NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2017/02/03
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear friends of NCSE, Disappointing news for Texas state science standards. Darwin Day is declared in Delaware. Concerns are mounting about the antiscience bill passed by South Dakota's state senate. And a reminder about Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend.
A DISAPPOINTING VOTE IN TEXAS "The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday [February 1, 2017] voted preliminarily for science standards that would keep in language that some say opens the door to creationism," the Texas Tribune (February 1, 2017) reports. At issue were four standards inserted into the Texas state science standards by members of the state board of education, without input from scientists and educators, during the last revision of the standards in 2009. The objectionable standards called for students to analyze "all sides of scientific evidence" and to evaluate "sudden appearance, stasis" in the fossil record, "the complexity of the cell," and "the DNA molecule for self-replicating life." The history as well as the pedagogical and scientific problems of these standards is described in detail by Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network, Ben Pierce of Southwestern University, and John Wise of Southern Methodist University in a 2015 report. A panel of educators and scientists charged with streamlining the science standards for biology recommended the removal of the standards on the grounds that they raised issues too difficult for teachers to present and students to understand. Karyn Ard, a teacher who served on the panel, told the board in November 2016, "These changes were purely based on the fact that our kids cannot master those [standards]," according to the Texas Tribune (November 16, 2016). The panel's recommendation was strongly upheld by teachers and scientists -- "many of them University of Texas graduate students in biology fields" -- testifying before the board on January 31, 2017, according to the Austin American-Stateman (January 31, 2017). At the board's February 1, 2017, meeting, however, the board voted 9-5 to restore language calling for students to "examine scientific explanations of abrupt appearance and stasis in the fossil record," despite the panel's recommendation. The board also voted to revise rather than remove the standard requiring students to evaluate the "DNA molecule for self-replicating life": the revision would require students to "evaluate scientific explanations for the origin of DNA." The board further voted to revise the panel's suggested "compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including their complexity" by substituting, for the last three words, "and evaluate scientific explanations for their complexity." The panel's recommendation for the removal of a standard requiring students to analyze "all sides of scientific evidence"-- the successor to the notorious "strengths and weaknesses" standard of the previous set of science standards -- was accepted. In a February 1, 2017, statement, Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller lamented, "Once again we see the board overruling and rewriting the work of classroom professionals and other experts who know better than anyone else how to teach our kids." The board's vote was preliminary. The board is scheduled to hold a second public hearing on the revised standards, during which criticism of the problematic standards is expected to continue, followed by a final vote, in April 2017. For the Texas Tribune's story on the board's vote, visit: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/01/state-board-ed-takes-preliminary-vote-evolution-st/ For the Texas Freedom Network's report on the problematic standards (PDF), visit: http://tfn.org/cms/assets/uploads/2015/11/TFNEF_Report_-_Science_TEKS_Analysis.pdf For the Texas Tribune's story on the panel's report to the board, visit: https://www.texastribune.org/2016/11/16/committee-argues-no-bias-striking-creationist-biol/ For the Austin American-Stateman's report on the testimony before the board, visit: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/how-evolution-taught-texas-high-school-classrooms-for-debate/lYoBWRpoeQk6VG6gXfDGgN/ For the Texas Freedom Network's statement on the vote, visit: http://tfn.org/tfn-president-calls-state-board-education-overruling-teachers/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: https://ncse.com/news/texas DARWIN DAY DECLARED IN DELAWARE Delaware's governor and lieutenant governor, John Carney and Bethany Hall-Long, declared February 12, 2017, Charles Darwin Day in the state of Delaware, urging "all citizens to join us in celebrating his tremendous contributions in the field of science." The declaration describes evolution as "the foundation of modern biology, an essential tool in understanding the development of life on earth," and recommends Darwin's birthday as "a time to reflect [on] and celebrate the importance of his scientific achievements." For the declaration (PDF), visit: http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/delaware_2017.pdf CONCERNS MOUNT ABOUT SOUTH DAKOTA'S ANTISCIENCE BILL "Parents and educators worry that legislation advancing in the South Dakota Legislature would open the floodgates for teachers to present nearly any topic as science," according to the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader (January 27, 2017), referring to South Dakota's Senate Bill 55, which passed the Senate on January 25, 2017. Deb Wolf, a high school science coach with the Sioux Falls School District, told the newspaper, "let's say I believe in eugenics ... [SB 55] says that I