The Politicization of Public Education in Texas
Background of State Funding of Public Education,
Politicization of Texas Biology Curriculum Standards
Texas Education Agency Biology Review Panel
Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2011 June 14
Texas Governor Rick Perry's Rush to Defund Public Education
Many people don’t understand why public education is being deliberately torpedoed in Texas by its own Legislature and Governor. One might think that conservatives would support a traditional, long-existing, honorable, and valuable state system; after all, isn’t that the definition of conservatism—support of traditional values? What is more traditional and valuable in the United States than public education? But public education in Texas is heavily politicized by both the Texas Legislature and the Texas State Board of Education.
The Legislature has increasingly allocated fewer state funds to public schools over the last 15 years, but this year for the first time it deliberately under-funded schools by $4 billion. This deliberate under-funding could easily have been avoided by simply raising taxes on wealthy individuals and businesses in Texas or by tapping the $10 billion “Rainy-Day Fund,” created years ago with the primary purpose to provide money to finance public schools at appropriate levels in case of economic hardship. But both the Governor and Republicans in the Legislature refused to do this.
In 2006 a new business tax replaced part of very high state property taxes in a way that state financial experts predicted would not be sufficient to support Texas schools. They were correct: Texas public education quickly lost revenues. This structural deficit could be corrected now by simply reconfiguring the new business tax to bring in the necessary amount of money, but again the Republican-led Legislature deliberately refused to correct it.
Thus it is clear that the intention of the Republican majority of state legislators is to deliberately damage public education in Texas. The reason for this, however, is not well known: Public schools damaged by underfunding will be more likely to fail and thus create a situation—the sole situation—for which the Supreme Court legally permits private religious school voucher programs.
Many in the current crop of Republican politicians in Texas are radicals, not conservatives, and they have several reasons to defund public education. Perhaps the most popular reason is that under-funding will cause school districts to lay off teachers who have in the past financially supported and voted mostly for Democratic candidates, thus damaging the Democratic Party in Texas. A second is to damage the quality of public schools so more citizens will support private schools, the vast majority of which are religious. However, the least known but by far most important reason is that in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision for the first time allowed a public voucher program for private religious schools, but only in the circumstance that the local public school system is failing and thus private schools were the most likely alternative.
Goaded by Governor Rick Perry, radical Texas Republicans tried to institute vouchers in the past by legislative action but failed by extremely narrow votes in the Legislature. Anti-voucher proponents, some Republicans but mostly Democrats, damaged the legislation sufficiently with amendments to cause its supporters to retract the bill. Now, by underfunding public education, Republicans are trying to create the sole conditions under which public voucher programs are legally permitted: making the poorest school systems in Texas—mostly urban systems—fail. A perfectly-legal state voucher system in the future will then shift vast amounts of public tax money—far more than $4 billion—from public to private religious schools. That is their goal.
Driving Texas Public Education to the Bottom for Selfish Reasons
Some Texas citizens have a nebulous but gnawing feeling that, except for a few secular private schools, K-12 education in Texas isn’t very good. This feeling has a basis in reality. Without going into the details, Texas teacher pay, Texas per-student expenditure, Texas school quality, and Texas student achievement rank very low compared to most other states in the country, and very much lower than the teachers, schools, and students in most European and Asian countries. Those who are interested in this topic know the statistics or can easily find them on the Web.
There are, of course, a few states that have poorer statistics than Texas, but we are not talking here about competing for the bottom rung of the education ladder. Instead, the question is why does one of the wealthiest states in the nation (second only to California) have such low K-12 academic achievement? Most U.S. states, wealthier or not, make public education their highest priority. This is, however, not the case in Texas. Why? There are two reasons.
First, it appears that some Texas public officials and political leaders care little about providing a quality public education to Texas children. The enormous politicization of classroom curriculum standards and instructional materials in Texas has resulted in a culture of diminished expectations and achievement. Students are expected to attend school for a credential rather than for the knowledge of how to succeed in a highly-competitive global economy. Ironically, despite the evidence that Texas schools are failing their students, many parents develop a totally unwarranted self-satisfaction that Texas public schools are successfully preparing students for either higher education or for immediate high-paying and fulfilling jobs. They have been misled by state officials and need to be more realistic. Unwarranted self-satisfaction is probably the phrase that best describes Texas K-12 education. The results certainly show it.
