Steven Schafersman is the president of Texas Citizens for Science, and he sent along a status report for Texas — it’s not all bad news, and of course it’s always good to see a strong, active organization defending science in the state. I’ve put the full report below.
I talked to many individuals in Austin. I had several good conversations with THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes. He is really a good guy and we got along well. He understands Austin politics, and is now completely knowledgeable about Creationism in general and ICR in particular, and since we traded several email messages before the meeting about ICR, we did not need to discuss that issue at all. Paredes wants to follow official procedure so ICR has no reason to complain about the process. He told me in email that the evaluation process until he got involved was “insufficient,” but now everything will be done with full transparency, correct evaluation standards, and follow proper procedure.
I suggest we don’t worry about the THECB now, and we don’t need to write any more letters. I think everything has been said, and Dr. Paredes knows what everyone thinks. He has even received emails from Nobel Laureates Steven Weinberg and Alfred Gilman that were printed in the newspaper today! (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/012408dnmetcreation.2bd704c.html) The CB is going to follow correct policy and procedure on ICR’s application so it will be legal. ICR must be given a fair evaluation and review over the next several months. ICR asked for more time and they have until April 24 now. I am satisfied with how things have progressed since the issue became public around Dec 14 when I wrote the first TCS press release about ICR (I read the two Dec 15 news articles on Dec 14; the journalists broke the story). Before the issue became public, ICR was indeed getting a pretty slick ride. I still believe they had received secret assurances from someone of smooth sailing, but those promises are over. ICR has some extremely tough hurdles to climb to succeed now, and I don’t think they can. If they ultimately sue Texas, ICR will lose. I think they are going to have to be satisfied with a masters degree in creation studies or creation education, which I would not begrudge them, although such a degree would be next to useless for their financial purposes. I am not going to worry about this issue until April 24, when the CB meets again to decide ICR’s application. The Jan 24 CB meeting will now be devoted mainly to the College Readiness Standards; ICR is not on the agenda.
Paredes said that he has raised three “concerns” with ICR after he met with the ad hoc group of scientists and science educators, asking for more information for the CB to review. Let’s discuss them now:
1. Curriculum. “Their curriculum doesn’t line up very well with the curriculum available in conventional master of science programs here in Texas,” he said. “I wanted them to either revise the curriculum or explain why it departed from the norm.” I discussed the inadequacies of the ICR science curriculum in great detail in my original Dec 17 report on ICR. At the recent SBOE meeting, I spoke to one of the science educators who was on the ad hoc panel. I was told that the members agreed not to speak to anyone publicly until Jan 24, now April 24. But I was able to have several statements confirmed. One was that it is not only the principle that new degree programs must be similar in quality and content to those of similar programs in Texas universities, as I reasoned should be the case in my report, but it is also the “practice.” Although I had no way of knowing this, historically the CB has indeed evaluated new graduate degree programs by comparing them to other programs of similar content and quality. That’s why the Site Evaluation Committee approval and Certification Advisory Council approvals were so unusual: their findings went against historical practice as well as implied principle.
2. Online learning. “Given all the research that demonstrates that science is best learned by actually doing it, how are you going to give students the proper exposure to the experimentation side of science online?” Parades said that this question is one he would ask of any online science program and wasn’t related specifically to creationism. This would also be evaluated under the curriculum standard, no. 12, but I didn’t think of this problem. Here’s why. I was a pioneer in the development of distance education and a huge fan of the concept of delivering education over a huge area via distance methods. I created the first three science distance learning courses in Houston back in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, using video tapes for lectures and email and telephones for communication with students. Then in the mid 1990s I began converting these and other courses to web instruction using the new teaching software (such as Blackboard and WebCT) just then becoming available. Such courses are standard now.
Even though I was a very experienced science professor, I took a series of courses about the brand-new disciplines of CAI (computer-aided instruction) and online educational technologies (these were taught at UH-Clear Lake by young education professors who had just received their PhDs from the University of South Florida, where the computer- and network-based learning technology revolution began; HCC had just initiated their own program in this field, and I was one of the few first participants, the only science instructor). The courses I had earlier developed were non-lab science courses, which were okay for many students since I was working in a community college; I also taught the same courses in a classroom setting with labs for students who needed lab courses that would transfer to universities. I also worked on creating online lab courses with portable equipment (e.g., we checked out rock and mineral kits for the distance physical geology course) and lab books so labs could be conducted at home (yes, this is possible to a limited extent). So ICR’s plan to deliver a total science education program solely via online distance learning didn’t alarm me. Not so, however, to the experienced science teacher educators. They told Paredes, quite correctly I now admit, that science educators in training must have classroom lab courses so they can handle the equipment they will be using to teach future students in similar classrooms. Such hands-on training is essential and is the norm for all science education programs in Texas. How is ICR going to provide hands-on laboratory training to its masters degree students using online instruction only? They can’t.
