Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The politics of Dover

This quote came to me circuitously, so I hesitate to offer it with attribution. Let's just say that one source close to the Kansas standards setting process wrote that: "The Dover Judge in fact was nailing the Kansas State Board of Education."

Given the fact that the judge specifically wrote that:

we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.
It's not hard to see why someone on the science side might think that the judge had his eye on Kansas, though other areas may bring this issue to litigation before Kansas does.

I will note that the Kansas Board of Ed did not insert intelligent design into the standards. They did leave the door open. Furthermore, various members of the Board's majority have endorsed IDC and other strains of creationism, and the hearings last spring were an extended argument for IDC, as well as an attack on naturalism, an issue Judge Jones showed to be non-science, and a violation of the Establishment clause all on its own.

I spoke with Sue Gamble, who represents Kansas City Kansas on the Board of Education, about the Dover decision. As I've noted before, it's a long ruling and she's been fielding calls about it all day, and hasn't finished reading it yet. I'm waiting to hear back from other Board members, all of whom are probably in the same boat.

Her sense is that the ruling does touch on issues here in Kansas. In particular, the redefinition of science opens the door to supernatural explanations, which the Dover judge explicitly excluded from science, and he specifically rejected the notion of redefining science.

The Board attorney is reviewing the decision, but apparently Steve Abrams has been saying that he sees no relevance at all. Gamble characterized Abrams' position as "the scientific field is going to have to catch up to the Kansas standards," that is, the standards are written to leave room for whatever results ID advocates might produce. Apparently, Abrams has acknowledged that there's currently no evidence for any alternative to evolution. Gamble explained that "it's always been my contention that the language in the minority report was written to get around the Establishment clause." She thinks the legal logic of the Dover ruling is probably sufficient to entrap the Kansas standards.

When I asked if she had a sense of whether the Board would change anything in response to the ruling, she said "I would doubt that they would do anything to change what the standards will say." She paused, then concluded, "however, I don't know what will happen between now and January." She clearly hopes so, but doesn't expect that anything will change before next November's elections.

As for the legal future of the standards, Gamble pointed out that there won't be any change to classroom teaching until the 2007-2008 school year, so legal action may not begin until then. One tricky issue is how local districts implement the standards. Kansas has strong local control, so the state board establishes standards and standardized tests, but doesn't dictate curricula or textbooks. I suppose a local school board or some such group could sue, but it's tricky to show legal harm to them.

At the December meeting of the Board, Kathy Martin suggested that the state Board might offer specific guidance regarding implementation of the new standards. That would more directly tie the Board to local school board actions, but would also violate local control, creating an entirely separate issue.

We'll see how this plays out.

A fuller look at the legal details are in an earlier post.

Updated: Added opening paragraphs.