From the NCSE:

March 30, 2009 13:00 PDT

SCIENCE SETBACK FOR TEXAS SCHOOLS

“Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” cries board chairman Don McLeroy.

OAKLAND, CA March 30

After three all-day meetings and a blizzard of amendments and counter-amendments, the Texas Board of Education cast its final vote Friday on state science standards. The results weren’t pretty.

The board majority amended the Earth and Space Science, and Biology standards (TEKS) with loopholes and language that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks.

“The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science,” says Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). “The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country.” NCSE presented the board with a petition from 54 scientific and educational societies, urging the board to reject language that misrepresents or undermines the teaching of evolution, which the board likewise ignored.

Although the “strengths and weaknesses” wording that has been part of the standards for over a decade was finally excised–wording that has been used to pressure science textbook publishers to include creationist arguments–a number of amendments put the creationist-inspired wording back in.

“What we now have is Son of Strengths and Weaknesses,” says Josh Rosenau, a project director for NCSE. “Having students ‘analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence’ is code that gives creationists a green light to attack biology textbooks.”

For example, the revised biology standard (7B) reflects two discredited creationist ideas–that “sudden appearance” and “stasis” in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution. The new standard directs students to “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records.” Other new standards include language such as “is thought to”, or “proposed transitional fossils” to make evolutionary concepts seem tentative when, in fact, such concepts are well-documented and accepted by the scientific community.

The changes will not immediately affect curricula in Texas high schools, but “the standards will affect standardized tests and textbooks,” says Rosenau. Thanks to such laws as No Child Left Behind, ubiquitous standardized tests are central to measuring student progress and proficiency. Teachers teach to the test, notes Rosenau, and textbooks have to reflect this.

“Will publishers cave in to pressure from the Texas board to include junk science in their textbooks? It has happened before,” says Scott. “But textbooks that please the Texas board will be rejected in other states. Publishers will have to choose between junk science and real science.”

“Let’s be clear about this,” cautioned Dr. Scott. “This is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory. The revised wording opens the door to creationism in the classroom and in the textbooks. The decisions will not only affect Texas students for the next ten years, but could result in watered-down science textbooks across the U.S. There’s a reason creationists are claiming victory.”

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau summed up the frustration of scientists and educators alike: “This is a hell of a way to make education policy.”

CONTACT: Robert Luhn of the NCSE, 510-601-7203, luhn@ncseweb.org Web site: www.ncseweb.org For Texas coverage, go to: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    March 30, 2009

    “”Will publishers cave in to pressure from the Texas board to include junk science in their textbooks? ”

    I don’t think there is any doubt that, if this development stands, the answer to the question will be a resounding yes. Publishers are sensitive to money; if the folks who pushed this through aren’t catered to by one publisher, they will go to one that will.

  2. #2 IceFarmer
    March 30, 2009

    This is bad news for everyone in North America. From my understanding, Texas is the second largest school board in the US. Text book publishers don’t want to be excluded from Texas. If texts are approved for Texas then they will tend to get into many other smaller school boards by default as the small ones don’t have the budget to override them.

    A small case in point, I’m from Canada and during my high school bio classes we learned out of Ken Miller’s “Biology” whose evolution section was severely watered down so as to meet Texas standards. My teachers all brought in other supplementary material for evolution lessons (and I was a lucky one).

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 30, 2009

    Don’t worry. The blogosphere will fix this.

    Unless you live in Texas. Everyone in Texas is fucked.

  4. #4 IceFarmer
    March 30, 2009

    Glad to see you speak my language Greg. I’m still highly concerned. We are seeing the decline of civilization as we know it. Religious fundamentalism is striving to shove us back into the dark ages anyway it can.

  5. #5 Rob Jase
    March 30, 2009

    “”Somebody’s got to stand up to experts!” cries board chairman Don McLeroy.”

    Yeah, things always get done so well by ignorant refugees from a death cult.

    I wouldn’t mind Texas choosing to go back to the Dark Ages but why should they drag the rest of us with them?

  6. #6 dean
    March 30, 2009

    “Don’t worry. The blogosphere will fix this”

    Greg, I wish I had your confidence/optimism; I don’t.

    Rob: “I wouldn’t mind Texas choosing to go back to the Dark Ages but why should they drag the rest of us with them?”

    I would phrase it as: “I don’t care if they wish to keep their kids stupid, but why should they be allowed to (attempt to) make yours and mine stupid as well?”

  7. #7 Pierce R. Butler
    March 30, 2009

    Hasn’t Texas already done enough harm to the US?

  8. #8 J-Dog
    March 30, 2009

    Perhaps we can force Mexico to take them back? Por favor?

  9. #9 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    March 30, 2009

    My question is whether or not there are enough states with strong enough support for their evolution standards to flatly reject any textbooks based on the Texas standards. Just say “NO” to Texas textbooks!

    Or, it could generate a stronger push for Open Access Textbook Publishing.

    I had written a post about it at Tuibguy.com but it is currently among the “disappeared.”

  10. #10 abb3w
    March 30, 2009

    Repeating from other places, a Political Plug for one possible Dunbar Opponent, Judy Jennings, who reputedly “is running as a Democrat, has the full support of the party, has her PhD in Educational psychology and psychometrics, and is not a creationist whackjob.” Sounds like an improvement. Those (in the US) inclined to support may Donate here.

    Those out-of-state with qualms about contribution may look here, and note that almost half of Dunbar’s money was from out-of-state.

  11. #11 Heraclides
    March 31, 2009

    Perhaps we can force Mexico to take them back? Por favor?

    Given Mexico is basically Catholic, this may even be an improvement: Catholics are supposed to accept evolution. According to the Vatican, anyway…