News Reports and Editorials About the State Board of Education Meetings, 2009 March 25-27

Compiled by Texas Citizens for Science
2009 March 31

 

http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2965

The Curious Faith of Don McLeroy

What inspires the man at the center of the Texas creationism controversy?


Saul Elbein
Texas Observer
February 20, 2009

The man at the center of the fight over science education in Texas is a 63-year-old dentist from Bryan, an ardent religious conservative with little educational or scientific training. But Don McLeroy's story, and his thinking, are more complicated, and more telling, than those bare facts suggest.

McLeroy, as you may be aware, is chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. He is an avowed creationist of the "young Earth" variety, meaning he believes that God created the Earth some 6,000 years ago, in accordance with the biblical account in Genesis. But McLeroy is not a stereotypical true believer. He reads widely on theology and evolutionary biology. He is willing, even eager, to have his views challenged. His favorite evolutionary biologist is fundamentalist atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion. He listens to podcasts released by the Center for Inquiry—a nonprofit devoted to "Science, Reason, Free Inquiry, Secularism, and Planetary Ethics"—while mowing his lawn. ("You should listen to them," he says. "You'd love them.")

Now he's a key player in the brouhaha over a proposed overhaul of the state curriculum, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. At issue is a line about students being required to understand the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution." With the debate attracting advocacy groups from all over the country, from the creationist Discovery Institute to the evolution-defending National Center for Science Education, Texas is the current battleground in the long-running national fight over creationism in the schools.

The stakes are high. In textbook terms, as Texas goes the nation follows. Texas is a big state with a big population—along with California and New York, the state drives the national textbook market. The Texas board has the power to keep textbooks that don't meet its standards off its "approved textbooks" list—meaning that school districts would have to buy them out of their own pockets rather than getting them from the state. Being left off the list would be devastating to the offending textbook companies' market shares. So if textbook publishers have to insert evolution's "weaknesses" into their books to sell to the Texas market, they will, and those changes will be reflected across the United States.

As board chairman, McLeroy is in a unique position to influence the direction of science teaching across the country. Aside from soundbites from contentious board meetings, relatively little has been written about him. So who is this man, and what does he want?

McLeroy didn't grow up a creationist, or even particularly religious. His family in Dallas belonged to a mainline Methodist church, but they didn't attend services often. "If I believed in anything," he says, "I believed in science."

He was "religiously uninvolved" at Texas A&M, where he studied electrical engineering. From there, he went into the Army, served a couple of years in Germany, then spent time bumming around the country, unsure of what to do with himself. In Washington, D.C., as a "young idealist," he tried to work for George McGovern's doomed presidential campaign, but, he says, it wasn't accepting any more volunteers.

So he came back to Texas and enrolled in a summer teaching course at UT-Austin. He had a vague idea that he would certified and teach high school. The class, a method course on how to teach math, was "horrible," he says—far too easy, concerned with minutiae. Leaning back in his chair, he shakes his balding head at the memory. "I said, Lord, if this is what teachers are learning, what's going to happen to our children?"

So McLeroy scrapped his teaching plans and went to dental school at UT's medical branch in Houston. There he met Nan Fleming, a medical illustrator who worked in the same department where he held a summer job. He asked her out, but she turned him down.

"She would only date me if I was a Christian," he says. "And I wasn't one. But I guess she liked me, because she said I could go with her to church and Bible study."

It's not clear why McLeroy, who was "no Christian" and slightly leery of "Jesus freaks" to boot, accepted that offer. Maybe it was the challenge. When I ask why he bothered dating a girl who would only let him take her to church, all he can come up with is that he'd had some positive experiences with Christians in high school and college—he'd found they were "good people, and I was curious what they were about."

McLeroy started studying with Flemings' Bible group. He was skeptical at first. He kept a notebook in his shirt pocket with dozens of reasons for not "accepting Christ." He told himself that when he had resolved them all, he would convert. Finally he did. At first Fleming didn't believe him—she thought he was doing it for her, that he wasn't really sincere. Gradually he won her over, and they became engaged.

"I was a Christian well before I was a creationist," he says. "People say you have to be a creationist to be a Christian, but my life is proof of the opposite."

This is a nice point, but it's also true that McLeroy sees a certain lack of consistency in religious people who advocate evolution. One of his favorite tenets of Christianity, the one that underlies all his policy ideas, is the principle that man is made in the image of God. Take evolution to its logical conclusion, he says, and you destroy that idea.

"I mean, if evolution is development of life through unguided natural processes," he asks, "how can we be made in the image of God? How can humans be worth anything?"

That might be a straw-man argument, but it would be a mistake to think that McLeroy doesn't believe it. He does. His mind works in an orderly, black-and-white fashion, moving from point A to B to C. He has little respect for scientists like Ken Miller, an orthodox Catholic and popular writer on evolutionary biology who argues that there's no controversy between evolution and religion. They, McLeroy believes, are inconsistent, and he values consistency above all else.

"I would never say that Miller's not a real Christian," he says. "I don't think you have to be one to be the other. But I don't think he's very consistent.

"That's why I like Dawkins so much. He at least takes evolution to where it has to lead—atheism."

Soon after they were engaged, Nan handed him some books explaining geological phenomena from a creationist viewpoint. McLeroy was initially skeptical—"I thought, goodness, I'm engaged to a crazy woman"—but he read them, and then he started going with her to seminars on creationism. They presented a world different from any he had thought possible, one that—despite its foreignness—felt right. He challenged creationist experts with his doubts about the supposed young age of the Earth—what about the dinosaurs? what about radiometric dating?—but slowly, calmly, he says, they answered his objections.

Fleming and McLeroy were married in 1976, and McLeroy started his dental practice in Bryan. He never forgot his desire to see a better educational system. As he read and learned about creationism, he became convinced that evolution was wrong—not just for biblical reasons, but for intellectual ones. He saw it as an unquestionable orthodoxy, crushing independent thought.

The story McLeroy tells about why he eventually ran for the state education board has the polished quality of something he tells a lot, a sort of personal origin myth. It's worth recounting, because it shows how McLeroy's faith informs his policy decisions in surprising ways.

As he tells it, he was working one morning at his practice. A black woman—a single mother—brought in her young daughter. "The girl was 8 years old," McLeroy recalls, "and just smart as anything. She came in, I cleaned her teeth—they were in bad shape—and they left, and I never saw her again."

He pauses. "But after they left, I thought for a long time. I thought, Lord, that little girl is a child of God. She deserves a good life. Well, what's to guarantee that she's going to get as good of an education as my sons [who attended Bryan High] got? Who's going to make sure she has the opportunities to do something with her life?"

McLeroy felt the calling, so in 1998, having already served as a trustee for the Bryan Independent School District, he ran for the state board on a platform of textbook reform and "closing the achievement gap" between rich and poor. In 2006, after McLeroy won his third term (against Democrat Maggie Charleton, whom the teachers' union had endorsed), Gov. Rick Perry picked him to be chairman of the state board. (On Feb. 6, Perry reappointed McLeroy as chairman for two more years; he stands for re-election in 2010.)

