Creationist Chair of Texas Ed Board Refuses to Explain Her Interference in Science Textbook Review

Was Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, trying to influence the work of the panels reviewing proposed new high school biology textbooks last week? Cargill, a creationist who has insisted that textbooks should teach “another side” when discussing evolution, met with the panels last Wednesday (July 31). We now know that those panels included at least four creationists invited to participate in the review. When a fellow state board member raised her own concerns about the independence of the panels at a meeting last Thursday, Cargill replied that she had simply been thanking the reviewers and answering their questions. She also invited anyone with concerns to contact her. So we did.

Unfortunately, Cargill’s responses to our emails weren’t particularly helpful. She simply told us that the meetings of the review panels were open to the public. That’s irrelevant in this case. Observers are required to sit so far from the panels that it’s impossible to hear discussions among the reviewers or what Cargill told them. Cargill ignored our questions about whether she was trying to influence the work of the panels.

Following is TFN President Kathy Miller’s email exchange with Cargill. Our first email went to Cargill on Friday, August 1:

Dear Ms. Cargill,
During today’s State Board of Education workshop, you questioned the accuracy of information we reported on our blog regarding your presence on Wednesday during the meeting of the biology review teams at the Austin Airport Hilton. I’m following up with your invitation at today’s meeting to address our concerns directly to you. Thank you very much for making that offer. I hope any misunderstanding can be cleared up. We would be more than happy to publish your responses (unedited by us) on our blog.

Our questions below are based on what an observer in the room related to us. Contrary to what was suggested at the SBOE meeting today, members of the public are not permitted to be close enough to the review panels to know what the review panelists are saying or doing. TFN staff members who attended on Monday confirmed this with TEA staff. In other words, it’s not a “public” meeting in any meaningful sense of the word even though observers may watch the room from behind a designated point (in this case, the chairs set up by TEA staff at the front of the ballroom). So your responses will help clarify what happened on Wednesday.

• When you attended the review team meeting on Wednesday, July 30, did you try in any way to influence the decisions of any review team members on questions of a particular submission’s content, TEKS coverage or factual accuracy?

• It appeared that you spent considerable time with the high school biology review teams on Wednesday. In talking to the biology reviewers, did you discuss the coverage of evolution/human origins and related issues in instructional materials?

• Is it your position that:

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member to join the formal deliberations of a review team?

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member to engage in extensive discussions with members over issues regarding the content of specific textbook submissions?

– It is appropriate for an SBOE member try to influence the decisions of that review committee?

• Do you have any concerns about a process that could allow SBOE members – in a meeting where the public has no access – to lobby review team members for specific recommendations to textbook publishers?

Like you, the Texas Freedom Network applauds the volunteers who serve on these review teams. We believe that the work of the panels in reviewing proposed textbooks and other instructional materials should be completely transparent and free of outside influence. Members of the public have the opportunity to weigh in on proposed instructional materials during public hearings and through written comments. Similarly, members of the State Board of Education are able to express their concerns at the public hearings and in open meetings. To prevent misunderstandings, we would recommend that board members not engage review teams while they are at work on the submitted materials. Or at the very least, ensure that those precise, unedited discussions are available for public review (as they would be if they occurred at an open meeting). We believe our concerns can be met with common-sense safeguards, transparency and public access.

Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to ask you about our concerns. We look forward to hearing from you.

Kathy Miller
President, Texas Freedom Network

August 2 response from Cargill:


Thank you for contacting me. The public has access to open meetings such as the ones held this week.


Barbara Cargill, Chair, State Board of Education

August 2 email from Kathy:


Thank you for responding.  We will publish your response (unedited) on our blog.  Do you care to add anything more, or respond to any of the other questions?

I am confused with your answer, as David Anderson[Texas Education Agency legal counsel] said explicitly yesterday that the review team meetings are not “open meetings.”



August 4 reply from Cargill:

To clarify from the TEA attorney:

The textbook review committee meetings aren’t “open meetings” in that legal sense. The review committees aren’t governmental bodies and aren’t making final decisions for a governmental body–they are purely advisory to the Board.  The decision has been to allow the public to watch if they want, but it would be perfectly legal to just lock the door and not let anyone but staff and the committee in the room.  It’s not an open meeting in a technical sense (not required to be posted/accessible/audible) but has been informally described as “open” because we allow observers.