I searched for any similar online or telecourse science education courses in Texas. UT Dallas has such a course for a Master of Arts in Teaching-Science Education degree. This, however, is a telecourse: lectures from UTD are delivered via computer and AV-equipped classroom and the students do their labs at the host institution. Also, I believe it is assumed that UTD telecourse students will actually take their standard laboratory science courses in a classroom setting at the host institution, and that the UTD science education program provides the specialized science education pedagogy that some colleges don’t offer. The UTD science education course is not online only; there is no such course in any mainstream Texas university. This differs completely from the ICR plan to teach the entire science plus science education curriculum via online courses. With no hands-on labs, the degree program would not be equivalent to standard programs. I suppose over the next several months ICR will try to solve this problem with distance lab courses or having all graduate students physically attend real classes for a period of time. Can they do it?
3. Research. Paredes said that the institute “claims that their faculty do actual research,” so he asked for “material that documented the research activities under way” and that show the research to be “based on solid scientific research.” This is another evaluation standard that I overlooked, since standard 9 governing faculty just says that they must have science PhDs from legitimate, mainstream research universities, not that they must conduct research, so I believed that ICR’s faculty met that standard. Wrong. According to the scientists who advised Paredes, if an institution claims that its faculty are conducting scientific research, as ICR does indeed claim, these “scientists” must publish in mainstream, peer-reviewed scientific journals to be considered qualified research faculty. Since ICR’s faculty do not publish in such journals, this is going to be a very difficult standard for them to meet. ICR faculty only publish Creationist articles in Creationist pseudoscientific journals, magazines, and tracts which are not peer-reviewed by qualified scientists.
It is important to recognize, of course, that ICR’s teaching faculty does not consist of real scientists, despite their possession of legitimate science PhDs. Real scientists use the scientific method and possess the scientific attitude, which means that they work within a framework of methodological naturalism no matter what their religious beliefs may be. As I have mentioned before, about 40% of real scientists believe in a supernatural, personal deity, but they don’t conduct their scientific inquiries within a framework of supernaturalism as do the ICR Creation “scientists.” ICR claims that its staff members keep their Biblical beliefs separate from their scientific beliefs, but that’s nonsense. All of their classes and literature are Bible-based and stress their Literalist doctrine of Young Earth Creationism. Real scientists propose hypotheses that can be tested using empirical and logical methods–that’s the basis of methodological naturalism–and Creationism by a supernatural Deity ultimately cannot be tested in this fashion. Of course, many proximate claims of the Creationists can be tested (such as the young age of the Earth, a universal flood, lack of transitional fossils, no evolution, etc.), and they have been so tested and they have all failed, since the claims were all based on specious reasoning and misinterpreted evidence, which has been amply documented in the anti-Creationist literature.
In conclusion, Commissioner Paredes has set three high but perfectly legitimate hurdles for ICR to surmount to achieve their certification approval. It will be difficult for ICR to meet these standards. Perhaps that’s why ICR sent a letter to their friends asking them to pray for ICR’s success.
College Readiness Standards
Dr. Paredes’ main interest right now is the Texas College Readiness Standards (CRS) that have been completed by the CB and that the SBOE must now implement. They will receive final approval by the CB on Jan 24 and be sent to the SBOE to “implement” into the Texas science curriculum standards, the science TEKS, as required by HB 1 of the Texas Legislature. The SBOE has no plans to do this, however, and it will probably table or delay the implementation until it is too late to do anything.
My three-minute talk to the SBOE on January 17 touched on two issues: how it planned to implement the CRS, esp. since the high school science panels are going to meet in two weeks. (The answer turns out to be that they have no idea.) The other issue was that after two months of review by the vertical writing teams of the thousands of comments and suggested changes from over 1000 people, hardly anything was changed and the CRS were approved by the CB’s Academic Excellence and Research Comm. on Jan 15. The first thing I did when I got to Austin on Jan 16 was to visit the CB building and ask for a copy of the final approved CRS. I looked at the science sections and they looked the same as in November. After talking to CB staff members, I found out that the Science and Math standards were not changed at all, the English standards were touched up by Paredes himself, and the Social Science standards ARE being revised–and were not approved on Jan 15 as the other three sections were–due to the fact that these standards received by far the most negative comments and suggestions for revision. I mentioned that my own very substantive suggestions for improvement (adding standards that require human evolution, origin of life, global warming, the tragedy of the commons, exponential human population growth, etc.) were ignored by the vertical teams and not incorporated into the CRS. I thought my suggestions were pretty good, but the vertical team members apparently didn’t think so.
