shows how dangerous it is for ideology to restrict intellectual integrity. Those who seek to turn election to the state board into a single issue mandate do a disservice to all voters and the cause of education.

It's time for the Ohio Board of Education to move on to more substantial issues - and for Ohio voters to elect fair-minded, pragmatic members to that board.