Texas Republican policy-makers and public officials have a peculiar belief not shared by their counterparts in most other states. They believe that it doesn’t matter how much we spend on Texas public schools or whether their quality is good enough, because if Texas can just create more jobs than other states, the better-educated citizens of those states will move to Texas and take the jobs here. Texas can depend on other states to spend their tax dollars to educate and train high-value knowledge workers so we don’t have to. As long as our state’s economy creates high-value jobs, those workers will move to Texas and bring their expensive educations along with them.
This Texas belief—really the official Texas legislative and executive policy—absolves state government policy-makers from having to adequately fund the state’s public school system. The result has been year after year of decreasing state funding of public education, forcing local communities and school districts to raise their taxes to the highest levels to pay for a minimum education system.
This official Texas policy thumbs its nose at the social contract, at the American belief in fair play and the idea that we’re all in this together. Instead, the Texas view is that our state is competing against other states and if they aren’t slick enough to create jobs that attract other states’ educated citizens, then that’s their problem. In Texas, we create those jobs by underfunding public education, allowing Texas to have low taxes that attracts more companies. Texas has always been a low-tax, low-service state and Republicans intend to continue that philosophy with a vengeance.
It goes unrecognized, however, that the best and highest-paid knowledge jobs are created in states other than Texas, states that have good primary, secondary, and higher education systems supported by a reasonable tax base. A state that deliberately and selfishly underfunds its own public education system to keep its individual and business taxes artificially low, and unfairly seeks knowledge workers educated at other states’ expense, deserves to receive little or no education funding or stimulus funding from the federal government. Indeed, when Texas scored its first stimulus funding for education, it used the funds for general state expenses and kept state education funding at current levels, completely negating the purpose of the stimulus funding. This is really Texas-sized selfishness, but I’m sure the self-satisfaction gained by pulling a fast one on the feds was worth it.
But there is far worse to consider: the second reason that Texas Republicans despise the state’s public school system is because it provides free education to working class Texas citizens, most of whom are Latin-American and African-American minorities. Our Republican policy-makers believe that public education funding is wasted on minorities, so deliberate underfunding of public schools has become official state policy. This policy is fed by a barely-hidden racism that demeans Texas and is shameful to those Texans who possess a fair and multicultural attitude toward ethnic-minority Texans and who defend fair treatment by the state of all citizens. This policy also creates a host of problems since under-educated citizens often turn to crime to make an adequate living. One major result of underfunding and politicizing Texas public education is that Texas has the largest prison population in the United States, indeed, one of the highest in the world.
Politicization of Texas Public Education by the State Board of Education
The egregious school financial situation created by the Legislature is the most visible politicization of public education in Texas today, but it is not the only one. Some readers may know of my 31-year-long history of advocacy to protect the integrity and accuracy of science instruction in Texas public schools before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) and Texas Education Agency. As many readers will remember, in 2009 the SBOE on votes of 8-7 (but a final vote of 10-5, all five Democrats voting no) damaged the Texas science standards by inserting extreme, non-educational, radical sectarian agenda-driven standards into the Biology and Earth and Space Science Texas Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) against the advice of the scientists and science teachers who originally wrote these standards. I was on the committee that helped write the new science standards so I know what happened from first-hand experience.
The new politically-driven standards were added to have students question the effectiveness of biological evolution to account for the diversity and complexity of life on Earth, question the origin of life by natural processes, and question the patterns of evolution of ancient fossil organisms as explained by modern paleontologists. Censoring, manipulating, and editing these topics were the prime concerns of the seven radical religious right Republicans on the SBOE at that time, who wanted to force teachers to disparage biological evolution and confuse and mislead students. The five Democrats then on the State Board consistently voted against these unnecessary and unscientific changes. The Radical Seven were usually, but not invariably, pick up an eighth vote to pass their program, so not every malign, science-debilitating amendment was passed. But enough were to worry scientists and science educators and make life potentially miserable for publishers who had to produce instructional materials to meet the new standards. By the way, we don't speak or write about textbooks anymore because it appears that most to all future instructional materials will be digital in nature--capable of being read, practiced, and learned on digital laptop, notepad, and smartphone computers.
The members of the SBOE have changed but the rush to politicize science education continues. Governor Rick Perry was recently forced to appoint yet another SBOE chairman, and the one he chose, Barbara Cargill, is one of the most extreme sectarian proponents of the irresponsible misuse of official power to push Creationist-inspired changes into Texas public school science curricula. In an address to the Texas Eagle Forum a few days after her appointment, Barbara Cargill stated her intention of using her office to force mainstream science publishers to include material that falsely misrepresents the status of biological evolution in modern biology and misleads students about the accuracy and reliability of information about modern biological evolution. The changes she seeks would have the effect of promoting a belief in a supernatural Creation of life and all species, topics that are not part of modern science.
Next month, July 21-22, the elected members of the SBOE, eleven Republicans and four Democrats, will decide what instructional materials are adopted in Texas by majority vote of the Board's members. One of the biology instructional materials submitted explicitly promotes Intelligent Design Creationism. This supplement was not recommended by the TEA and Texas Commissioner of Education so it may be ignored, but the radical and sectarian non-scientists on the SBOE could adopt it anyway by majority vote. Is this any way to teach science in the 21st Century? I will cover this process and explain what is happening below.
Similarly, in 2010, the SBOE Republicans on votes of 10-5 damaged the Texas social studies curriculum by inserting over a hundred new standards into the American History, World History, and Government TEKS which dealt with many bizarre and obsessive items of concern to extreme radical religious right polemicists. For example, the commonly-used scholarly dating abbreviations BCE and CE (Before the Common Era and Common Era) were changed to the old-fashioned and now disused BC and AD (Before Christ and Anno Domini “Year of Our Lord”); the term “Enlightenment” was deleted and Thomas Jefferson was removed from student expectations under that topic; numerous right-wing individuals were added to lists of names that students were expected to know. A false history of American Exceptionalism and the United States as a Christian Nation were included. Mainstream historians all objected to these ignorant and dogmatic inclusions but to no avail. Right now publishers of social studies instructional materials are having to create new content that deals with all of the new, misguided standards.
The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS are the Texas Education Curriculum Standards
I am writing this on the first and second day of the Texas Education Agency’s review of the new biology supplemental instructional materials submitted under the new Biology TEKS adopted in 2009. Publishers were forced to respond to four new biology standards written by radical religious right State Board members and inserted into the standards by majority vote over the objections of university scientists, science teachers, and science curriculum experts who wrote the original standards. I am in Austin attempting to observe the process, but even this simple act, seemingly permissible under the Texas Open Meetings Act, is being thwarted by Texas Education Agency (TEA) authorities as mandated by the SBOE. A special place in the back of the meeting room is reserved for Observers. The “special place” I am allowed to sit is similar to the “special place” that protesters are allowed to occupy when they are allowed to publicly protest controversial politicians, often miles from the convention center or speaker’s appearance site, so their chants and signs can’t be heard or seen. Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network and I were the only two observers in the morning and I am the only one in the afternoon since Ryan left at noon. There may be none the rest of the week. Why? Because the Biology Review Panel are situated at tables in the front of the room 20-30 feet away from me and I can’t hear or see what they are doing. I am not allowed to move closer to their tables, a rule I am following although this completely prevents me from engaging in the valuable task I traveled to Austin to pursue.
