Update on the Texas Board of Education Controversy

The science and education communities can take pride in a very strong showing at the recent Texas State Board of Education (SBoE) meetings. Unfortunately, politics won out in Texas. The creationist members of the SBoE voted as a block, and the more moderate, pro-science politicians could not hold together on critical votes.

The science and education communities can take pride in a very strong showing at the recent Texas State Board of Education (SBoE) meetings. The final tally of societies signing our statement of support for the proper treatment of evolution in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) was 54. Several other societies submitted their own statements, and we had excellent input from Texas scientists and educators as well. Very many people worked very hard for several months to try to ensure that science education in Texas would not – as it had been in the past – be subject to political and ideological concerns.

Unfortunately, politics won out in Texas. The creationist members of the SBoE voted as a block, and the more moderate, pro-science politicians could not hold together on critical votes.

Although the current TEKS are an improvement in many ways over the former ones in requiring increased content in most disciplines, the “controversial” topic of evolution was compromised in the Biology, and Earth and Space Science (ESS) standards. In addition, although wording of an important TEKS standard on critical thinking was altered in January, during the March meeting that victory was reversed.

This critical thinking standard, C3A, calling for teaching “strengths and weaknesses” of theories, had been used over the years by creationists on the board to try to influence textbook content on evolution. Needless to say, evolution was the only theory singled out for this particular scrutiny. The TEKS writing committees in all academic disciplines (biology, chemistry, physics, ESS, etc.) replaced that language with standards providing good guidance for teachers on critical thinking, but which did not provide loopholes for evolution-bashing.

But creationists on the board did not want to lose the opening the previous wording allowed them, and amended the “good” standard to have students “examine all evidence” – which in the hands of Dr. McLeroy, chairman of the board, will allow the same “weaknesses of evolution” arguments again to be made.

In addition, amendments were made to add or modify specific standards to allow the presentation of key creationist claims involving the un-evolvability of the cell (due to complexity), gaps in the fossil record, the age of the Universe, and in general, the confidence with which evolution is held in the scientific community.

The Texas situation didn’t turn out as well as we would have wanted – but the situation would have been much, much worse had scientists and educators not been involved. Texas scientists, teachers, and other citizens will have much to do in the future – but they are doing it with the support of all of us, for which I am sure they are grateful.

I thank you again for your support. More information is available at http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/science-setback-texas-schools-004708.

Sincerely,

Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D.
Steven Newton
Joshua Rosenau

NCSE


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