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NCLB Outrages

Montana Education Chief Gets Federal Response Over "Objective Origins"

The acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education has told Montana's top education official that the federal No Child Left Behind Act does not require the teaching of so-called "Intelligent Design" theory in high schools.

On the other hand, nor does the act prohibit such teaching, Gene Hickok wrote in a March 8 letter to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch.

McCulloch had written to U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige in early February, asking for Paige's opinion about an aspect of the ongoing debate over a science policy first proposed for Darby schools by minister Curtis Brickley. Brickley proposed the "objective origins" policy that eventually was passed by the school board, and he also made a presentation about intelligent design during the discussion of "objective origins."

Intelligent design, which is primarily a product of the conservative Seattle think tank the Discover Institute, posits that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection," the institute states on its Web site.

"We had been getting questions from people who said that Rev. Brickley was claiming that No Child Left Behind required schools to teach intelligent design," McCulloch said Wednesday. "So I wanted to make clear with the secretary that that wasn't true."

So she wrote to Paige: "The claim that the No Child Left Behind Act requires the inclusion of the philosophy of intelligent design has been presented."

McCulloch said that with her three-paragraph letter, she asked a simple question and wanted a simple answer. That's not precisely what she got.

Acting Deputy Secretary Gene Hickok wrote back on Monday: "The NCLB Act does not contain any language that requires or prohibits the teaching of any particular scientific views or theories as part of a state's science curriculum or otherwise."

Furthermore, Hickok noted that no state is required to have its science standards approved by the federal government, and that, in fact, the U.S. Department of Education is prohibited from "using funds to endorse, approve or sanction any curriculum that is designed to be used in an elementary or secondary school."

Finally, Hickok referenced what's commonly referred to as the Santorum amendment. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., had proposed some language for the NCLB act, and while the language was part of an early version of the bill, it was later removed. The language stated, in part, that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist."

"This language is based on a Senate resolution that passed by a vote of 91-8" Hickok wrote.

In fact, the Santorum language is not part of the NCLB act and has no legal standing, although it remains part of a conference committee report.

"I feel like they answered my letter and then editorialized an awful lot, too," McCulloch said. "Going into the whole Santorum amendment is not necessary, because it's not binding and it's not part of the law."

The Discovery Institute, in a story on its Web site, proclaimed Hickok's letter as a victory for academic freedom.

"The letter is important because some Darwin-only activists and educational officials have claimed that public schools could risk losing their federal funding if they allow students to learn about current scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory," said Dr. Stephen Meyer, director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute.

In fact, McCulloch said the letter will have little or no effect on what happens in Montana schools.

"We'll just use it to answer people's questions when they have them," she said of the letter.

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or 370-3330, or by e-mail at mmoore@missoulian.com

— Michael Moore
The Missoulian


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