We have very good news to report about the revision of the Texas public school science curriculum standards. Writing teams made up of teachers and academics have proposed final drafts of new standards that would curb efforts by evolution deniers to dumb down science education in the state’s public schools. The final drafts for all high school science courses, just released by the Texas Education Agency, remove a state-imposed requirement that students learn “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Creationists on the Texas State Board of Education have politicized and abused that language to launch unscientific attacks (phony “weaknesses”) on evolution. In the past they have even tried to force textbook publishers to water down discussions of that foundational concept in the biological sciences. (They almost certainly will try to do so again when publishers submit new science textbooks for approval in 2011.)
The final standards drafts come after a November public hearing before the State Board of Education. During the hearing, scores of parents, teachers, scientists and other academics insisted that the new standards focus on sound science and not dumb down our kids’ education by opening the door to fringe concepts and phony attacks on the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting evolution. Meeting earlier this month in Austin, the writing teams for all high school science courses agreed. They replaced requirements that students learn “weaknesses” or “limitations” of scientific theories like evolution. Instead, a new requirement includes more scientifically sound language about students analyzing scientific explanations:
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;
The draft standards also include new language explaining that science involves the study of “testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena.” That new language would make it clear that supernatural explanations like “intelligent design”/creationism have no place in science classrooms.
The draft standards align with calls from a large and growing coalition of Texas scientists to drop the “strengths and weaknesses” language. In addition, a Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report released in November showed that biology faculty in the state’s universities and colleges overwhelmingly agree that creationist-fabricated arguments (“weaknesses”) against evolution are not supported by scientific evidence.
The State Board of Education will hold a second public hearing on January 21 and is scheduled to take a final vote on the new standards in March. Board members have essentially two options. On the one hand, they can approve the recommendation of all the high school teacher and academic writing teams — supported by scientists and university science faculty from across the state — and give Texas schoolchildren a 21st-century science education. Or on the other hand, the creationist faction that controls the board can continue its misguided war on evolution, embarrass the state, dumb down science education and handicap our children’s ability to compete and succeed in college and the jobs of the future.
You can help ensure that the state board doesn’t put ideology ahead of the education of Texas schoolchildren. Learn more here about how you can Stand Up for Science!