To understand how an obscure line in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills became a national issue, you have to go back to 1981, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that creationism is a religious philosophy that has no place in the classroom. Subsequently, as a sop to the creationists, the school board voted to leave a line in the TEKS stating that students would be required to evaluate the "strengths and weaknesses of evolution."

During the last 20 years, the fight over creationism in schools has shifted to a battle over that one line. Liberals and most science educators want it out. The creationists—McLeroy among them—want to add specific weaknesses they feel the TEKS should address. They defend their agenda with the reasonable-sounding argument that, as McLeroy puts it, science is all about evaluating the "strengths and weaknesses of different theories."

"How could you not evaluate the weaknesses?" McLeroy asks. "Don't we want our kids to learn to think for themselves?"

Of course. But the scientific consensus says that's dodging the issue—that the argument isn't about ensuring a reasoned discussion of evolution. The real aim, in the words of David Hillis, a UT biologist and prominent critic of McLeroy, is to shoehorn in "bogus weaknesses."

"There are a couple they like to play with," he says. "One is the missing link argument—they say there aren't enough ‘transitional forms' between the fossils we have."

McLeroy, as it happened, said exactly that to me a couple of days before I spoke with Hillis. "Come on," McLeroy says. "They want us to believe that there's a consistent fossil record, but all they have are a bunch of different species that they say are related. Until they can show us missing links connecting those species, I don't think we can accept what they say about fossil evidence."

Hillis says, "The thing is, it's a ridiculous argument, because every additional fossil you find means you need two new ‘transitional forms' to connect it to what we already have—one before and one after. By definition, you can never have enough."

On Jan. 22, a measure to keep the "strengths and weaknesses" line narrowly failed by an 8-7 vote. This was hailed by many Texas newspapers as a victory for science education in Texas, but less noticed was McLeroy's success in slipping a line into the TEKS mandating that students "describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry."

Regardless, the board will have another chance to vote on the "strengths and weaknesses" measure in March. There's no guarantee it won't pass then.

McLeroy insists he doesn't have any desire to have creationism taught in classrooms. "It's a religious philosophy," he says. "It doesn't belong in schools. Same with intelligent design. Evolution is the scientific consensus, so we'll teach that."

But McLeroy believes that at some point, perhaps in 10 years, perhaps in 50, a new scientific revolution will reveal that "the creationists' crazy ideas" are actually right—just as quantum mechanics and relativity overturned the tidy world of classical physics. McLeroy professes a willingness to keep teaching the scientific consensus until the day comes when it jibes with his beliefs. Still, he supports "teaching the controversy" of evolution, though that's a controversy nearly all scientists say is resolved. McLeroy insists that we're lying to our kids when we say that evolution is "proven beyond reasonable doubt"—and that inflexible certitude, not intelligent design, is turning them off science.

This is a line of argument that scientists find frustrating. "Well, if he feels there's such a controversy," says Eugenie Scott, executive director at the National Center for Science Education, "then he should address it at the university level. That's where new science is made. To expect high school students to evaluate ‘controversies' in cutting-edge evolutionary biology before they have a solid grounding in science is ridiculous.

"We don't do that with any other science. Would you teach kids about the controversies in string theory before they learned basic physics?"

This line of thought reduces McLeroy to near-speechlessness. "But ..." he sputters when I call him for comment on Scott's point, "It's not ... it's not true. There are real problems with it. How can we teach our kids something that's not true?"

What McLeroy doesn't seem to understand is that science education is all about teaching kids things that, strictly speaking, aren't true. When I learned about relativity and quantum mechanics in college, I learned that the classical chemistry and Newtonian physics I had been taught in high school were, at best, approximations. That they really didn't do that great a job of describing the way the universe works. That, in a sense, they were lies.

McLeroy is convinced that teaching evolution leads to atheism. There's not a lot of room for negotiation in that position.

In this sense, says Michael Zimmermann, McLeroy's thinking illustrates an important point about the culture war over evolution and creationism. An evolutionary biologist and committed atheist, Zimmermann is the father of The Clergy Letter Project, a nationwide petition signed by over 11,000 Jewish and Christian clergy who believe that evolution is no contradiction to their faith.

"It's not about science and religion," Zimmermann says. "That's a popular misconception. Instead, it's about one strand of Christianity versus another. It's the liberal wing, who believes there's nothing wrong with theistic evolution, versus the fundamentalists, who can't accept it.

"This is a case of one fringe group of Christians trying to paint themselves as the voice of all Christians," he says of creationists. "And in that, they've been enormously successful."

Zimmermann believes that Richard Dawkins, the atheist biologist, has been "the single most dangerous man to the cause of science literacy. When he says that evolution has to lead to atheism, he drives reasonable people into the arms of fundamentalists like McLeroy. Most scientists would tell you that's a false choice—that's actually the mainstream Christian position—but generally people don't know that."

While Zimmermann may not believe in God, he says, "I do know that if we're going to advance the cause of science literacy in this country, we can't force people to choose between faith and science. Because they aren't going to choose us."

McLeroy agrees that the debate is, at root, a religious issue. "I know we're the minority, both religiously and scientifically," he says. "But I have faith that we'll prevail."

How can he be so confident, given his lack of training in science, theology, or education?

For the first time in our interview, McLeroy sounds taken aback.

"That's a good question," he says.

He's quiet for a long time.

"Because the truth is on our side," he finally says. "We may not be trained, but I have faith that we're right."

Saul Elbein, a former Observer intern, is a freelance writer in Austin.

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http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/03/08/0308mcleroy.html

Education board leader set to challenge evolution

McLeroy is point man in fight over Texas' science curriculum.


By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, March 08, 2009

COLLEGE STATION — Some go to church to find answers. Bryan dentist Don McLeroy, chairman of the State Board of Education and point man in the fight over Texas' science curriculum, goes to teach.

"Oh, this is cool," he says, launching into a Sunday school lesson that ranges from the importance of sharing the gospel to the existence of God.

"Everything that had a beginning we can say had a cause," he tells his class of fourth-graders at Grace Bible Church. "And now science definitely says that the universe had a beginning. Therefore, the universe had to have a cause. And that cause is God."

But this is church, not science class. And McLeroy, an avowed creationist who is convinced that evolution taught uncritically undermines faith, knows that it will take a different kind of argument to win the debate about what should be taught in science classes in Texas public schools.

The current curriculum requires students to study the "stengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories in general. In January, a majority of the state board voted to move away from that language. McLeroy is among board members who want the standards to require a more critical approach to the teaching of evolution. It's a theory that McLeroy, 62, believes lacks the empirical data required to be taught without discussion of its particular insufficiencies.

Evolutionary biologists study fossils to trace the origins of species. In addition to asking teachers to engage Texas students in a discussion of how gaps in the fossil record might undermine the notion of common ancestry, McLeroy says he will ask board members to adopt a curriculum standard that would ask students to explain how the complexity of cells does or does not support the idea of natural selection, an explanation of how organisms evolve.