Why do I want to observe the Biology Review Panel members? Here the story gets complicated. My main purpose is to document the politicization and corruption of science education in Texas public education, first by the State Board (already accomplished) and second by some biology panel members. One thing I did not expect was to be prevented from doing this by further politicization by the managers of the Instructional Materials and Education Technology Division of TEA. They have instituted new rules, approved by the SBOE, to keep observers away from panel members. I served on a standards-writing panel two years ago and we had observers in the room with us within earshot. Ryan Valentine of Texas Freedom Network, who sat with me during the first day, remembers the same the last time he observed in 2004. He believes the new policy may be a violation of the Texas Open Meetings law. I can see the biology panel members interacting from across the room, but I cannot hear what they are saying. Why are the rules different this year? Now science education—indeed, all public education!—has become so highly politicized and agenda-driven that not only are science standards corrupted, but even advocates who defend the reliability and integrity of science in Texas are subject to being marginalized. C'est la vie.
Here are the four new standards written by Republican State Board members that they forced into the Biology TEKS (I will not discuss the ones forced into Earth and Space Science since instructional materials for that curriculum were never funded and will not be adopted):
TEKS (3) 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) in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student;
TEKS (7)(B) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;
TEKS (7)(G) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell;
TEKS (9)(D) analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life;
These standards or TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the official term in Texas for education curriculum standards) were adopted into the Texas science curriculum by seven political radicals (specifically, right-wing reactionaries) who have Fundamentalist Christian religious beliefs and are Young Earth Creationists (YEC). These were members of the Texas SBOE in 2009, five of whom still serve today, but they were able to pick up one more and now constitute six members of the SBOE. To those uninformed about the subtleties of aggressive, organized Creationism in the United States, these four standards may not look bad; certainly they do not mandate a 6,000-year-old-Earth Biblical Creationism, Scientific Creationism, or even Intelligent Design Creationism. The wording, however, was deliberately formulated to be legally defensible in its goal to undermine science education by weakening instruction in biological evolution in subtle ways, not by explicitly mandating that Creationism me taught. Specifying Creationism and even evolution in a state education rule or statute is a sure give-away to a federal judge that the Establishment Clause is being violated, since history proves and courts have ruled that the only reason for such laws is to violate the separation of religion and government as protected by the U.S. Constitution. This legal restriction is well-known to organized Creationist provocateurs, such as staff members of the Discovery Institute who were present during the science standards meetings to "advise" the seven radical Board members who invariably voted as a bloc.
These four standards were proposed by Don McLeroy, Cynthia Dunbar, and Terri Leo, and supported by Barbara Cargill, David Bradley, Gail Lowe, Ken Mercer, and typically by at least one additional Republican member who was not a YEC. Not all the standard amendments as proposed by the radicals passed. They in fact attempted to have several others adopted but only the four listed above were successful. I have yet to write the complete history of this political attempt to censor science education in Texas.
Cynthia Dunbar is responsible for TEKS 3A which asks students, among other things, to critique scientific explanations by examining all sides of scientific evidence. She added by amendment the terms "critique" and "all fields of science" and the long phrase "including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." The original TEKS 3A as composed and adopted by the standards writing panel composed of scientists and science educators was this:
(3) 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;
I was responsible for the wording of TEKS 3A but it was debated and eventually adopted by a unanimous vote of the science standards-writing panel members. All I did was remove the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" from the old TEKS 3A and add "experimental and observational testing." In high school biology, students are taught accurate and reliable scientific explanations that have been accepted by modern biologists for many decades; they are not taught controversial topics for which there is more than one side of evidence. There is not enough time to do that, and controversial, cutting edge biological topics are reserved for graduate school. Evolution, in particular, has been accepted in biology for 140 years; there are not scientific “all sides” or even two sides about this topic. Yet the SBOE Creationists expect the new biology instructional materials to present objections to and “weaknesses” of evolution. This is anti-scientific Creationist nonsense, of course, and the mainstream publishers won’t do this but rather might present “all sides” of the evidence for biological explanations if they do in fact present a controversial topic as sometimes occurs historically. This won’t be for the topic of evolution unless Lamarck's evolutionary hypothesis is discussed as was long the case, but perhaps for some subsidiary topic, such as the evolution of human morality or the evolution of the human propensity for religious belief, which are currently controversial topics in modern biology and for which there is more than one side. I would actually be delighted if the mainstream publishers presented both sides of these latter topics if only to educate students that their own behaviors, moral beliefs, and religious beliefs are themselves subject to evolution (as well as to non-biological cultural and individual causes).