After I delivered my public testimony–the only citizen addressing this issue, as was the case in November–Dr. Paredes addressed the SB. His presence there was why I was able to converse with him. (Unfortunately, he was kept waiting for four hours while the SB endlessly discussed their fiduciary responsibilities with the PSF.) After he spoke, both Barbara Cargill and Terri Leo started to question him in a pretty aggressive manner. Surprisingly to me, their theme was the fact that the Science CRS were not changed despite receiving hundreds of suggestions for improvement, and they grilled Paredes on why this was the case. Needless to say, I listened intently. Cargill had sent in her own 11 suggestions for biology (all anti-evolution recommendations, as I found out later, so the vertical team members of course ignored them). Leo mentioned that several of her colleagues (probably all members of the Greater Houston Creationist Association!) also sent in suggested changes to the Science CRS that were justifiably ignored. Leo mentioned my name twice (I practically fell out of my chair) to support her contention that changes were not made. Both took Paredes to task (he was at the podium when they spoke) for not making changes. Paredes replied that the vertical team members, all scientists and science teachers, considered EVERY suggestion and would have made changes they thought were needed. I found out later that 80% of the suggestions people made were specifically for what the vertical team considered to be examples of student “performance indicators,” which are optional and will differ among schools and teachers, so these were all ignored. I guess my suggestions fell into this category, although that was not my intention. I wanted them to be considered “performance expectations,” which are required standards. I’ve got to get a handle on this education terminology.
Math Textbook Rejection
On Friday, 2007 November 17, the SBOE rejected a math textbook in violation of the statutes that govern textbook selection, and the publishers have rightfully appealed the decision to the Commissioner of Education. If that doesn’t work, the decision will be appealed to the Attorney General, and then go to litigation in a court of law, because the unlawful rejection will cost the publisher tens of millions of dollars in lost sales.
By Texas law, textbooks can only be rejected by the SBOE if (1) the book contains factual errors that the publisher refuses to correct, (2) the book does not teach the subject’s curriculum standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and the publisher refuses to make changes, or (3) the book’s binding is not sturdy and the publisher will not fix this. None of these apply in this case. The book contained some errors but the publisher promised to fix them (the other math books contained even more errors), and the book fully met the math TEKS.
Some SBOE members say they rejected the book because it taught “fuzzy math”–in real-life known as reform, conceptual, standards-based, or whole math–that allows students to use calculators earlier than the members wanted, but the Board does not have the authority to reject a book for that reason. Other SBOE members simply refused to give a reason. In reality, the math textbook rejection was a power play designed to assert a precedent for the Board’s self-claimed power to reject books for no reason at all, so that they will have this power to reject biology books when they come up for adoption in future years. The radical religious right members of the SBOE have not been able to get mainstream biology texts that contain evolution information thrown out or censored by legitimate means, so they are resorting to naked political force and daring anyone to sue them. I hope McGraw Hill does precisely that.
Many large school districts in Texas use this textbook (Everyday Mathematics) and math program. The reform math program was recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and has proven successful in achieving good results in national studies. Many of the state’s math teachers are trained to use this math instructional program. There is no legitimate reason to reject this math book except to set an illegitimate precedent.
Reform math can be characterized as the constructivist (i.e., postmodernist) program in mathematics education contrasted with traditional or computational mathematics, occupying the same place as whole language reading instruction (or, as opponents term it, the “look-say” method) contrasted with phonics instruction. These controversies are known as the Math Wars and Reading Wars, and both are still raging in Texas (Texans love wars). Conservatives and the radical religious right always sides with traditional math and phonics regardless of what math and reading experts say. There are, in fact, legitimate professional and educated critics and advocates on both sides of both of these wars. Both sides can show studies that show that their instructional methods work best. But these facts are not the point. The point is that a very few individuals (7 or 8) in very powerful positions (members of the Texas SBOE) are using their official powers to illegally impose their collective will on everyone else (students, teachers, and curriculum experts) in the state to accept only one of two possible choices in the Math Wars. State educational laws do not permit the SBOE to determine educational methodology, and that’s what the SB is doing. And they intend to do this again in the future: to impose their minority will on others in the Biology Wars when they illegally reject biology textbooks that refuse to compromise or weaken their language about evolution.