Whatever the board decides will have a large impact across the country given Texas' ability, because of its size, to influence what is printed in textbooks. The board is expected to make a final decision on the science curriculum March 27.

McLeroy's critics, who include many Texas scientists, accuse him of trying to undermine a multitude of scientific evidence that supports evolution and replace it with a discussion of the supernatural in public schools.

University of Texas professor David Hillis helped form a group called the 21st Century Science Coalition to combat the effort to include the weaknesses of evolution in the public school curriculum.

"If Chairman McLeroy is successful in adding his amendments, it will be a huge embarrassment to Texas, a setback for science education and a terrible precedent for the state boards overriding academic experts in order to further their personal religious or political agendas. The victims will be the schoolchildren of Texas, who represent the future of our state."

More than 600 Texas science faculty members have signed a petition supporting the group'seffort.

McLeroy — an avid reader of philosophers and theologians, including Christian theologian Norman Geisler and Dutch reformist Abraham Kuyper — said that in his Sunday school lessons, he seeks to give his students the tools they need to form their own arguments. In Texas public school classrooms, McLeroy says, he doesn't want religion taught. He just wants to let science be science. "If you want to tell (students) there are not weaknesses to evolution and it's as sure as the Earth going around the sun, it's not," he said. "You've got to be honest. You ask why I'm so passionate about this? I don't want America to lose its scientific soul. I feel I am the defender of science."

The role, as ironic as it may seem to some, is one that McLeroy takes seriously.

Growing up, McLeroy and his family — which included his mother, engineer father and twin brother — attended a Methodist church in Dallas every Sunday, but he wasn't overly involved.

McLeroy said that it wasn't until he met his future wife, Nan, that he decided to rethink his faith. She said she would date him only if he were a Christian.

At the time, McLeroy was a 29-year-old dental student in Houston. His response was to first write up a list of reasons that he could not accept Christ. Some things he read in the Bible didn't make sense with what he was learning in dental school, he said. And he wondered why God would allow innocent people to die.

One by one, he said, his questions were answered by pastors and in Bible studies. The conversion took four months. Over the next year, he began taking seminars on creationism and biblical principles. He is now a young earth creationist, meaning that he believes God created Earth between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The tenet in Christianity that says people were created in the image of God became one of the principles that McLeroy held most dear, he said.

"When I became a Christian, it was whole-hearted," he said. "I was totally convinced the biblical principles were right, and I was totally convinced that it could be accurate scientifically."

McLeroy married Nan in 1976. They have two grown sons who attended public schools in Bryan. He said the arrival of his first son got him thinking politically.

Don't all children, being that they are created in the image of God, deserve a first-rate education, McLeroy asked. The question propelled him to run first for the local school board and later for the State Board of Education. (McLeroy said he first ran for the state board with the help of San Antonio businessman JamesLeininger, who supports vouchers that allow students to use public money to go to private schools, but has not depended on major donors since then.)

That same idea — that children are created in the image of God — has caused him to seek out weaknesses in evolution. Theologically, McLeroy sees a lack of consistency in the ideas of people like Kenneth Miller, a Catholic author and biology professor at Brown University who says evolution is not inherently atheistic.

"We live in a universe bursting with creative possibilities for life," Miller said, explaining his theory. "A fair question is why is that so. And one perfectly reasonable answer is that the universe itself is the product of the work of a creator who wished it to be so."

Sid Hall, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin, which recently celebrated the 200th anniversary of naturalist Charles Darwin's birth with an "evolution Sunday" event, said he finds this kind of mixing of science and religion disturbing. Hall said that it is disingenuous to attack the fossil record and ignore carbon dating and dangerous to adhere to only the most literal interpretations of the Bible.

"I would never want to discount those works, but to take (the passage that humans were made in the image of God) to mean something about how the universe is created is a stretch to me," Hall said. "That's code to me for 'I'm going to take my particular myth of creationism and make it part of the science curriculum.' That's scary to me."

While recovering from prostate cancer last year, McLeroy said, he studied what Miller and others have written on the topic. His research led him to what he believes are scientific weaknesses that he wants to see included in the state's curriculum standards.

"If you want children to become good scientists, to become excited about that, you've got to be honest with them. And to be honest with them, you've got to show them the data," he said.

McLeroy, who was elected with about 59 percent of the vote in 2006, said he has numerous letters from constituents encouraging his efforts.

These days, he carries with him the books he has read on the topic, many of which are well-marked in the margins, and a large binder that is adorned on the front with a picture of Albert Einstein.

The binder contains hundreds of articles attacking McLeroy that are organized by tabbed topics such as "name-calling," "logical fallacies," "non-sequiturs" and "red herrings."

It also holds numerous passages from books — such as Miller's and others on evolutionary theory — and articles that he plans to use as ammunition in the fight this month over what should be in the state's science standards.

One page in particular, titled "The Empirical Demonstration of Science," represents his arguments with two illustrations. One is of a cell, and one is of Miller's depiction of the fossil record.

McLeroy wrote in pencil: "What do we see?" "Sudden appearance" of species. "Amazing Complexity."

Asked about what the diagram of the fossil record was meant to express, Miller said, "That diagram shows evolution. If he thinks it says evolution does not occur, he is dead wrong. It's really quite the opposite."

Cindy McMichen has worked toe-to-toe with McLeroy for the past 20 years. McMichen, his chair-side assistant at his dental practice, said McLeroy likes to bounce ideas off his patients, so she has heard many of the arguments on education over the years. His organization of the information that he has prepared for the fight over evolution mirrors the way he runs the office, she said.

"We have everything ready to go and do everything systematically and quickly," McMichen said. "I've never been around anyone that researches things the way he does. And he loves to hear other people's opinions.

Daniel Romo, a Texas A&M University chemistry professor whose children have attended McLeroy's Sunday school class, said McLeroy is not only a great listener, but also a great educator. "He really gets students to start asking questions," Romo said. "And to me, that's one of our greatest challenges: getting people to ask questions and not just taking things at face value."

State board member David Bradley said McLeroy "loves everybody, even his political enemies."

"There are certainly people who disagree with him, but he's well-respected," said Bradley, R-Beaumont.

In January, the board voted 8-7 to reject a requirement that students be taught the weaknesses of evolution. However, McLeroy was able to get some amendments passed.

"He waited until all 14 members spoke and then handed the gavel off ... and said, 'Look, I've got an opinion.' He was really careful to try and shepherd the process without bias, and I think that's a real strength," said Bradley, who voted with McLeroy.

McLeroy's amendments included adding a requirement that students analyze and evaluate the insufficiencies of the theory of common ancestry to explain gaps in the fossil record.

He has succeeded in rewriting the state's definition of science as it pertains to teaching to require "testable explanations" of nature. McLeroy said the change should allow the questioning of all scientific explanations and opens the door to the possibility that the universe was created by God. But he wants more.

McLeroy says he intends to pitch another idea that he says should be taught in public schools: the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells.

Hillis said the language that McLeroy has proposed to add to the standards does not make sense.

"The language of science needs to be precise; McLeroy's amendments are not even intelligible. I wonder if perhaps he wants the standards to be confusing so that he can open the door to attacking mainstream biology textbooks and arguing for the addition of creationist and other religious literature into the science classroom," Hillis said.

