Science Teaching Standards up for Revision in Texas

Despite a committee of educators recommending the removal of language challenging evolution in science curricula, state education board members vote to reintroduce controversial concepts. 

By | February 9, 2017

WIKIMEDIA, DBENBENNLast week, the Texas Board of Education approved a draft of revisions made to its science education standards. While board members approved nearly all of the changes suggested by a committee of educators, they also voted to partially replace cuts made to controversial language regarding the teaching of evolution.

“What they did . . . was accept two of our recommendations [to change evolution teaching standards], but added some language that reintroduced the creationist open-door policy,” Ron Wetherington, a committee member and professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told The Scientist. “The committee of school teachers on which I served is going to be upset about this.”

The board members and two committee members who supported the additional requirements maintain that the language does not encourage creationist teachings in the classroom. “It’s an improvement” over existing standards, said board member Marty Rowley (R) from Amarillo. “We’re looking strictly at scientific explanations now. It’s clear from that language that any concerns people might have about people introducing creationism in classrooms would be unfounded.”

The revisions are part of a regular grooming of educational standards in the state that takes place every seven years. In the last round, adopted in 2009, requirements for evolution curricula included concepts many in the science and education communities considered to be supportive of “intelligent design” or creationism—the idea that science alone cannot explain the complexity of life.

For these latest revisions of curricula across the sciences, the board of education selected a committee of 10 volunteers to evaluate biology education and to streamline the standards, eliminating inappropriate or redundant topics. Most cuts were agreed upon by both the committee and the board, but a few—notably, surrounding evolution—were contentious.

For instance, a majority of committee members requested to eliminate the requirements for students to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record,” as well as to remove mention of scientific explanations for the complexity of the cell. These concepts are considered in alignment with creationist and intelligent design ideology, “intended to call into question the legitimacy of evolution,” according to Ryan Valentine, the deputy director of Texas Freedom Network, an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, among other causes.

The board voted to replace much of the language, with some tweaks. “Sudden appearance,” for example, is now “abrupt appearance.”

Committee members Ray Bohlin, a Plano-based fellow of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think tank headquartered in Seattle, and Charles Garner, an organic chemist at Baylor University in Waco, supported the amendments reintroducing these concepts.

“The standards strictly refer to science,” Garner told The Scientist. “This whole idea of trying to ‘keep creationism’ is utter nonsense. It’s just trying to present evolution in a fair manner. . . .What’s known is the world is old and life has changed over time. What’s not known is whether evolutionary data is enough to explain those changes.”

Bohlin agreed, saying the amendments would provide students with a fuller picture of evolution. “It just is suspicious to me that this great majority of fellow committee members, what they chose to delete was to give any comfort to someone who has doubts about evolution,” he told The Scientist. “It gives the controversial nature of evolution a free pass.”

The board of education was not unanimous in its approval of the additions. Fort Worth–based board member Erika Beltran (D), for instance, voted against the revisions because of these very amendments and the ideological arguments they could introduce to students. Beltran said this is a case where board members should have relied on the feedback from the committee of teachers, rather than inserting language against their recommendations. “To me, if this is what the educators are suggesting, given that they’re in the classroom working with students and theoretically they have a strong base of content knowledge in biology, my inclination is to listen to their concerns,” she said. “That’s the point of this whole review process.”

Cynthia Ontiveros, president of the Texas Science Education Leadership Association, said members of her organization who served on the committee do not agree with the inserted language surrounding evolution. “It, for one, undermines the teachers’ input and, two, from the perspective of our members, it is a personal agenda that is being imposed by state board members.”

The draft revisions for the standards are open for public comment and the board will have a final vote in April. Wetherington said he will continue to advocate for removal of the language, but rather than bringing up creationism concerns, he will focus on the additional time required of teachers to include these concepts in curricula. “We’re going to have a fight on our hands when we go back in April.”

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Avatar of: JohnnyMorales

JohnnyMorales

Posts: 28

February 9, 2017

Why does this website block spellcheck?

With the new Pres. I'm surprised they just haven't rolled over objections and replaced all mention of evolution with the book of genesis declaring it deserves to be taught and studied as the best explanation for life on the planet, and reserving the only mention of the theory of evolution to explaining it as hodgepodge of nonsensical findings strung together and asserted as alternative facts to disprove the real facts of creation we learn in Genesis.

Avatar of: mark from denver

mark from denver

Posts: 2

February 10, 2017

“…the idea that science alone cannot explain the complexity of life.”

Is this not intrinsically true, wholly apart from an objection toward “intelligent design” or “creationism”? I suggest that at present, scientists cannot fully explain the origins of or the complete complexity of life. Consider, for example, this article linked on the same page as the Texas education article:

"Another Explanation for Africa's Enigmatic Fairy Circles - Using simulations, scientists report that a mixture of termites and plant competition may be responsible for the strange patterns of earth surrounded by plants in the Namib desert."

