Fake News Claims Evolution Stripped Out Of Arizona Science Standards

Arizona Department of Education

False reports that Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas is eliminating evolution from Arizona’s Science Standards are creating quite a stir in teachers’ lounges and on social media. Standards’ revisions are normally contentious, but the inflammatory claims that evolution is becoming extinct have created only click bait.

According to the draft Arizona Science Standards dated March 26, 2018, “The Arizona Science Standards focus on fourteen core ideas in science and engineering, adapted from Working with Big Ideas of Science Education.” Among those fourteen core ideas is evolution:

Core Ideas for Knowing Science Core Ideas for Using Science

Physical Science
P1: All matter in the Universe is made of very small particles.
P2: Objects can affect other objects at a distance.
P3: Changing the movement of an object requires a net force to be acting on it.
P4: The total amount of energy in a closed system is always the same but can be transferred from one energy store to another during an event.

Earth and Space Science
E1: The composition of the Earth and its atmosphere and the natural and human processes occurring within them shape the Earth’s surface and its climate.
E2: The Earth and our Solar System are a very small part of one of many galaxies within the Universe.

Life Science
L1: Organisms are organized on a cellular basis and have a finite life span.
L2: Organisms require a supply of energy and materials for which they often depend on, or compete with, other organisms.
L3: Genetic information is passed down from one generation of organisms to another.
L4: The theory of evolution seeks to make clear the unity and diversity of living and extinct organisms.

In her most recent screed, shrill Arizona Republic columnist, Laurie Roberts, claims that Douglas is attacking teaching evolution. “Holy Scopes! It appears that state Superintendent Diane Douglas may be working to bring a little Sunday school into science class,” shrieked Roberts. “This, by proposing to weaken the teaching of evolution in Arizona’s public schools.”

“For the last year, several dozen science teachers have been working to update the state’s science standards – the first such rewrite in 15 years,” wrote Roberts. “Imagine their surprise this spring when the state Department of Education took a red pen to their proposal, striking or qualifying the word “evolution” wherever it occurred.”

However, grades 4, 5, 7, 8, and high school L4 essential and plus standards still include evolution.

While the draft revisions do include striking or qualifying the word, a comparison of the unedited standards to common standards used across the country, indicate that the changes appear to correct or clarify scientific concepts rather than eliminate them.

Draft changes include:

L4: The theory of evolution seeks to make clear the unity and diversity of organisms, living and extinct, is the result of evolution organisms.

Over countless generations changes resulting from natural diversity within a species are believed to lead to the selection of those individuals best suited to survive under certain conditions. Species not able to respond sufficiently to changes in their environment become extinct.

4.L4U2.11: Analyze and interpret environmental data that demonstrate that species either adapt and survive or go extinct over time.

5.L3U2.10: Construct an explanation based on evidence that changes in an environment can affect the development of the traits in a population of organisms.

8.L4U2.11: Develop and use a model to explain how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

 8.L4U2.12: Gather and communicate evidence on how the process of natural selection provides an explanation of how new species can evolve the processes by which a species may change over time in response to environmental conditions.

HS.L4U2.31: Obtain, evaluate, and communicate evidence that describes how inherited traits in a population can lead to evolution biological diversity.

HS+B.L4U1.19: Construct an explanation based on evidence that the process of evolution may result from natural selection.

HS+B.L4U2.20: Gather, evaluate, and communicate multiple lines of empirical evidence to explain the mechanisms of biological evolution change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.

HS+E.E2U1.20: Analyze how the nebular theory explains solar system formation with distinct regions characterized by different types of planetary and other bodies.

Much of the fake news centers on changes to language involving the origin of the Universe. In the case of HS.E2U2.17, the phrase “Big Bang theory and the scale of the Universe” is replaced by “theories related to the scale and expansion of the universe.”

Critics claim that the change is evidence that Douglas is trying to promote the concept of intelligent design. Intelligent design is the theory or belief that a higher power created the world. Douglas denies this and points to the fact that the Big Bang Theory is only a theory and was even questioned by scholar Steven Hawking before his death. According to LiveScience.com, Hawking dismissed the Big Bang Theory and supported the “no boundary proposal.” Hawking stated in March 2018 that “there was never a Big Bang that produced something from nothing. It just seemed that way from mankind’s point of perspective.”

For those who fear creationism will creep into classrooms, Arizona law, 15-535, prohibits sectarian instruction: “A teacher who uses sectarian or denominational books or teaches any sectarian doctrine or conducts any religious exercises in school is guilty of unprofessional conduct and his certificate shall be revoked. This section shall not be construed to prohibit a teacher from teaching the elective course permitted by section 15-717.01.”

“We have absolutely nothing in these standards in reference to intelligent design,” Douglas said on Monday. “This is fake news and reckless speculation. When I was asked a question about intelligent design during a candidate forum last November, I said “absolutely. That was my personal preference not a professional opinion. It would behoove all educators to understand that not all of our personal preferences and views on subjects should be shared in the classroom.”

Douglas says the “point of education is really to be seekers of the truth, whatever the truth may be.”  Reporters and opinion writers should do the same; instead they are seekers of click bait, in my opinion.