Miller said, "The attitude (that evolution has weaknesses) does Texas a disservice on two levels. The first thing is it implies a false sense of uncertainty on evolution ... and the reality is exactly the opposite. Evolution is very solid and increasingly accepted.

"The second point is even more dangerous," Miller said. "It implies a false sense of certainty about everything else in biology. ... I think it presents a really distorted view of the biological sciences to tell students that 'we're pretty sure of everything else in biology, but evolutionary theory, kids, is a little shaky.' "

McLeroy said he is ready to debate those points.

"What I see is they're rejecting the data for ideological reasons; they're the ideologues in this debate, not us," he said.

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/Theory_of_evolution_faces_new_debate_another_vote.html

Theory of evolution faces new debate

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/23/2009

AUSTIN -- The fight over how evolution is taught in Texas public schools is heading for a showdown this week.

Whether school children learn traditional teachings about evolution or what many scientists describe as a watered-down version hinges on a final vote of the State Board of Education that has both sides girding for battle.

Even the Texas Republican Party has entered the fray, with a resolution urging the board to overturn a preliminary decision in January to remove a provision requiring teachers to present both the "weaknesses and strengths" of evolutionary theory, or the origins of life.

Scientists generally oppose that standard, arguing there is no weakness in basic evolutionary theory taught at the high school level.

"The language by the anti-evolutionists about doubt or weaknesses or controversy involving evolution is just rhetoric. Doubts or weaknesses don't exist among scientists," said Texas Citizens for Science President Steven Schafersman.

He and others want the board to reverse two amendments tentatively approved in January casting doubt on "common descent" -- and fossil records. The common descent theory goes back to Charles Darwin's principles of evolution and holds that all organisms come from a common ancestor.

"Those two amendments put a stain on the scientific quality of the science standards written by the science experts," Schafersman said.

Scores of people are expected to sign up for the public hearing Wednesday in Austin. The 15-member board is expected to take a final vote Friday -- determining science curriculum standards starting with the 2010-11 school year and lasting for a decade.

The board's seven social conservatives want to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" standard involving evolution. And they're pushing the amendment that would instruct students to evaluate fossil types. Some scientists contend that gaps in fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent.

The board's five Democrats favor removing the "strengths and weaknesses" provision -- leaving Republicans Bob Craig of Lubbock, Geraldine Miller of Dallas and Patricia Hardy of Fort Worth as the swing votes. All three voted with the science experts in January to remove the "strengths and weaknesses" standard.

"This debate will impact whether students are taught to think critically and scientifically when you learn about evolution. It's important for students to learn how to think like scientists and not be forced to treat these controversial topics like a dogma," said Casey Luskin, a lawyer and policy analyst for the Discovery Institute. The Seattle-based group challenges Darwin's theory of evolution and favors teaching students about its problems and criticisms.

A number of peer-reviewed research papers discuss scientific problems with Darwinian evolution, Luskin said.

"If scientists are allowed to discuss these issues, then students should be allowed to hear about them," he said.

Groups from both sides are flooding the State Board of Education with petitions.

The board's action will influence new science textbooks not only for Texas but for much of the country.

"Texas should worry because the national media has already paid attention to this in Texas. Everyone knows this is the place where the big test for intelligent design/creationism is taking place," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes what it calls "a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right."

Texas could be mocked, she said, if the state mishandles evolution and science education. That's what happened in Kansas four years ago, Miller said, when conservative Christians on the State Board of Education held a trial on Darwin's theory of evolution and the origins of life. The board approved new science standards allowing the teaching of intelligent design, which posits that a supernatural creator is required to explain life's complexity.

However, most of the board members were defeated the next year and a new board overturned the science standards involving intelligent design.

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/Texas_case_threatens_education_and_competitiveness_nationally.html

Texas case threatens education and competitiveness nationally

By Peter Agre and Alan I. Leshner
Special to the Express-News
Web Posted: 03/23/2009

The Texas economy, second within the United States only to California based on gross state product, plays a major role in driving financial trends nationwide. Similarly, decisions about K-12 science education in Texas -- a huge market for textbooks -- disproportionately affect the quality of science resources available to students in other states. Publishers can't afford to reprint textbooks on a state-by-state basis.

Parents everywhere should thus be concerned to learn that some members of the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to undermine the teaching of evolution. The 15-member board, including seven proponents of weakening science education standards and at least one possible swing voter, will convene March 25-27.

If the group votes to cast doubt on evolution instruction, their decision could potentially damage science education elsewhere. Among scientists, evolution is widely accepted as a well-supported explanation of how life developed on Earth through natural selection. This is certainly a cornerstone of modern biology.

Compromising science education is an alarming prospect as U.S. unemployment continues to rise in the United States. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas predicts that, in Texas alone, nearly 300,000 people could lose their jobs in 2009. Every year, more and more jobs require at least some familiarity with science and technology. What will be the job prospects for children who get a distorted view of core science concepts like evolution?

Texas Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy has said he believes strictly in the biblical interpretation that God created the Earth and all its inhabitants, virtually simultaneously, between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Science tells us that Earth's first single-celled organisms emerged about 3.5 billion years ago and only gradually evolved into a dizzying array of species. Those who literally interpret Genesis want science students to discuss alleged "weaknesses" in our understanding of evolution, yet scientists see no such problems.

In January, the Texas board narrowly squashed an anti-evolution effort. But amendments also were set forth to wedge disclaimers into the standards.

At issue, for example, is whether Texas students would need to evaluate "the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry" as an explanation for the "sudden appearance" of life forms within the fossil record. This language is misleading. Virtually all scientists agree that humans and other primates came from common ancestors, as the unmodified Texas science education standards accurately state.

The amendments also would incorrectly call into question our understanding of how planets form zones such as the mantle and inner and outer cores. Overall, the amendments would weaken science instruction, waste class time, and cast doubt on the unambiguous facts of evolution as well as geology and space science.

It gets worse for Texas students, too. In addition to the pending amendments, legislation proposed March 13 under House Bill 4224 would, if enacted, again insert inaccurate "strengths-and-weaknesses" language into the state's science standards.

Breathtaking scientific advances and powerhouse universities are Texas hallmarks. Yet, more than three quarters, or 77% of all Texas eighth graders failed to demonstrate science proficiency on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Science and faith pose no conflict for most believers, including the 12,000 Christian religious leaders -- 500 of them in Texas -- who signed the Clergy Letter Project in support of teaching evolution. But at a time when the nation's future hinges on research advances, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas has noted, science classrooms are no place for religious debate. We agree -- along with the National Center for Science Education, the Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st-Century Science Coalition with its 1,400 supporters.

Leveraging science and technology to create new jobs will require properly educating all potential innovators. It's time for the Texas State Board of Education to reject misleading amendments to science education standards, once and for all. As Texas science education standards go, so goes the nation. Texas needs to get it right.

Peter Agre is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. Alan I. Leshner is chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science.