Another aspect of TEKS 3A is that it is a process standard, not a concept standard. This idea may not have been clear to Dunbar and the other radical Board members who wanted to force textbook publishers and biology teachers to discuss bogus weaknesses of evolution. TEKS 3A does not require that every "scientific explanation" "in all fields of science" be "critiqued" by "examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations." This is obviously an impossible task, both intellectually and physically. As a process knowledge and skill, students are expected to possess the ability or skill to potentially examine scientific explanations from this point of view, not actually do it for every one of thousands of scientific explanations. Since the SBOE Creationists could not legally explicitly specify the biological theory of evolution as the only one they wanted "critiqued" by examining "all sides of the evidence," they were forced to be ambiguous. Thus, I was not overly worried that the politicized revised standard would really harm science that much.
Don McLeroy was responsible for writing TEKS 7B. He foolishly believed that the sudden appearance of fossils in the stratigraphic record is the result of special creation and he and his radical Republican colleagues expected publishers to mention something about the difficulties of evolution to explain this phenomenon since evolution obviously necessitates gradual genetic change of species through time. This Creationist belief is nonsense, of course, for the sudden appearance of most fossils is the result of reasons well-known to paleontologists and biologists, including Charles Darwin in the middle of the nineteenth century, that explain the frequent absence of gradual or transitional evolutionary sequences. These are (1) the rare conditions necessary for fossilization, (2) the frequent gaps in the stratigraphic record caused by either non-deposition or erosion, (3) the incomplete fossil record due to lack or difficulty of collecting for geographic reasons, and (4) the extreme difficulty in finding complete gradual transitional forms between species due to the fact that geographic separation of peripherally-isolated subpopulations is responsible for most speciation so that the missing transitional forms actually existed somewhere else where preservation did not occur or where the fossils were not collected. This last reason was the basis for Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould's "punctuated equilibrium"--it was just Ernst Mayr's peripheral isolate theory of speciation plus the concept of stabilizing natural selection extended to the fossil record. George Gaylord Simpson had discussed this concept in his writings but not so explicitly as an extension of evolutionary theory. Thus, sudden appearance and subsequent stasis of new species in the fossil record is the evolutionary norm according to Eldredge and Gould, not the appearance of gradual transitions, and does not in any way suggest special creation. Don McLeroy was incapable of understanding this.
Despite these difficulties, a few species to species transitions have been documented and transitions between higher taxa are plentiful in the fossil record. Numerous transitions—such as from the amphibians to reptiles to mammals, reptiles to birds, land-dwelling mammals to whales, etc.—are well known, but these are typically transitional genera rather than species. Indeed, one of the best-known transitional sequences between both genera and species is within the hominins, the ancestors of humans. We now know about 27 species of hominins in several genera, all extinct except for our own species, Homo sapiens, that lived prior to us during the past 4 million years and some of them are earlier transitional forms on our own human lineage (more precisely, share common ancestors within our own hominin clade). These include Homo ergaster, Homo habilis, Australopithecus afarensis, and Ardipithecus ramidus. This well-documented fossil record of hominins exists due to intense and focused collecting because of the obvious importance of the subject; such focused fossil collecting is not the norm. Publishers can and should use the new TEKS 7B to discuss the hominin fossil record and other excellent transitional fossil records, as well as explain why most fossils appear suddenly as an artifact of both preservation and collecting.
The last two Creationist-inserted TEKS, 7G and 9D, were both written by retired industry scientist Ide Trotter and proposed by SBOE members Cynthia Dunbar and Terri Leo. Ide Trotter is an Intelligent Design Creationist who was asked by the Discovery Institute to serve as the spokesman and temporary leader of Texans for Better Science Education, the anti-evolution state organization composed of Young Earth Creationists (YEC) that advocates for Creationism and qualifying and weakening evolution in Texas Biology and Earth Science instructional materials. TBSE is an offshoot of the YEC Greater Houston Creationist Association, and the Discovery Institute, which was leading and organizing the State Board opposition to the scientists who were writing the science standards, did not want a YEC organization to be associated with them or with the issue in Texas (because YEC has been found to be illegal in public-school biology materials by the Supreme Court, so it applies throughout the country, including Texas; YEC biology materials for use in home schools and religious private schools used by Fundamentalist Christians are common). TBSE agreed to allow Ide Trotter to be their spokesman and he did a good job for them.
Ide is an organic chemist who knows quite a bit about biochemistry and the origin of life. He is a congenial person with whom I have visited several times. He completely accepts the concept of an ancient Earth and universe. He tells me that he believes that Discovery Institute leader Bill Dembski’s “complex specified information” (CSI) proposal is the key to Intelligent Design (ID) and will be the factor that ultimately undermines evolution. Dembski believes that CSI is the evidence that proves that intelligent design is responsible for the complexity of life: the complexity of the cell, the complexity of coded information in DNA, and the difficulty of explaining the origin of life itself from much less-complex organic molecules. He claims that CSI can be detected by looking for “specified complexity,” patterns in living organisms that are both specified and complex, as an “explanatory filter.” Specified complexity of Dembski and “irreducible complexity” of Michael Behe are the two main arguments for ID. There is only one problem: mainstream biologists say that CSI (and irreducible complexity) don’t exist—they are the faulty, illogical, non-empirical, and nonsensical creations of ID Creationists and are ignored by modern biologists. I completely agree with these conclusions, but that hasn’t stopped Creationists who happen to be public education officials from using the power of their political offices to insert new standards into Texas’s required curriculum to promote Dembski’s concept. Ide Trotter, Cynthia Dunbar, and Terri Leo were complicit in this politicization of science education.
The two Trotter-written TEKS just added the word “complexity” and the phrase “complex molecules having information,” but that is enough to get the concept of CSI into the biology standards. The requirement to address “complexity” was also added to a standard in the new Earth and Space Science course that I wrote—it asked students, for the first time in Texas, to learn about the scientific evidence for the natural origin of life on Earth—(I was on the standards writing panel for the ESS course and wrote the standards dealing with fossils, time, stratigraphy, evolution, and the origin of life). That ESS origin of life complexity rewording was also written by Ide Trotter and added to its standards by a successful Barbara Cargill amendment. I actually didn’t object to this addition since the fact of complexity of living organisms is a significant topic that honestly must be addressed when discussing the origin of life. I was actually afraid the Board was going to delete the whole origin of life standard and was happy when all it did was add a phrase to address complexity. I was advised by some of my ESS panel members to leave out the abiotic chemical origin of life standard to not tempt Board members to delete it, but I convinced them that we had the scientific obligation to leave it in and let the responsibility for deleting it fall on the politicians.
For a standard about cell structure and information in DNA in biology standards, however, the requirement to address complexity is a sure giveaway to the intentions of SBOE Creationists to force the publishers to discuss the topic in a way that damages evolution. Their desire is to have biology instructional materials claim in so many words that the complexity of chemical processes inside cells involving proteins, enzymes, and DNA is just too great for naturalistic biological evolution--employing random variation and non-random but mechanistic natural selection--to explain, and that some other process is responsible--implying, but not specifying, that the other process is ID Creationism. Creationists such as Trotter, Dunbar, Leo, McLeroy, Cargill, Lowe, Bradley, and Mercer and the staff members of the Discovery Institute sincerely believe this claim is true, although mainstream scientists such as the biology professors at the University of Texas at Austin will tell you that it is nonsense. The three major science materials publishers and other legitimate science publishers know this and would not willfully insert such nonsense into their biology materials, and in fact they ultimately did not in June 2011. Scientists have made great strides in the decades since the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 to explain how the complexity of cell processes and DNA came about by perfectly natural, mechanistic chemical processes. The origin of cell processes is as important as the explanation of how they work, and no individual working in legitimate science thinks they result by anything other than natural processes devoid of intelligent design.
The Texas Education Agency Biology Review Panel
I wrote a long essay in 2009 that explained how the major science instructional materials publishers could address the new evolution-demeaning TEKS in ways that were scientifically appropriate and professional. The Creationist written- and inserted-TEKS were necessarily so vague and ambiguous—phrased in ways that would escape legal scrutiny—that publishers did not have to indulge the pseudoscientific intentions of those Creationists, IDC or YEC, who wanted evolution disparaged, demeaned, qualified, watered-down, avoided, and misrepresented in the new high school biology instructional materials (as was so often the case in the past). Briefly, the three major publishers did what I suggested and did not insert anti-evolution material in spite of the well-known desires of the YECs on the SBOE. Now here’s the significant point: the politically-active Creationists expected this to happen and plan to modify and edit (i.e., censor in religiously-inspired, scientifically-damaging ways) the new biology materials during the 2011 July 21-22 SBOE meeting at which the new biology materials will be formally adopted. As we know, members of the SBOE can change the wording of the science materials by majority vote.
The spectacle of non-scientists with political power and a religious-inspired agenda deliberately revising science standards written by scientists during a public meeting to fulfill that religious agenda is surely a sight to behold. This is a spectacle that defines Texas in the minds of people in the rest of the United States and throughout the world, not a very flattering picture. Eight Creationists on the State Board can force publishers to include the pseudoscientific material under threat of rejection. The SBOE has the authority to reject any scientific material from being adopted (this is millions of dollars worth of contracts) if they believe that it does not fully meet the TEKS that they wrote two years before. The rejection would require a majority vote, something the YECs on the SBOE could not achieve in 2003 when the last evolution-containing biology textbooks were adopted. The vote that year was 11-4 against forcing anti-science revisions; since that time three radical religious YECs replaced three mainstream conservative Republicans and the seven YECs vote as a bloc in 2009, so all they need is to convince one other Republican to vote their way. There was an election in late 2010 so now there are six YECs on the SBOE. The question on everyone's mind is whether they will now be able to pick up two more votes for their malign agenda.
This is bad enough, but why am I trying to observe and monitor the biology instructional materials review and why am I concerned that I and the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) are being prevented from doing this by TEA authorities? For the simple reason that if the review panel members find that some biology materials do not comply with the new TEKS they will report this fact to the SBOE, giving the Creationist members the justification they need to force the publishers to make changed. The biology review panel members themselves can force the publishers to make changes if, during their review, they find that the submitted materials are insufficient in some ways, such as containing factual errors or not complying with the TEKS. The publishers can respond to such identified errors and contest them. Over the years, the activist Creationist members on the State Board have learned how the process works, and this year they attempted to appoint as many fellow Creationist biology review panel members as they could. I (and TFN) expected these Creationist biology review panel members to argue, confront, and intimidate the other panel members, most of whom are ordinary high school biology teachers who generally have no concept of the hard political reality of organized, aggressive Creationism in Texas. I was concerned about the potential damage that could result at this middle stage of biology materials adoption and wanted to observe and monitor it. But I have been prevented from doing so.
State Board YEC members Cargill, Leo, Bradley, Lowe, Mercer nominated several biology panel members whom I know or suspect to be Creationists. These include Ide Trotter (who obviously wants to protect the purpose of the new biology TEKS whose phrasing he wrote), David Shormann, and Richard White. I have already described Ide Trotter’s Creationist beliefs and qualifications. David Shormann is an aggressive and dogmatic YEC whose source of income is writing YEC science (i.e., pseudoscience) materials for Fundamentalist Christian home schooling and private religious schools. He has told me he teaches “both sides” of the evolution-creation controversy in science although this is not a legitimate scientific controversy. I have seen his printed school materials and his presentation of evolution is inadequate, incompetent, and misrepresentative. He does have a PhD in limnology, the study of the life and environment of freshwater lakes, but he is unqualified by temperament and scientific attitude to properly review professional biology materials. Richard White is a Creationist who has testified before the SBOE in favor of including the alleged “weaknesses” of evolution in biology textbooks. Some others appointed by the SBOE Creationist members I suspect to be Creationists in some cases, since they list their qualifications as an attorney, an environmental manager at a refinery, and an information technology worker, not as biology or science teachers. But I will not list their names because I am not 100% sure of their orientation.
