Archive for Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Race for District 2 Board of Education won’t hinge on evolution

October 15, 2008

When it comes to the three candidates running for the Kansas State Board of Education District 2 seat, opinions concerning creationism versus evolution in public school’s science classes don’t fall far apart.

For Republican Mary C. Ralstin, Democrat Sue Storm and Independent Steve E. Roberts, the issue comes down to the idea there is an appropriate location for every lesson.

“I believe that evolution is science and creationism is religion,” said Ralstin, the 54-year-old candidate from Shawnee. “I want a sound science curriculum taught in science classes, and evolution is the theory that has been the basis for science teaching for all earth and biological science.”

Ralstin said she believes both creationism and evolution have their place in the public school system, but the latter belongs in a science classroom while the former should be reserved for a social studies or humanities classroom.

Sue Storm, the 67-year-old candidate from Overland Park, said creationism is not a science and should not be taught in a science classroom.

“If a school wants to explore creationism, it should be done in a social studies class where various beliefs about our origins are presented,” Storm said. “Ideally, a faith-based position should be taught by parents and a student’s faith community.”

Roberts, the 50-year-old candidate from Overland Park, said he would like to keep creationism out of science classes, not just because of its religious base, but because it is not rooted in science. While Roberts said he agrees parochial schools have the right to teach any religious lessons that fall under their doctrine, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment does not allow the same for public-school students.

“While the history of religion can be alluded to in history courses, and the social impacts of religion can and should be discussed in high school sociology courses, the notion that Holy Scripture transcends all scientific reasoning is, frankly, un-American,” Roberts said. “Public schools in Kansas — and the rest of the nation — should not foster any singular respect for a particular religion.”

While the issue has been a strongly debated topic throughout the state, all three of the candidates have other specific goals that they see as a priority if voted into the District 2 seat.

Ralstin, who raised four children in the Kansas public school system and later founded the Kansas Families for Education organization, cited student achievement, teacher recruitment and funding as the three biggest problems she sees facing Kansas schools.

Ralstin said she believes Kansas students are going in the right direction, but that students need to be reminded the subjects they are studying are relevant to their future. One way to achieve that, she said, is through recruiting and maintaining qualified teachers.

“Over half of our teacher work force is due to retire in the next 5 years,” she said. “Recruitment and retention will be important. Let’s encourage students to become education majors with incentives such as loan forgiveness, peer mentoring programs and decent starting salaries.”

As far as funding, Ralstin said she believed that the State Board of Education should work with the Legislature and that she is committed to lobbying for funding on a state and national level.

Storm, who served in the Kansas House for 12 years including participating on the Education Committee, said closing the achievement gap among diverse student populations, recruiting qualified teachers and preparing students for future careers are on her list as issues she hopes to tackle if voted into office.

As far as teachers go, Storm said the problem will require higher salaries and benefits, as well as easing licensure requirements for teachers from out of state or making a career change.

Storm was appointed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to the P-20 Education Council, a group that will make recommendations to create a seamless transition from pre-Kindergarten through college, technical education or the work force. Through her work on this council, Storm said students should be prepared for careers that may not even currently exist.

“We will be looking at blending academic substance with career skill sets so that students at any level can enter a demanding work force,” she said.

Roberts, who has an undergraduate degree in engineering and a master’s degree in education, has been a math instructor for 15 years and has created his own math tutoring business. If elected, Roberts said he would like to focus on reading standards in schools and making sure all teachers are certified in classrooms.

“The norm needs to be that children read well, and implementing this easily understood standard will go a long way to improving our overall educational service,” he said.

To do this, Roberts suggested small reading groups of four to five children so that students are getting more individual attention.

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