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http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/6334924.html

COMMENTARY
Board of Education evolves into sideshow

By LISA FALKENBERG
March 23, 2009

Ever seen a cat-dog? Of course not! That just proves it's impossible for one species to evolve into another.

The human brain seems not to have changed since homo sapiens first appeared 150,000 years ago. That means evolution is false.

We don't have every bone, so the fossil record undercuts the theory of evolution.

A few scientists have fudged proof of evolution, so that calls into question all the other evidence.

These are the brilliant observations and insinuations of a particularly dangerous right-wing fringe group: the seven-member social conservative bloc of the State Board of Education. (The cat-dog example, if you must know, is the brainchild of Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, who seems to be incapable of understanding that it takes millions, if not billions of years for so-called macro-evolution to occur.)

If the Legislature is the circus, the Board of Education is the sideshow. And this week, they're back in town.

The event in Austin would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high.

The 15 board members hold in their hands the future of science curriculum in Texas public schools for the next decade. This week, after what promises to be another intense round of debate, they'll cast final votes on how to teach evolution.

Their decision has national implications as well since curriculum changes could make it into textbooks tailored for the massive Texas market and sold across the country.

In January, creationists on the board tentatively failed by one vote to keep a requirement that teachers present the strengths and so-called "weaknesses" of Darwin's 150-year-old theory of evolution. This week, they'll try to restore the language, which is the latest subtle weapon of creationists and subscribers to the religion-based theory of Intelligent Design.

The effort to retain the "weaknesses" language, which ignored the advice of a board-selected panel of experts, failed last time thanks to four swing voters. They included one Democrat, Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who often votes with social conservatives, and three brave Republicans, Bob Craig of Lubbock, Patricia Hardy of Fort Worth and Geraldine Miller of Dallas.

Apparently, this group actually did their homework, listened to the experts, and sided with science over ideology. But they've paid a price. Agosto risks falling out of favor with board officers. And the Republicans have had everything from their party loyalty to their faith in God questioned as a result of their vote.
Doubting fossil record

And just in case there was ever any doubt that this debate was essentially about politics, even the Texas Republican Party has weighed in on the issue. GOP leaders passed a resolution urging the board to overturn its decision to get rid of the "weaknesses" language.

The conservative bloc also will try and keep two amendments hastily presented and approved in January that cast doubt on the fossil record and a basic tenant of Darwin's theory: common descent.

Board Chairman and ardent Darwin-denier Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, pushed through one of the amendments after reading aloud a long list of quotes attempting to cast doubt on evolution from reputable science publications and authoritative books by revered scientists. McLeroy never directly claimed that he culled the quotes himself. But as he held up the books he was quoting from, and talked about checking out volumes on evolution at his local library, I certainly got the impression he'd done his own research.
Copied research?

But blogger and Kansas biology teacher, Jeremy Mohn, revealed McLeroy's bad clip job in his extensive blog posting, "Collapse of a Texas Quote Mine." Mohn also provided the context and authors' explanations lacking in McLeroy's quote list.

Mohn discovered McLeroy had lifted much of the research from another creationist blog. McLeroy's quotes were in virtually the same order, and he repeated a page number error.

McLeroy acknowledged to me that he had copied some of the research from the creationist site because he liked "the format," although he said he had indeed read one of the books. He added: "A lot of the quotes I did get on my own."

Yet another fine testament to the level of scholarship that goes on at the State Board of Education.

lisa.falkenberg@chron.com

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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123777413372910705.html

Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution

By STEPHANIE SIMON
The Wall Street Journal
March 23, 2009

The Texas Board of Education will vote this week on a new science curriculum designed to challenge the guiding principle of evolution, a step that could influence what is taught in biology classes across the nation.

The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry. Texas is such a huge textbook market that many publishers write to the state's standards, then market those books nationwide.

"This is the most specific assault I've seen against evolution and modern science," said Steven Newton, a project director at the National Center for Science Education, which promotes teaching of evolution.

Texas school board chairman Don McLeroy also sees the curriculum as a landmark -- but a positive one.

Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. If the new curriculum passes, he says he will insist that high-school biology textbooks point out specific aspects of the fossil record that, in his view, undermine the theory that all life on Earth is descended from primitive scraps of genetic material that first emerged in the primordial muck about 3.9 billion years ago.

He also wants the texts to make the case that individual cells are far too complex to have evolved by chance mutation and natural selection, an argument popular with those who believe an intelligent designer created the universe.

The textbooks will "have to say that there's a problem with evolution -- because there is," said Dr. McLeroy, a dentist. "We need to be honest with the kids."

The vast majority of scientists accept evolution as the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth.

Yes, they say, there are unanswered questions -- transitional fossils yet to be unearthed, biological processes still to be discovered. There is lively scientific debate about some aspects of evolution's winding, four-billion-year path. But when critics talk about exposing students to the "weaknesses" or "insufficiencies" in evolutionary theory, many mainstream scientists cringe.

The fossil record clearly supports evolution, they say, and students shouldn't be exposed to creationist critiques in the name of "critical thinking."

"We will be teaching nonsense in the science classroom," said David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Polls show many Americans are skeptical of or confused by evolution; in a recent survey by Gallup, 39% said they believe the theory, 25% said they didn't, and 36% had no opinion.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that challenges evolution, cites a recent Zogby poll that found a strong majority of Americans supports letting teachers explore both "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. Otherwise, students see only "cherry-picked evidence that really amounts to propaganda," said John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

The Texas school board will vote after taking public testimony in a three-day meeting that starts Wednesday. Dr. McLeroy leads a group of seven social conservatives on the 15-member board. They are opposed by a bipartisan group of seven, often joined by an eighth board member considered a swing vote, that support teaching evolution without caveats.

Neither side is confident of victory. All members of the board have come under enormous pressure in recent months, especially three Republicans who support teaching evolution without references to "weaknesses." The state Republican Party passed a resolution urging the three to back Dr. McLeroy's preferred curriculum. A conservative activist group put out a news release suggesting all three were in the pocket of "militant Darwinists."

One of the three, former social-studies teacher Pat Hardy, said she has received thousands of impassioned calls and emails.

Ms. Hardy says she intends to stand firm for evolution, but she has learned not to predict what her colleagues might do. Curriculum standards critical of evolution won preliminary approval in January, but several board members said later that they hadn't understood the issues.

"Anything can happen," Ms. Hardy said.

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/24/AR2009032403356.html

EDITORIALS

'Strengths and Weaknesses'
Will the Texas board of education evolve backward?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009; Page A14

IF YOU THOUGHT the fight over teaching evolution in public schools had been settled, you haven't heard about what's taking place in Texas this week. Starting today, the state's board of education will consider whether the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" should remain deleted from the state's science standards. Debating strengths and weaknesses of various scientific theories might sound reasonable until you learn that those are supportive buzzwords for people who doubt evolution and want creationism taught in the classroom. A final vote is expected Friday.

The force behind restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language, which was stripped from the science standards in January after two decades, is Don McLeroy. He's the chairman of the State Board of Education. He is also a "young earth creationist" who believes the Earth was created by God no more than 10,000 years ago. Never mind plenty of scientific evidence that the planet has been around for a few billion years. The scary thing is that what's happening in Texas is by no means isolated.