The seven religious right SBOE members who voted to reject the math book are radicals, not conservatives as they self-style themselves, because they do not respect traditional values such as public education, science, and now the rule of law. What is most disturbing, however, is that Rick Agosto, a San Antonio Democrat on the State Board, voted with the radical religious right seven-member minority to give them a majority to reject the math book in November (he abstained so the right-wingers could win) and again on Jan 18 to strike the minority report from the record that the other members of the SBOE wrote to express their claim that the math textbook rejection was illegal. Someone needs to get in touch with Mr. Agosto and teach him the facts of life about the politicization of public education in Texas. He should be helping the students and teachers in our state, not the seven radical-right Creationists who are his fellow Board members. What is going on? Did the Radical 7 know Mr. Agosto would abstain before they voted to reject the book in November, since they would not have succeeded without it? I tried to ask Rick these questions. He told me he abstained because he didn’t like the math book, but he wouldn’t tell me specifically what was wrong with it. I began to explain why the book’s rejection was illegal (because the Texas Education statutes only allow rejection for specific reasons, none of which apply in this case) and that the SB didn’t have the authority to determine specific educational methodology for the state, but he refused to engage in a discussion and told me he couldn’t discuss those legal matters because they were going to come up in executive session when the Board would be briefed by the TEA attorney about McGraw Hill’s appeal later that day. Our conversation ended at this point on Thursday.
I was not present Friday when six members of the SB attempted to get a minority report entered into the minutes so their viewpoint could be recorded. The minority report is short, and hardly begins to analyze all the issues in this complex controversy, but it is revealing. It can be found at http://www.texscience.org/reviews/math-minority-report.pdf. The seven-member radical right bloc on the SB, plus Rick Agosto, voted 8-6 to strike the report from the official record; the reason they gave was that its presence would demonstrate that a significant number of SB members thought the rejection was illegal, valuable ammunition for McGraw Hill when they sue the SBOE. I can state that the minority report is an accurate portrayal of the math textbook rejection episode. Of special note is Rick Agosto’s quoted statement at http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/011908dnmetbookfight.22922e9.html: “This is about the credibility of this board, and I will challenge anyone here who tries to challenge my credibility.” I think the Board member doth protest too much. The Board’s credibility becomes Mr. Agosto’s personal credibility before the sentence is even finished. Why is a freshman Democratic Board member voting with the most radical, extreme members of the SBOE?
What happens next?
Texas Citizens for Science, other advocacy organizations, and the scientific, academic, and business communities in Texas have continually succeeded in improving math and science education and keeping evolution in the state standards and biology textbooks because we have been able to mobilize people who will write letters, testify at hearings, and speak to the Governor and their Texas legislators. This was demonstrated quite well in 2003 when the SBOE vote was 11-4 to keep Creationist-suggested changes from corrupting several good biology textbooks that were up for adoption. Hundreds of individuals testified and wrote letters. Now, the radical religious right contingent on the SB has seven members, so the vote to adopt accurate and reliable science standards–without “weaknesses” and “teach the controversy” Discovery Institute misrepresentations–would be 8-7. Or could the religious right bloc pick up one more vote and make it 7-8, and we lose? It’s possible. The Creationists currently on the SBOE are more aggressive than ever, as demonstrated by the math textbook rejection and the frequent public comments about making sure the standards require that weaknesses of evolution be included in textbooks and curricula. What do we do if we lose?
There are three possibilities. The first is what happened in Kansas and Ohio: citizens mobilized and voted the radical Creationists on those states’ State Boards of Education out of office, and they did it pretty quickly. All the anti-scientific curriculum standards and lesson plans that these Creationists got into state education documents are gone. But it would be difficult to do that in Texas, where the religious right controls the Texas Republican party. Traditional conservative Republicans find it difficult to run against well-funded radical-right Republicans, and Democrats are restricted to their majority districts which have been carefully gerrymandered by the Republicans.
The second possibility is to go to court, which may be possible if the SBOE damages science standards enough. Creationists have always lost in Federal courts because their activities are so egregious and obviously violate the Constitution. Several Supreme Court decisions prevent Creationism from being taught as science in science classrooms. The Kitzmiller v Dover case was only at the District Court level, but the judge’s decision was so strong that it serves as a virtual national precedent that prohibits Intelligent Design Creationism from being taught in public schools over the entire country. What if bogus weaknesses of evolution are forced into Texas science standards by political manipulation of the SBOE against the intention of scientists and science educators who normally write science standards? That could very well qualify as a violation of the Establishment Clause, but a trial would be necessary to prove it.
But the third possibility in Texas is the best. Asking the Texas Legislature to step in again is the best chance the science, educational, and business coalition has to stop the SBOE from damaging science education in Texas. The Legislature has restricted the powers of the SBOE before, because the radical Creationists on the SB always receive national attention for their anti-science policy decisions, and these really damage the reputation of Texas as a state that welcomes and promotes science research and education and scientists, and it dumbs down science education in the public school system. If we lose on votes this year for science standards, we can either ask the Legislature to do something or we go to court. Those are our two options. I don’t believe we can do what Kansas and Ohio did until the demographics of Texas change sufficiently so that Democrats can be elected again for State offices.