On the other hand, some outstanding defenders of evolution were also nominated by several good SBOE members. These include Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology and science education at Southern Methodist University; Kim Bilica, an associate professor of environmental science and science education at UT San Antonio; and Kevin Fisher, a science supervisor at a large Fort Worth area ISD and a past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas. All three have been active in opposing organized Creationism in Texas. In addition, several biology teachers were nominated who I have either been told or suspect are good supporters of science, so there is a mix of scientists and pseudoscientists on the biology review panel. I wanted to observe all of these individuals to see if biology was being qualified or damaged in any way by their assigned activities. But I am not able to do this for reasons that I believe are not in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings law. Fortunately, their final products, with their intermediate reports about factual errors and compliance with the TEKS, will be available to me but only by Texas Public Information Act request, so ultimately I will be able to judge. And of course the meetings of the SBOE are open and subject to scrutiny by the public and by advocates of the accuracy and integrity of science such as myself.
I was especially interested in how the publishers biology instructional materials were divided up among the five biology review tables and how the individual biology reviewers were selected for each table. Needless to say, I totally ignored all the other science tables and reviewers--there would be no manipulation or censorship of chemistry, physics, and others. Were known Creationists selected for specific tables and were they given specific publishers materials? Fortunately, I found the TEA administrators very cooperative about helping me with these questions. I learned and confirmed to my satisfaction (as did TFN's Ryan Valentine) that the nominated reviewers were assigned to tables to provide a mix of experience at the forthcoming task; Creationists were not assigned to specific tables. Next, publishers were assigned randomly to the five different tables, so there was no attempt by TEA authorities to game the process as some of the SBOE members did. I was very appreciative and relieved by this news. This meant that individual Creationists were not concentrated at some tables with important publishers with the power to contrive a favorable or unfavorable evaluation of specific submissions. I did discover that any individual reviewer had the right to identify any error and report it, forcing the publisher to respond, but I don't consider this to be a major problem, since a single reviewer should not be given too much weight.
This adoption review is the first occasion in which all the submitted materials are in digital form. Also, one publisher, International Databases LLC, is a one-man operation that submitted many long and colorfully-illustrated PowerPoint files that explicitly present Intelligent Design as a scientific option (but doesn't meet many of the other TEA requirements, so I see problems ahead). I especially wanted to see how the biology panel members evaluated this submission, since obviously the Creationist members would be in favor of it while the pro-science members would oppose it. I met the man behind ID LLC, Stephen Sample, and found him to be a rational, educated, and experienced science educator who just happens to be an ID Creationist. We talked for several long hours and had lunch together and got to know each other well (most Creationists I meet professionally are friendly and civil and Stephen was no exception). I will try to describe his materials in more detail in a future review. I will also explain in more detail how the three major mainstream science publishers handled the controversial TEKS since this is of obvious historical interest. I plan to attend the future SBOE meeting that reviews and adopts the new science materials and will live blog that meeting.
As bad as the science instructional materials adoption process is, the social studies process is much worse. Social studies suffered much more than science did at the hands of the history ill-informed, ideologically-driven radical right members of the SBOE. And, of course, all of this pales in comparison to the actions of the similarly ideologically-driven Republican members of the Texas Legislature and Governor Rick Perry, as described in the first paragraphs of this report. Texas citizens need to be aware of how dangerously corrupt and mendacious the political process is in Texas and of how it will seriously damage their lives and the future lives of their children. Change is possible but only if everyone organizes and votes for Democratic candidates, two things that Republicans are trying very hard to prevent.
Texas Citizens for Science Last updated: 2001 August 24