couldn't be prohibited, I couldn't be stopped from teaching that as long as I did it in an objective scientific manner, and it doesn't specify what that means." Ann Lewis, special projects director at the South Dakota Discovery Center in Pierre, pointed to a different problem with the bill: the phrase "strengths and weaknesses," she argued, is "just meant to undermine whatever it is you're talking about." She expanded on her point in a letter published in the Capital Journal (January 27, 2017). Jarod Larson, superintendent of the Brandon Valley School District, told the Argus-Leader that he was concerned about the bill's removing districts' ability to oversee teachers. "It appears as though this opens the door for whatever you want," Larson said. "Versus the framework and the standards that are provided for our teachers." Before SB 55 passed the Senate, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota issued a strong statement (January 23, 2017) opposing it, saying in part, "the best way to instill critical thinking skills in our students is by implementing and following the science curriculum, which is already geared toward this very aim and has been written and tested by qualified educational specialists." Meanwhile, the bill attracted national attention, with The Hill (January 27, 2017) taking note of it and similar bills in Indiana and Oklahoma, and tracing the development of antiscience bills in South Dakota from the 2014 measure that would have specifically allowed teachers to present "intelligent design" to the present bill, SB 55. And the American Institute of Biological Sciences, in a January 26, 2017, letter to leaders in the South Dakota House of Representatives, slammed SB 55 as "bad for science, science education, and the future economic health and well-being of South Dakota," predicting "needless controversy, or even litigation" if the bill is enacted. Similarly, the National Science Teachers Association alerted its local members about SB 55, writing, "South Dakota students need the kind of preparation that provides them with the tools and skills necessary to succeed in college and careers. Opening the door to teach non-science ideas in the science classroom will do them a disservice." Subsequently, in a January 28, 2017 letter to each member of the South Dakota House of Representatives, the National Association of Biology Teachers urged rejection of SB 55, warning that the bill would "contradict and diminish" the role of science and the accountability of teachers in South Dakota's science classrooms. And in a February 1, 2017, letter to leaders in the South Dakota House of Representatives, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers also urged rejection of SB 55, observing that the bill "threatens to make South Dakota's students unprepared for college coursework and for careers that depend upon solid understandings of science, mathematics, and technology." For information about South Dakota's Senate Bill 55 from the legislature, visit: http://www.sdlegislature.gov/Legislative_Session/Bills/Bill.aspx?File=SB55P.htm&Session=2017 For the story from the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, visit: http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/education/2017/01/27/science-bill-leaves-teachers-parents-worried/97082618/ For Ann Lewis's letter in the Capital Journal, visit: http://www.capjournal.com/opinions/letter/take-a-closer-look-at-sb/article_4b43dbba-e463-11e6-9443-6369b2026092.html For the ACLU of South Dakota's statement, visit: https://www.aclusd.org/en/news/south-dakotas-pseudo-science-bill-not-good-students For the article in The Hill, visit: http://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/316487-new-wave-of-anti-evolution-bills-hit-states For the letter from AIBS (PDF), the alert from NSTA, the NCAC blog post, the letter from NABT (PDF), and the letter from NAGT (PDF), visit: https://ncse.com/files/SD%20House%201.2017.pdf http://www.magnetmail.net/actions/email_web_version.cfm?recipient_id=835994581&message_id=13903659&user_id=NSTA&group_id=4008636&jobid=36328047 http://ncac.org/blog/south-dakota-bill-deemed-by-critics-to-threaten-education-in-evolution-and-climate-change https://ncse.com/files/SD%20Bill%2055%20NABT.pdf https://ncse.com/files/NAGT-SD-SB55-FINAL.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in South Dakota, visit: https://ncse.com/news/south-dakota DARWIN DAY APPROACHES It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: just over a week remains before Darwin Day 2017! Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education -- which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education already under way in state legislatures. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!) And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 10-12, 2017, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 321 congregations in forty-five states (and seven foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events. For the Darwin Day registry, visit: http://darwinday.org/events/ http://darwinday.org/events/community/add For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: http://www.evolutionweekend.org/ WHAT'S NEW AT NCSE'S BLOG? Have you been visiting NCSE's blog recently? If not, then you've missed: * Emily Schoerning reflecting on inclusivity in NCSE's Science Booster Club program: https://ncse.com/blog/2017/02/story-dora-0018447 For NCSE's blog, visit: http://ncse.com/blog Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland CA 94612-2922 510-601-7203 fax 510-788-7971 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Check out NCSE's blog: http://ncse.com/blog Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join