The Kansas State Board of Education is expected to decide whether evolution should be left off a list of topics for science assessment tests given to high school students.
CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell spoke on This Morning with Scott Hill, a member of the Kansas State School Board, and Loren Lutes, a local school superintendent and the co-chairman of the Kansas Science Education Standards Writing Committee.
Kansas moved to established state standards and the board was charged with creating a Standards Writing Committee about a year or more ago for all subjects.
The board, consisting of 10 elected members, has split 5-5 along philosophical lines in recent years. It has taken issue with written standards compiled by a 27-member board of science educators, ranging from elementary school levels through grade 12.
When the members got their draft together and presented it in January, a debate started on teaching the theory of evolution in life sciences.
As a co-chairman of the Kansas Science Education Standards Writing Committee, Lutes believes it is important to teach kids about evolution.
"We feel like our students ought to have the broadest range of science instruction that we can provide them in our schools and these standards have been in place since the early '90s," he said.
"We feel they should stay in place and be enhanced by the current document we have written," Lutes says. The document that Lutes refers to, is from his point of view, very conservative on the teaching of theories of origin.
"But we feel it is an essential part of the teaching of science for the state of Kansas and anywhere," Lutes said.
Hill, a member of the board, disagrees.
"It's our job as a state board to not mandate to local districts a curriculum. I think it's our job to look at the things that are critical and essential for students to know and assess on those things," said Hill.
"And the broad encompassing fact of evolution and having it as the central unifying concept of all of science is not that important to have assessed at the state level," said Hill.
Kansas school boards would not have to follow the proposed standards when they formulate curricula. But the standards would determine what students can be asked about on the statewide assessment tests.
"I have personally worked on a document that is commonly known as a [compromise] document that has evolution in it but doesn't have it as a central unifying concept," added Hill.
But Lutes disagrees. His position is that science is compromised and that in essence the debate has to do with creationism. "Our team will not be supporting that document," Lutes says.
"Basically, as we see it and as we have listened to the discussion over the course of our study for the past year or more, we feel like that it is basically a religious discussion and that religion shoul not be a part of what we do in teaching science in Kansas," he says.
Hill, however, denies such allegations. " This whole debate really is about whether we will have local control or whether we will have federal control. The misnomer is that creation isn't mentioned in the documents under consideration. It is not," he says.
If the outcome favors Hill's way of thinking, he says, education will be improved.
" I think the real advantages of the new standards that are being proposed to the board is that they add clarity and specificity to what we want teachers to teach and what we want kids to know in the state of Kansas," he says.
"That's a real plus for education to move in that direction. I hope we don't let one controversial issue ruin the idea of improving education," Hill adds.
But Lutes is of the opinion that , "it will set us back."
"We'll have to find some other ways to help teachers and school boards across the state understand what is really important for kids. And we'll find those," he says.
Kansas is one of a handful of states - including Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska - where, in recent years, school boards have attempted to take evolution out of state science standards or deemphasize evolutionary concepts.
©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved