NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2008/12/26
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, "Strengths and weaknesses" is absent from the third, and final, draft of Texas's science standards, and the two antievolution bills in Michigan have finally died.
"STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES" NIXED IN TEXAS The third draft of Texas's science standards is available -- and the creationist catchphrase "strengths and weaknesses" is absent. The current standards for high school biology include a requirement that reads, "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." In 2003, the "strengths and weaknesses" language was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration, and so it was clear that the "strengths and weaknesses" language would be a matter of contention when the standards were next revised. The first draft of the revised standards replaced the "strengths and weaknesses" language with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The change was hailed by the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st Century Science Coalition, as well as by the editorial boards of the Austin American-Statesman (October 6, 2008), and the Corpus Christi Call-Times (November 20, 2008). Additionally, a survey conducted by Raymond Eve and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund demonstrated that the vast majority of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the supposed weaknesses of evolution. Nevertheless, when the Texas board of education began to hear testimony about the new standards on November 19, 2008, it was presented not with the first draft but with a second draft, in which the "strengths and weaknesses" language was replaced with a variant: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students' observations, experiments, models, and logical statements." At the meeting, defenders of the integrity of science education argued that "strengths and limitations" was no improvement over "strengths and weaknesses." The third draft reverts to the first draft's "analyze and evaluate" language. In its discussion of the nature of science, the third draft is similar but not identical to the first draft. According to the first draft, "Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods." The third draft reads, "Science, as defined by the National Academy of Sciences, is the 'use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena, as well as the knowledge generated through this process.' ... Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable." According to the Texas Education Agency's website, the third draft will be considered by the state board of education at its January 21-23, 2009, meeting, with a public hearing regarding the proposed revisions scheduled for January 21, 2009. The January meeting will presumably constitute the first reading of the new standards, with a period for further public comment following; the second reading and final vote are expected, but not guaranteed, to occur at the board's March 26-27, 2009, meeting. The stakes are high: the standards will determine what is taught in Texas's public school science classrooms and the content of the biology textbooks approved for use in the state for the next ten years. In the meantime, evidence continues to accumulate that calling for teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution in Texas is, in practice, simply a form of stealth creationism. For example, in a post on the website of the San Antonio Express-News (December 12, 2008), a representative of the San Antonio Bible Based Sciences Association offered to provide "scientific evidence of weaknesses in evolution and for creation," including "the fact that evolution violates the 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics, as well as the Law of Biogenesis," as well as "creation evidence in the fields of microbiology, genetics, probability, biochemistry, biology, geology and physics which support creation and undermine evolution." And in a December 1, 2008, post on its blog, the Texas Freedom Network examined how members of the antievolution faction on the state board of education have responded to a Texas religious right organization's questionnaire over the past few election cycles. According to TFN, in 2008, they strongly favored" forcing publishers to include strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution" in biology textbooks, while in 2006, they "strongly favored" the teaching of intelligent design" as a viable" theory in public school science classrooms, and in 2002, they "strongly favored" the same -- even though the question was prominently, and not inaccurately, labeled "Creationism" then. "Who," TFN asked, "do they think they're fooling?" For the current Texas state science standards (PDF), visit: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/ch112c.pdf For the first, second, and third drafts of the revised standards (PDF), visit: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/Sci_TEKS_9_12_091608.pdf http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/science/Draft2SciTEKS9_12_1108.pdf http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/Sci_TEKS_9-12_Clean_010509.pdf For the websites of the pro-science organizations in Texas, visit: http://www.tfn.org/ http://www.texscience.org/ http://www.texasscientists.org/ For the editorials in the American-Statesman and the Call-Times, visit: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/10/06/1006science_edit.html http://www.caller.com/news/2008/nov/20/texas-heads-for-another-squabble-over-evolution/ For a report on the survey conducted by Eve and the TFN Education Fund (PDF), visit: http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861 For the TEA's information on the standards revision procedure, visit: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/scienceTEKS.html For the post on the San Antonio Express-News's website, visit: http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/36076039.html For the post on TFN's blog, visit: http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/creationists-with-a-political-thesaurus/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/news/texas ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS DEAD IN MICHIGAN When the Michigan legislature ended its last voting session for 2007-2008 on December 19, 2008, two antievolution bills -- House Bill 6027 and Senate Bill 1361 -- died in committee. The identical bills were instances of the "academic freedom" strategy for undermining the teaching of evolution; as NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott recently wrote in their article "The Latest Face of Creationism," published in the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, "'Academic freedom' was the creationist catchphrase of choice in 2008: the Louisiana Science Education Act was in fact born as the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, and bills invoking the idea were introduced in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and South Carolina, although, as of November, all were dead or stalled. ... The appeal of academic freedom as a slogan for the creationist fallback strategy is obvious: everybody approves of freedom, and plenty of people have a sense that academic freedom is desirable, even if they do not necessarily have a good understanding of what it is." The Michigan bills contended that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, human impact of climate change, and human cloning, can cause controversy and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects." If enacted, the bills would have required state and local administrators "to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues" and "to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum in instances where that curriculum addresses scientific controversies" by allowing them "to help pupils understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." In a press release dated May 20, 2008, Michigan Citizens for Science blasted HB 6027, writing that "it does a disservice to teachers, school administrators and local school boards by urging them to incorporate material into science classes that is at odds with well-established science ... HB 6027 ushers schools down a path that will inevitably lead to expensive and divisive court battles." Similarly, in July 2008, the Michigan Science Teachers Association decried both bills, arguing (document) that the stated goals of the bills are already addressed by the state's educational system. The MSTA added, "Whereas evolution, climate change and cloning are the only 'controversial topics' cited in these bills while 'controversial topics' in non-scientific fields are noticeably omitted and whereas the Curriculum Expectations already address the pedagogical & educational goals of these bills, the legislative intent of these bills is called into question. ... . This type of legislation may enable the introduction of non-scientific ideologies, such as 'intelligent design (ID) creationism', into the public science classroom." For information on both bills from the Michigan legislature, visit: http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-HB-6027 http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2008-SB-1361 For Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-latest-face-of-creationism For Michigan Citizens for Science's press release, visit: http://michigancitizensforscience.org/main/nfblog/2008/05/20/mcfs-press-release-on-hb-6027 For the Michigan Science Teachers Association's statement (document), visit: http://www.msta-mich.org/downloads/about/Academic_Freedom_Law.doc And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Michigan, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/news/michigan NOTICE Evolution Education Update's vacation plans changed, enabling this final update for 2008. REMINDER If you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education updates, please send: unsubscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. If you wish to subscribe, please send: subscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org again in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. With best wishes for the new year, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.ncseweb.org Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://www.ncseweb.org/evc NCSE's work is supported by its members. 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