NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/04/17
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The potential consequences of the Texas state board of education's decision to adopt a set of flawed state science standards are in the news, as are disquieting poll results from Louisiana. And the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology described the new Texas standards as "a step backward."
CONSEQUENCES OF THE FLAWED STANDARDS IN TEXAS? Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms -- such as "sufficiency or insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" -- and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe. The result, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, was "a triumph of ideology and politics over science." The board's antics seem to have caught the attention of legislators in Texas. There are now no fewer than six bills in the Texas legislature -- HB 710, HB 2261, HB 3382, SB 440, SB 513, and SB 2275 -- that would reduce the state board of education's power. As the Wall Street Journal (April 13, 2009) reported, "The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board's control of a vast pot of school funding." To be sure, it is not only with respect to evolution that the board's actions have been controversial, but the recent decision about the state science standards seems to have been the last straw. Gaining the most attention recently is SB 2275, which would transfer authority for curriculum standards and textbook adoption from the board to the Texas Commissioner of Education; the bill received a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on April 14, 2009. The Dallas Morning News (April 15, 2009) reports that one of its sponsors, Senator Kel Seliger (R-District 31), told the committee, "The debate [over the science standards] went on with almost no discussion of children," adding, "The fact is there is nothing that makes the board particularly qualified to choose curriculum materials and textbooks." The Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller was among the witnesses at the hearing testifying to "the state board's unfair processes, divisive ideological history and outright ineptitude." Texas Citizens for Science's president Steven Schafersman (writing on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog on April 14, 2009) and the Waco Tribune (in its April 17, 2009, editorial) have both expressed their support for the bill. Unless such a bill is enacted, it seems likely that the board will pressure textbook publishers to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks submitted for adoption, probably in 2011. As Lauri Lebo explained in a story on Religion Dispatches (April 14, 2009), "With almost $30 million set aside in the budget, Texas is second only to California in the bulk purchase of textbooks. But Texas, unlike California, approves and purchases books for all the state's school districts. Publishers often edit and revise textbooks in order meet the specific demands of the Texas board members." NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, coauthor (with Joe Levine) of several widely used textbooks published by Prentice-Hall, told the Wall Street Journal that "We will do whatever we think is appropriate to meet the spirit and the letter of Texas standards," but firmly added, "We will never put anything in our books that will compromise our scientific values." Lebo discussed the possibility of litigation over the board's decision: "Now the issue is whether there is enough prima facie evidence to challenge the Constitutionality of the wording now, or wait for the textbook review process in two years." It is not surprising that she thought of the possibility, since she wrote a book, The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), about the Kitzmiller case, which she covered for a local newspaper, the York Daily Record. That newspaper's report (April 6, 2009) on the situation in Texas opened with a memorable quotation from one of the eleven plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, which established the unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools: "Steve Stough was silent. He had just heard a passage from Texas' new public school science standards, and was processing. Then: 'Oh ----,' he said. 'That's intelligent design without using the nomenclature. It really, truly is.'" For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123958070369412153.html For the text of Texas's SB 2275, visit: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=SB2275 For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_15tex.ART.State.Edition1.4acfccf.html For TFN's report on Kathy Miller's testimony, visit: http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/reckoning-approaches-for-state-ed-board/ For Steven Schafersman's blog for the Houston Chronicle, visit: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html For the Waco Tribune's editorial, visit: http://www.wacotrib.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2009/04/17/04172009waceditorial.html For Lauri Lebo's story at Religion Dispatches, visit: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/religiousright/1308/ To buy Lebo's book at Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1595582088/nationalcenter02/ For the story in the York Daily Record, visit: http://ydr.inyork.com/ci_12066278 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas POLLING EVOLUTION IN LOUISIANA "Just in time for the bicentennial observance of Charles Darwin's birth, a new survey of Louisiana residents shows 40 percent of the respondents believe evolution is not well-supported by evidence or generally accepted within the scientific community," the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 14, 2009) reports. The Louisiana Survey, sponsored by the Manship School of Mass Communication's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State University, asked, "Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community, or that it is not well supported by evidence and many scientists have serious doubts about it?" Of the respondents, only 38.8% preferred the correct option, with 40.3% thinking that evolution is not well supported and 20.9% listed as saying they don't know. The survey also asked, "When teaching students about human origins, would you generally favor or oppose teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools?"; 57.5% of the respondents said that they favored teaching creationism, 31% said that they opposed teaching creationism, and 11.4% were listed as saying they don't know. The Advocate was editorially appalled, commenting, "The level of belief that evolution is not supported by scientific evidence is startling. Equally amazing is the percentage who believe evolution is not generally accepted within the scientific community," and adding, "Such indifference to basic principles of science doesn't position Louisiana very well to embrace the knowledge-based economy it needs to advance its future." (As Barbara Forrest recently observed in a post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog, the state is next-to-last in the nation with respect to student educational success and economic prospects.) In a jab at Governor Bobby Jindal, who signed the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act into law in 2008, thus opening the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes in Louisiana, the Advocate also remarked, "How ironic that Jindal's wife, Supriya, has launched a private foundation to promote math and science education in Louisiana's classrooms. We encourage the governor to promote science education by working to keep religion out of science classes in public schools -- something he's been unwilling to do so far." For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit: http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/42943697.html For the Louisiana Survey (PDF), visit: http://www.survey.lsu.edu/downloads/2009lasurveyreport_final.pdf For Barbara Forrest's post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog, visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/2009/03/22/laissez-bon-temps-rouler/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/louisiana WHITE HOUSE SCIENCE ADVISOR DEPLORES TEXAS STANDARDS John Holdren, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology, told the ScienceInsider blog (April 8, 2009) that the recent adoption in Texas of a flawed set of state science standards was "a step backward." Asked "do you think that the Texas state school board's recent decision to add a skeptical view of the study of evolution and the fossil record weaken the state's science standards and weaken national efforts to improve science education?" Holdren replied, "Well, I have not reviewed that decision carefully. But my impression from reading about it is that it was not a step forward but rather a step backward. Of course, all science needs to be skeptical. It's hard to be against skepticism. But when you get into the domain of promoting particular views about the basis for skepticism of evolution, and those views are not really valid, then I think we have a problem. I think we need to be giving our kids a modern education in biology, and the underpinning of modern biology is evolution. And countervailing views that are not really science, if they are taught at all, should be taught in some other part of the curriculum." He added, "I'm not aware of any leverage we have, at OSTP or within the federal government, over the science curriculum in Texas, other than exhortation. We can argue and we can beg and we can try to educate. But we have no authority to act." For the ScienceInsider blog post, visit: http://blogs.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/04/in-full-intervi.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas NOTICE AND REMINDER With any luck, the next Evolution Education Update you receive will be from its new home at Google Groups. You'll continue to receive news from NCSE every week, but it will be originating from email@example.com. You'll also have the option of reading messages and managing your subscription on the web, rather than by e-mail. Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncseweb.org Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://ncseweb.org/nioc Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://ncseweb.org/evc NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership