TFNEF Report: Scholars Give Proposed Texas Biology Textbooks Thumbs Up on Evolution Coverage

by Dan Quinn

Today the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund has some good news about proposed new high school biology textbooks in Texas. A review of the new textbooks by science scholars at Texas universities shows that publishers have largely resisted — so far — efforts by political activists to include junk science that weakens coverage of evolution.

This new report from the TFN Education Fund comes after we reported that six proponents of “intelligent design”/creationism got influential positions on the State Board of Education‘s review panels for the proposed biology textbooks. And state board Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has refused to say whether she tried to get the review panels to pressure publishers into weakening textbook content on evolution.

So while it’s clear that publishers are likely under a lot of pressure to dumb down their textbooks, the versions they submitted for consideration in April treat evolution as established, mainstream science. This is very good news because creationists on the State Board of Education made revisions to curriculum standards in 2009 that they hoped would force publishers to include discredited arguments against evolution in their new textbooks. Publishers refused to do so.

The challenge now will be making sure state board members don’t succeed in pressuring publishers to revise their textbooks to win adoption in November. You can help by signing on to the pledge to Stand Up for Science. In addition, you can come to Austin to speak at a public hearing on the proposed textbooks in September. We’ll have more details soon.

Here’s the press release we just sent out:

Science scholars in Texas are giving thumbs up to coverage of evolution in proposed new high school biology textbooks, a new report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows. The report is available at www.tfn.org/2013sciencereview.

The findings of scholars at the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University in Dallas are important because the State Board of Education’s official review process appears to be deeply flawed, TFN Education Fund President Kathy Miller said.

“It appears that publishers have done a good job resisting political pressure to weaken instruction on evolution with junk science in their new textbooks,” said Kathy Miller, president of the TFN Education Fund. “That should be reassuring for parents who want their kids to get a science education that prepares them for college and a 21st century economy. But we’re already seeing signs that the pressure on publishers will increase in the coming months.”

The TFN Education Fund asked science doctoral candidates at UT-Austin and SMU to review more than a dozen high school biology textbooks and online products publishers submitted for consideration by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. Their reviews found that the textbooks and online materials affirm evolution as factual, mainstream science. In addition, the textbooks reject arguments that the fossil record and a wealth of other scientific evidence are insufficient to support evolution.

“We found no instances in which publishers suggest the science behind evolution is weak or legitimately questioned,” Miller said. “Just as important, they don’t disparage the religious beliefs of people who reject evolution. These textbooks simply focus on teaching students what mainstream science, including the overwhelming scientific evidence, says about evolution.”

The SBOE is scheduled to adopt new science textbooks for Texas public schools in November. The textbooks could be in classrooms for a decade.

Some of the country’s most prominent evolution deniers got influential positions on official state review panels examining the new textbooks and online materials. One is Ide Trotter, a retired dean of business at Dallas Baptist University whose academic work was in chemical engineering. Others include engineers, chemists and a leader of a fundamentalist Christian ministry based in Plano. One official reviewer, retired Baylor University engineering professor Walter Bradley, co-authored a book that launched the “intelligent design” movement. “Intelligent design” is a form of creationism suggesting that a supposedly unidentified being or supernatural force directed the development of life.

Reports from the official review teams should be available to the public before the SBOE’s first public hearing on the new textbooks in late September.

The TFN Education Fund report is available at www.tfn.org/2013sciencereview.

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