According to the National Center for Science Education, there are seven other states that have either entertained (before the bills died in committee) or are entertaining anti-evolution legislation that argues for "critical analysis," "academic freedom" or "full range of scientific views." The Louisiana Science Education Act, passed in June and deemed the first "academic freedom" law passed by a state, spurred action in Alabama, Iowa, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Only the Alabama effort remains alive. This comes almost four years after a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared the teaching of "intelligent design" unconstitutional because intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

It's disturbing enough that the Texas board of education might seek to impose its religious views on public school students in that sizable state. It's even more alarming that the Lone Star State's textbook market is so large that many publishers write books to meet its standards and then sell them across the country. The Texas State Board of Education must hold firm to its decision to strip the "strengths and weaknesses" language from the state's science standard. Texans, like everyone else, are free to believe what they want, but in science class, they should teach science.

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/SBOE_science_vote_about_creationism.html

SBOE science vote about creationism

San Antonio Express-News Editorial
Web Posted: 03/25/2009

Members of the State Board of Education who want to maintain the "strengths and weaknesses" provision on evolution in the science curriculum -- against the nearly unanimous testimony of scientists and educators -- insist their goal is not to replace science with religion. It's all about critical thinking and academic integrity, they say.

If so, then members of the board will want to look carefully at a list of statements Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, entered into the public record in January, shortly after an 8-7 majority preliminarily voted to remove the strengths and weaknesses provision.

McLeroy read more than two-dozen seemingly authoritative quotes from books and magazines that appear to cast doubt on the scientific basis of evolutionary theory. Jeremy Mohn, a Kansas biology teacher, analyzed the quotes on his Web site, AnEvolvingCreation.net. Mohn, who is Christian, believes in the compatibility of religious belief and evolutionary theory.

What Mohn demonstrates is that McLeroy relied on selective quotations and creative use of ellipses to emphasize his points. More interesting, however, is that many of the quotes appear in the same order, with the same punctuation and even an identical citation error as on the creationist Web site GenesisPark.org.

Genesis Park states its mission is "to present in a graphical, easily accessible manner the evidence that dinosaurs and man were created together and have co-existed throughout history" and "approaches the subject of origins with a literal adherence to the scriptures."

After McLeroy's oratory, a board majority largely reversed the strengths and weaknesses change by voting to require that students assess the arguments for and against universal common descent, a key principle of evolution.

McLeroy made no mention of Genesis Park in his address to the State Board. Recently, however, he acknowledged to Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg that he had copied some of his information from the creationist Web site.

Had McLeroy cited Genesis Park as his source, as any Texas student would have been required to do, the swing members on the board might have reconsidered their votes.

This week, the State Board of Education will cast a final vote to determine the science curriculum for Texas public schools. When members hear the issue is about freedom of speech and not about watering down scientific knowledge, they should remember Genesis Park -- and vote to set the curriculum according to the rigorous standards of science rather than the doctrinal sources McLeroy is reluctant to acknowledge.

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/Teaching_evolution_in_Texas_should_be_science.html

Teaching evolution in Texas should be science

By Alfred Gilman
Special to the Express-News
Web Posted: 03/25/2009

Alfred Gilman won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1994 and is executive vice president for academic affairs and provost dean at UT Southwestern.

The State Board of Education will soon vote on science education standards that will shape the education of the next generation of Texas schoolchildren.

What the board does will therefore have a profound effect on the Texas work force and our economy.

On behalf of a group of Texas scientists who are members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and/or its Institute of Medicine (including two Nobel Prize winners), I write to urge the board to make the decision that reflects the overwhelming view of the scientific community -- not the personal views of some of its members.

We have watched the board struggle over the past year with an issue that is little debated elsewhere in the developed world -- what students should learn about evolution in their science classrooms. We have been astonished by the debate and are alarmed that it continues.

Evolution is the foundation for all of the biological sciences. The evidence supporting evolution, gathered over more than a century, is overwhelming.

Scientists continue to seek more information about how evolution has occurred, but the fact of its occurrence is clearly written in the fossil record and in the genes of all plants and animals. Evolution continues to shape the diversity of the life around us.

Some members of the State Board of Education want students to learn the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and other scientific theories (gravity, for example; do you doubt it?). While this language sounds like good education, it has become a political tool used almost exclusively to attack evolution.

Scientists do not think evolution is a weak theory, and we do not have a list of "weaknesses" that teachers should teach. Now, as is the case with any scientific explanation, there is more to learn about evolution and how it occurred -- but incomplete knowledge is not a weakness.

We have incomplete knowledge of atomic theory, but this does not prevent our using X-rays in medicine. There will always be more to learn about atoms, evolution and other theories; students are miseducated if they are taught that well-accepted theories have "weaknesses."

Sadly, some opponents have suggested that only atheists and secular humanists accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution. This is insulting to the many people of faith who see no conflict between science and their belief in God. Discussion of evolution is based on facts; discussion of God is based on faith. Each is a worthy discussion with no need to pit one against the other, especially in the science classroom.

Our state's public school students should receive an education based on real research, evidence and science. Failure to provide our children with a sound, modern education puts them at a serious disadvantage when they compete or engage with the rest of the world.

Further, the Texas economy depends on ensuring that our schools teach sound science. The governor's office reported in 2008 that Texas was home to more than 900 companies and research institutions in biotechnology and life sciences.

In 2007, the voters of Texas approved spending $3 billion on cancer research, which requires that we recruit outstanding cancer researchers to our state. The employers and employees in these science-based industries don't want to move to a state where their children will get a substandard science education.

Our global economy requires that Texans be equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to compete and succeed.

The State Board of Education should and can help by ensuring that Texas children receive a science education that is judged worthy by the vast majority of scientists. The personal beliefs of board members should remain personal; they do not belong in the classroom.

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http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/03/25/0325mcleroy_edit.html

Enlisting in the culture war

Don McLeroy, SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR
Austin American-Statesman Commentary
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What is the greatest challenge facing science education in Texas? The answer is simple: to make sure an excellent teacher is in every classroom. What's the greatest challenge in writing the state science standards? It is identifying appropriate content that builds from grade to grade and leaves our high school graduates college and work force ready. However, the greatest difficulty in writing these standards is the culture war over evolution.

The controversy exists because evolutionists, led by academia's far-left, along with the secular elite opinion-makers, have decreed that questioning of evolution is not allowed, that it is only an attempt to inject religion or creationism into the classroom. Even Texas' 20-year-old requirement to teach the scientific strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories has come under attack. Words that were uncontroversial and perfectly acceptable for nearly two decades are now considered "code words" for intelligent design and are deemed unscientific. The elite fear that "unscientific" weaknesses of evolution will be inserted into the textbooks, leaving students without a good science education and unprepared for the future, compelling businesses to shun "illiterate" Texas.