August 5 email from Kathy:

Thank you for the response.  We were aware that we aren’t permitted to listen.  As I mentioned in my original email, we had clarified this with TEA staff on Monday of last week.  I hope this information is shared with the entire board, as I’m not sure that members left the meeting last week with this understanding.  I believe that many of the SBOE members left that meeting with the same understanding you had, that the meetings were open and that the public had access.

Would you like me to share this with other SBOE members, or are you going to ask TEA to do this?  Thanks again for responding to my emails.

August 5 reply from Cargill:

I will make sure board members receive this. I did understand that the meetings were open and the public had access. Nothing has changed about this in the years I’ve been on the board.

Again, the claim that the “public had access” to the review panel meetings is very misleading. The distance between public observers and the panels themselves made such “access” almost meaningless — except that observers could see Cargill herself personally working with the reviewers.

We appreciate Cargill’s responses to our emails, but she still hasn’t revealed what all she said to the panelists and why she compromised their supposedly independent reviews. It could be several weeks before we see the reports from the review panels themselves. The state board will hold its first public hearing on the proposed textbooks at its September 17-20 meeting in Austin. It has scheduled for November a final vote on which textbooks to adopt. Those textbooks could be in classrooms for a decade.

If you want students to learn real science in their science classrooms — not discredited creationist arguments that will leave them unprepared for college and the jobs of the 21st century — then join thousands of Texans who have signed our Stand Up for Science petition here. The Texas Freedom Network will keep you informed about the textbook adoption this year and what you can do to stop anti-science activists from undermining the education of Texas kids.

12 thoughts on “Creationist Chair of Texas Ed Board Refuses to Explain Her Interference in Science Textbook Review

  1. Why doesn’t somebody attend this “meeting at a distance” with field glasses and a lip reader. In addition, they make concealable listening devices (in hearing aid form) that can pick up conversation clearly on the other side of a large room. As far as I know, this would not be illegal as long as you do not record the conversations on playback media.

  2. Yes! Lets teach biblical science. We can teach about dew falling on goat skins, not mixing new wine with old wine and not eating pork because it is unclean.

    If Barbara Cargill were living in a world without science she would be living in a world much like the one Jesus lived in; no antibiotics, no cars, no electricity, no telephones, no computers. It would be a world the bible was designed for.

    1. The real problem is evident with Ms. Cargill. Its Rick Perry’s legacy. One might think the problem with “Science”, but it’s really the results Texans and the US have to live with for a very long time. Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas state history. As a result, he is the only governor in modern Texas history to have appointed at least one person to every eligible state office, board, or commission position (as well as to several elected offices to which the governor can appoint someone to fill an unexpired term, such as six of the nine current members of the Texas Supreme Court). This, my friends, is what we have to worry about. His appointments permeate every state office espousing an extremely conservative set of values. Think about it, even if Perry were moderate (which he isn’t by far), he would have long ago appointed those candidates, resulting, as time passes, in Perry literally scraping the bottom of the barrel. Like I said, the problem is evident with Ms. Cargill.

  3. No information from Barbara. She’s civil, even if theres no real content in what she says. The question is, what did she say to the review groups. She is a well known creationist, which, sadly completely compromises her staus as a scientist or one qualified to review science.

    And just for the record, although these observations alway fall on deaf ears when interacting with creationists, creationism is NOT just belief in a creator. ALL religions believe that, as do a majority of scientists according to polls.
    No Barbara, creationism is a deceptive, misinformative body of anti science rhetoric, religion dressed in a lab coat.
    Christianity and intentional deception are NOT good room mates. But over and over the litany of deception goes on. Gaps in the rock record(take a geology course for crying out loud). Historical scince and observational science, creationism biggest fraud. The macro micro mambo, and all the other disproved, non supportable silliness that you were brought up with.
    TWU did not give Chairwoman Cargill an MS in Science Education. Its an M Ed in Science Education. Awarded by the education department and not a science department, thats an important distinction.
    I’d like to see that misleading claim corrected on the SBOE site.

  4. Barbara Cargill wrote: “I will make sure board members receive this. I did understand that the meetings were open and the public had access. Nothing has changed about this in the years I’ve been on the board.”

