“We just handed the baton to the locals. I am very pro-local control,” said Kansas Board of Education member Mary Douglass Brown in defense of her vote to eliminate evolution from the state standards.62
Brown’s remark obscures the facts of this vote: teaching evolution was already a matter of local control in Kansas. Yet school districts do not generally exercise their option to eliminate it. Proponents might argue that concern over the state test would have precluded local districts from taking this action, but Board members’ willingness to jeopardize student performance on such high-stakes tests as the SAT and ACT substantially undermines this argument.
Board members’ local control argument becomes even more suspect in light of their previous votes. These same members who voted to eliminate evolution in the name of local control voted to eliminate local control for programs with which they disagreed. For example, conservative Board members opposed the state’s school-to-work program on ideological grounds, claiming it was a federal program with strings attached—a common conservative argument against such voluntary federal programs as Goals 2000.63 Yet the school-to-work program was completely voluntary: each local school district determined whether to participate; if the district opted in, it had the further option of selecting among many programs. But conservatives on the state Board had no problem eliminating that already-existing local control option.
These same Board members similarly micro-managed the administration of the 4th grade statewide math tests by eliminating the use of calculators in some sections against the recommendation of the math committee, and pulling critical thinking questions from parts of the test because they wanted only “objective” scoring.64 (Ironically, these same Board members argue that teaching evolution and creationism will allow students to develop their critical thinking skills by choosing the scientific theory that makes sense to them.)
John Staver, co-chairperson of the 27-member science standards committee, finds conservative Board members’ local control argument unconvincing, noting that the “board has been very proactive in creating state standards in all of the subject areas. To single out one theoretical framework, evolution, represents a major inconsistency.”65
Interestingly, in the publicity following the Board’s vote, virtually all presidential candidates turned down the opportunity to support good science education, and instead took refuge in the “local control” argument. This appreciation for local primacy comes just as federal and state governments assert their influence on standards design, assessment and reform legislation.