The editorial writers incessantly argue that evolution skeptics are motivated by religion, that they are anti-science and fundamentally dishonest. In contrast, evolutionists are portrayed as sincere defenders of the truth, completely honest and free of any ideological bias. But who is rejecting the empirical demonstration of science, that is, the directly observable and verifiable, for ideological purposes? Let us find out as we take a close-up look at a two-step solution to the controversy.

The first step is to define science in a way that is satisfactory to both sides. Using new wording from the National Academy of Sciences, Texas' standards define science as "the use of evidence to construct testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomenon as well as the knowledge generated through this process."

This definition replaces the academy's 1999 language that was very controversial; it stated that science was "to provide plausible natural explanations for natural phenomena." The change from "natural explanations" to "testable explanations" is very significant. The old definition was inferior in that it undermined both the philosophy of the naturalist and the supernaturalist. By circular reasoning, the naturalist was prevented from using science to prove that "nature is all there is," and the supernaturalist was prevented from offering supernatural hypotheses. With the new definition, both the naturalist and the supernaturalist are free to make "testable" explanations. The debate can now shift from "Is it science?" to "Is it testable?"

The next step in resolving this controversy is simply to use the scientific method to weigh in on the issue of evolution. Consider the fossil record. What do we actually observe? What are the data?

Stephen Jay Gould stated: "The great majority of species do not show any appreciable evolutionary change at all. [This is called 'stasis.'] These species appear ... without obvious ancestors in the underlying beds, are stable once established and disappear higher up without leaving any descendants."

"...but stasis is data..."

Once we have our observations, we can make a hypothesis. The controversial evolution hypothesis is that all life is descended from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes. How well does this hypothesis explain the data? A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

And the standard is not religious but does raise a problem for the evolution hypothesis in that stasis is the opposite of evolution, and "stasis is data."

If we are to train our students, engage their minds and, frankly, be honest with them, why oppose these standards? If the standards do not promote religion and they are not unscientific and they deal directly with the data, then possibly these standards are being opposed for ideological reasons. This supports the argument that this culture war exists, not because of the religious faith of creationists, but because of the rejection of the empirical demonstration of science by academia's far-left and the secular elite opinionmakers.

McLeroy is chairman of the State Board of Education. dmcleroy@att.net

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http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/Some_scientific_theories__such_as_evolution__require_critical_questioning.html

Some scientific theories -- such as evolution -- require critical questioning

By Ken Mercer
Special to the Express-News
Web Posted: 03/25/2009

Ken Mercer is a member of the Texas State Board of Education.

For 20 years, Texas teachers have been required by the Texas Education Code to teach both the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories.

Now editorial boards around the state of Texas want the words "strengths and weaknesses" stricken from the Science TEKS (standards) that are up for the final vote before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) at this week's meeting.

The conservative SBOE members support 99 percent of the Science TEKS proposed by the educators who have served on the science writing team. The only point of contention seems to revolve around the concepts of "microevolution" and "macroevolution."

No one on the SBOE is challenging microevolution, those small changes we see every day that are already part of the genetic code. We brush our teeth, wash our hands, and put a Band-Aid on an open wound because we fully comprehend the verifiable evidence of microevolution.

It is macroevolution (i.e., the theory of large changes such as the hypothesized common primate ancestor becoming today's chimps and humans) that is very weak and deserves critical questioning and thought.

The macroevolution lobby is on public record as stating that high school students are "unqualified to ask questions." We conservative SBOE members do not concur because we believe that the opportunity to ask questions is fundamental to good science.

By exclusively supporting the macroevolution lobby, editorial boards are in essence opposing "freedom of speech."

Editorial boards have misdirected the debate to make it appear that conservatives are trying to put religion in the public schools.

That is a false, political red herring. I challenge the editorial boards to find one science book approved by the SBOE that includes the teaching of religion.

Further, creation science and/or intelligent design are not found in any SBOE-approved science textbook in Texas nor in any proposed new Science TEKS.

Since the newspapers have brought up religious philosophy, who are the "experts" that have the ear of the editorial boards?

Texans for Better Science Education, an organization that supports the teaching of both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, monitored the macroevolutionists who testified at the SBOE public hearing. TBSE described these "experts" as: "Darwinists, atheists, ACLU members, and at least one bona-fide signer of the infamous Humanist Manifesto III, in an attempt to promote indoctrination over critical thinking skills."

Editorial boards have erroneously reported that scientists are near complete agreement about macroevolution. However, in actuality, over 700 fully credentialed scientists are on public record as saying they believe evolution warrants much discussion of both the strengths and weaknesses of this scientific theory.

Editorial boards promote the assertion of macroevolutionists that continuing the teaching of "weaknesses" will result in massive job losses in Texas. However, with 20 years of "strengths and weaknesses" Texas is a leader in science with NASA, Texas Instruments. Dell, IBM, Motorola, a new Toyota manufacturing plant, petroleum engineering giants such as Exxon and Shell, and many teaching hospitals and medical research centers choosing Texas as their site of operation.

With conservative SBOE members agreeing on 99 percent of the proposed Science TEKS, the remaining point of major contention is whether students have the right to ask questions and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of any theory, including the theory of macroevolution.

The issue is one of freedom of speech and academic freedom; and ironically, the Texas editorial boards have positioned themselves to be in opposition to students' First Amendment rights.

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http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/6342669.html

Board hears testimony on science curriculum

By APRIL CASTRO
ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 25, 2009

AUSTIN -- Tensions over how evolution is taught simmered Wednesday as the State Board of Education started the final stretch of the process of adopting new science curriculum standards.

Activists took advantage of the last chance to address the proposed standards, which would drop a 20-year-old rule that requires both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught. Critics say the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The standards adopted by the board will be in place for a decade and dictate how textbooks will cover the topic.

"My grandfather was not a monkey!" one woman shouted before the meeting began, as protesters and activists fervently argued their positions. Board chairman Don McLeroy struggled to keep decorum among the crowd once the hearing got under way.

Most mainstream scientists agree that weaknesses in evolutionary theory are flimsy at best. But proponents of the rule complain the standard will apply to all scientific theory while the political debate is focused on evolution.

"I'm very concerned that some of the State Board of Education members will weaken every discipline of science if they remove the strengths and weaknesses language," said Don McCall, an engineer and president of the Leander school board. "This is not about a narrow issue but about every discipline of science and engineering."

A panel of science teachers had recommended that the language be dropped. Board members are expected to offer amendments to the proposal before they vote today.

"Some state board members pretend they know more about science than the dedicated educators who last year drafted sound standards and the distinguished scientists who support them," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "But this isn't a television show in which board members get to pretend they're something they're not. Maybe that's great for TV, but it's bad for education."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching of creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/032609dnmetevolution.6c9624c3.html

State to hold public hearing on how schools should teach evolution

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AUSTIN – State Board of Education members will hold a public hearing today on proposed science curriculum standards that would delete a long-time requirement that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in high school science classes.

Under the standards tentatively adopted by the board in January, biology teachers and biology textbooks would no longer have to cover the "strengths and weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory on how humans and other species evolved.

Opponents of the strengths-and-weaknesses requirement had warned that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism – the biblical explanation of the origin of humans – in science classes, while supporters of the rule denied that was their intention.