    Cargill’s statements are misleading and false. I attended the instructional materials review committees in 2011 and found that, while I was permitted to be in the same room, I could not hear the discussions on the biology materials panels. Ryan Valentine of TFN was in the room with me and we discussed this. I wrote several articles about these review panels in 2011. Since my history with these procedures goes back several decades, I know that 2011 was the first time when observers were not permitted to hear the committees’ discussions. TEA mandated the rule change so “committee members would not be distracted by observers listening to their discussions.” I thought then that this was a violation of the Texas Open Meetings law and still do, but I couldn’t do anything about it. The true reason for the rule change, of course, was to prevent people like me and Ryan from discovering which Creationists nominated to the review panels were trying to influence the other committee members and what falsehoods they were telling them.

    It turned out that only one Creationist, David Shormann, attempted to influence the biology materials scientific content in a negative and unscientific way and he acted pretty much on his own. It turns out that if even a single committee member objects to some specific content, the publisher must respond. It does not require a majority vote of the review committee. That’s all it took for Shormann to successfully get some small changes to a single publisher’s materials.

    When Cargill writes that, “the meetings were open and the public had access,” she neglects to include the fact that the public can’t hear anything said in the meetings, making the point of “open…public…access” moot. In reality, the meetings were closed to the public as a practical matter. When she writes that, “Nothing has changed about this in the years I’ve been on the board,” she is being willfully or ignorantly duplicitous. Prior to 2011, public observers were able to attend review committee meetings and hear every word spoken.

    Use Public Information Act requests to obtains the review committee reports and examine them. Compare them to your own reviews. That’s what I will do. I didn’t even travel to Austin this year to attend these review committee meetings because I knew it would be a waste of time. The SBOE and TEA are making it as difficult as possible for Texas citizens interested in protecting the integrity and accuracy of science content. Believe me, a significant number of SBOE members plan to try to force publishers to make debilitating and unscientific changes to their biology materials. Whether they succeed depends on whether they have a majority on the SBOE. All they need are 8 votes.

    I don’t know whether Cargill was trying to directly influence reviewer opinion on the biology review panels. In 2011, each biology review committee had one Creationist strategically placed on it by SBOE members and the connivance of TEA staff members; the other members were ordinary science teachers and university professors who supported good science. The same is undoubtedly true in 2013. Several of the Creationist reviewers TFN and I identified on the panels, such as Ray Bohlin and David Bradley (both well-known to me as dogmatic and aggressive Creationists), are quite aggressive and capable of criticizing content and forcing publishers to respond, just as Shormann did in 2011. When placed in the spotlight like this and intimidated by aggressive and noxious Creationist thugs who push their specious pseudoscientific nonsense–and extorted by the TEA and SBOE with implicit threats to reject their materials and the multi-million dollar contracts that go along with them–publishers have always been willing to make small changes that misrepresent scientific knowledge, negatively qualify the rigorous and positive knowledge scientists have about evolutionary biology, and demean both science education and themselves. This has been going on for the 32 years I have observed the process. It last happened in 2011 and will probably happen again in 2013. Only the active efforts of concerned citizens and organizations–such as Texas Freedom Network and Texas Citizens for Science–who want to protect the accuracy and reliability of science instructional materials in Texas public schools can halt or mitigate these malign effects. Continue to stay angry about the politicization and subversion of science education in Texas public schools by religious and political extremists and get involved!

    1. @Steven Schafersman: Thank you, sir, for that well written post. As frustrating as this entire situation is, and how irresponsible our SBOE can be over this issue, your words give me some degree of encouragement. ID & creationism may be taught, in my opinion, as literature and humanities which would give us insight into the evolution (pardon the expression) of very old cultures throughout the world. Many of the native western hemisphere creationist stories are delightful and, to me, just as plausible as the Christian ones. I appreciate your input.

  5. So, let’s be fair, if we teach science and religeon in the same capacity, should not the Christian church also teach to Ku’ran in church as well?

    1. It was two or three years ago, but my church, Casa Emanu-El UMC in Dallas did. How else can you understand a religion that considers Jesus important enough to have two “books” of the Qu’ran devoted to him and one to his mother?

  6. The State Boards of Education needs to be educated about what could happen if they erode the credibility of State -licensed or registered professional scientists that other arms of state government rely on as the “best available science”. The wheels of progress would soon come to a halt if every scientists’ opinion was inadvertently discredited by the SBOE based on the opinion of non-experts.

  7. Remember to strat locally. Getting the right people in office is the way to change things. Join Battleground texas. Get people to bote for canidates you know will make a diffrence. Be passionate. Teach your children to think and be responsible for the fututer.