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/48094/title/Another-Explanation-for-Africa-s-Enigmatic-Fairy-Circles/

Scientists do not yet completely understand (let alone fully explain) the complexity of life. They may, in the future. THAT is the curriculum for science classes.

Avatar of: Salticidologist

Salticidologist

Posts: 48

February 10, 2017

The main problem here is public schools.  When they become public they become political.  Real biology is one of the most controversial subjects to teach in public schools, but history is also very difficult.  Almost impossible because of social taboos.  The only real solution for bureaucratic meddling in content is to remove federal and state control from public schools to eliminate that bureaucracy, and to put private schools on an equal footing with respect to funding and choice.  "Evolution" is a hot issue for the fundamentalists here (as in places like Saudi Arabia) but it is only one of many subjects that cannot really be taught well in public schools.  Freeing up teachers with respect to training and subject matter would help, but I fear that this would be impossible in the public school framework that we have today.  I was fortunate to have a Ph.D. in Biology teach me in the 7th grade, and Ph.D.s in English and Physics respectively teach me in the 9th grade.  Few public school students have opportunities like this.  My best public school teacher in history helped me to understand why and how he was not really allowed to teach that subject.  We have a lot of difficultly advancing a free-thinking ideal against the methods of an autocratic society.

Avatar of: primativebeliever

primativebeliever

Posts: 30

February 10, 2017

Sad that in the USA where our declaration of independance says it's a self evident truth that we are created equal. Children are taught faith at home. Like Jesus said in the beginning he made them male and female. Our 1st amendamnet right protect the right to have a faith in a creator or not have a creator.

Science teaching should stick to what can be demonstrated and let child think about how that fits or does not fit into their belief system. Rather than saying it takes millions of years to make a diamond tell the truth. It take Tempature and pressure to make a diamond over so much time. A diamond can be made in a second, minute, hour, day, week depending on the tempature or pressure. that's demonstratable science. Humans make diamonds in less than a year. So then presnt the children with what nature can do, then LET THEM THINK. Or just let them play outside for science class. They might see a doe and a buck making kittens, if you know what that means. 

Avatar of: primativebeliever

primativebeliever

Posts: 30

February 10, 2017

Sad that in the USA where our declaration of independance says it's a self evident truth that we are created equal, some want to remove the idea of a creator from even being mentioned. Children are taught faith at home. Like Jesus said in the beginning he made them male and female. Our 1st amendamentt right protect the right to have a faith in a creator, or not have a creator.

Science teaching should stick to what can be demonstrated and let child think about how that fits, or does not fit into their belief system. Rather than saying it takes millions of years to make a diamond, tell the truth. It take temperature and pressure to make a diamond over so much time. A diamond can be made in a second, minute, hour, day, week depending on the temperature and  pressure. Now that's demonstratable science. Humans make diamonds in less than a year. So then present the children with what nature can do, then LET THEM THINK. Or just let them play outside for science class. They might see a doe and a buck making kittens, if you know what that means. 

Avatar of: Dr. JZ

Dr. JZ

Posts: 3

February 10, 2017

I wonder why Texas requires their teachers to have any education other than the Bible.  I'm sorry, but to say: "what they chose to delete was to give any comfort to someone who has doubts about evolution" .  Alternative facts is what this is called.

Welcome to Kansas , Texas!

Avatar of: Dr. JZ

Dr. JZ

Posts: 3

February 10, 2017

I wonder why Texas requires their teachers to have any education other than the Bible.  I'm sorry, but to say: "what they chose to delete was to give any comfort to someone who has doubts about evolution" .  Alternative facts is what this is called.

Welcome to Kansas , Texas!

Avatar of: Dr. JZ

Dr. JZ

Posts: 3

Replied to a comment from primativebeliever made on February 10, 2017

February 10, 2017

"Primative" is so accurate here.

Avatar of: Mola_mola

Mola_mola

Posts: 1

February 10, 2017

Edwards v Aguillard ruled teaching creation as science and Kitzmiller v Dover ruled teaching ID as science both violate the Establishment Clause. This is settled law and would need to be reversed in SCOTUS. Blaise Pascal wagers that trying to coerce people to ditch their faith is generally fruitless and innate adolescent behavior (we're talking about HS sophomores here) favors rebellion against everything for any reason. Finally, Penn Jillette said "Everyone who needs to believe in evolution... does. Teller had no comment.

Avatar of: Linda Mantel

Linda Mantel

Posts: 2

February 10, 2017

It sounds as though nobody in Texas has heard of the Next Generation science Standards (NGSS) http://www.nextgenscience.org/

that were developed by science educators and should provide a pathway for teaching sciences in grades K-12 everywhere.

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