The seven Republican board members who supported the rule have been aligned with social conservative groups that in the past have tried to publicize alleged flaws in Darwin's theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

Evolution critics scored a minor victory when the board agreed to an amendment that calls for students to discuss the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of Darwin's tenet that living things have a common ancestry.

Science teacher groups and academics have indicated they will ask the board to strip that provision at their meeting. Board members will vote on the science standards on Thursday and Friday.

The new curriculum standards spell out not only how evolution is to be covered, but also what is supposed to be taught in all science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well as providing the material for state tests and textbooks.

The standards will remain in place for the next decade.

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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-science_0326edi.State.Edition1.212982b.html

Editorial: State ed board should vote down evolution debate

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When you start combing through the science material the State Board of Education wants Texas kids to learn, the list looks pretty innocuous.

Kindergarteners need to know how heating and cooling changes the shape of materials. Fifth-graders must learn about the lifecycles of animals and plants. Ninth-graders should know the difference between scientific hypothesis and scientific theory.

On and on they go, sounding reasonable.

Then the list reaches the subject of evolution, and reason stops.

The board votes today on several changes to the state's science standards, each of which is designed to get students to doubt evolution. For example, board chair Don McLeroy has gotten one change approved in an earlier meeting that would require students to:

"Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record."

The key word there is "insufficiency." The fact is, evolution is not subject to scientific questioning, as McLeroy suggests. If there are ways to present alternative views in a religion class – or, better yet, church – fine. But science class in a public school isn't that place.

Even many people of faith accept the theory of evolution. Daniel Foster, a professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, exemplified this on yesterday's Viewpoints page, urging the board to reject amendments that question evolution.

"No" votes to the anti-evolution parts of the standards are doubly important because what happens in Texas doesn't stay here. Because the state has so many students, textbook publishers write to Texas standards and then sell their books to districts around the nation.

Doubting evolution shouldn't be Texas' legacy. More importantly, our students should not be subject to an erroneous line of teaching.

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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/032609dntexevolution.72be216f.html

Split vote upholds Texas education board ruling to ax evolution 'strengths and weaknesses' rule

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Thursday, March 26, 2009

AUSTIN – In a decision watched by science educators across the nation, the State Board of Education on Thursday narrowly turned aside a last-ditch effort by social conservatives to require that "weaknesses" in the theory of evolution be taught in science classes in Texas.

Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a longtime curriculum rule that "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories – notably Charles Darwin's theory of evolution – be covered in science classes and textbooks for those subjects.

The tie vote upheld a preliminary decision by the board in January to delete the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards for science classes that will be in force for the next decade. That decision, if finalized in a last vote today, changes 20 years of Texas education policy.

Because the standards spell out what must be covered in textbooks, science educators and publishers have been monitoring the Texas debate closely. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas influences what is sold in other states.

The science standards adopted by the board also will figure into questions used on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats. Critics of evolution managed to add a few small caveats to the curriculum, but none as sweeping as the strengths-and-weaknesses rule.

Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, proposed that the rule be put back into the standards, arguing that evolution advocates were trying to stifle classroom discussion of Darwin's theory that humans gradually developed from lower life forms.

"I don't see how we can say there is no disagreement about evolution. There is disagreement," said Mercer, taking issue with science teachers and academics who told the board that the theory of evolution is universally accepted in the scientific community. He cited a document by hundreds of scientists questioning some of Darwin's tenets.

He also charged that evolution advocates have a history of falsifying evidence and drawing erroneous conclusions to support their position.

Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, who opposed the weaknesses rule, argued that its supporters had "perverted" the debate by suggesting that the science standards would be "nothing" if they did not include the strengths-and-weaknesses requirement for evolution and other theories.

Miller also said many of those criticizing the board for dropping the rule had not even read the curriculum document. "They are acting on hearsay," she said of the hundreds of e-mails she has received from evolution critics.

Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, took issue with complaints by social conservatives that removal of the requirement would keep students from thoroughly examining evolution.

"Reasonable people understand we are not trying to cut off debate and stifle academic freedom. The problem is that [evolution] critics want religious perspective put into the classroom, which we know is unconstitutional," she said.

Knight, who had heart surgery in February, cast her vote by videoconference from the state education service center in Richardson.

Joining Knight and Miller in opposing the weaknesses requirement was Republican Pat Hardy of Fort Worth.

One board member who was absent, Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, will participate in today's meeting by videoconference from Houston. She has already stated her opposition to the rule.

Opponents of the strengths and weaknesses rule have argued that it would eventually open the door to teaching of creationism – the biblical explanation of the origin of humans – in science classes.

The seven board members and social conservative groups supporting the rule have denied those assertions and pointed out that the strengths-and-weaknesses rule has been in the curriculum standards for two decades.

Evolution critics scored some victories before the standards for all elementary and high school science classes were tentatively adopted Thursday.

The most significant was a change brought by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who proposed that students be required to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection – two key Darwin tenets – in examining fossil records and cell structure, respectively.

Both provisions were affirmed in close votes, with some board members saying they would be challenged again Friday.

At one point in the meeting, evolution critics held up signs proclaiming, "Don't censor science." After objections from some board members, the posters were removed from the boardroom.

The language adopted by board members on evolution and other scientific theories states that students shall "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing."

Action on the science standards caps several months of debate. The issue last flared up when the board adopted new biology textbooks in 2003, when social conservatives tried to reject books that were deemed too pro-evolution but failed.

===========

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/032609dnmetevolution.4a8038e.html

Activists testify on evolution ahead of State Board of Education's vote on science standards

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Associated Press

AUSTIN – Tensions over how evolution is taught simmered Wednesday as the State Board of Education held the final hearing in the process of adopting new classroom science curriculum standards.

Activists took advantage of the last opportunity to testify on the proposed standards, which would drop a 20-year-old rule that requires "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories to be taught.

Critics say the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The standards adopted by the board will be in place for a decade and will dictate how textbook publishers cover the topic.

Even before the hearing started, protesters and activists gathered nearby, fervently arguing their sides of the debate.

"My grandfather was not a monkey!" one woman shouted at a crowd before the meeting began.

Most scientists agree that weaknesses in the theory of evolution are flimsy at best. But proponents of retaining the rule complain that the standard will apply to all scientific theory while the political debate is focused on evolution.

"I'm very concerned that some of the State Board of Education members will weaken every discipline of science if they remove the strengths and weaknesses language," said Don McCall, an engineer and president of the Leander school board.

A panel of science teachers had recommended that the language be dropped. Board members are expected to propose amendments to try to change the proposal before they vote today.

Federal courts have ruled against teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

More than 100 people had signed up to testify on the proposal, and board chairman Don McLeroy struggled to keep decorum in the crowded hearing room.

"We will be silent in the audience," McLeroy shouted after the crowd erupted into applause at one point. "I'll empty the room. ... I'll not have any outbursts like that."

April Castro, The Associated Press

===========

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/mar/26/evolution-science-texas-school-board

Creationism in the classroom

Evolution is a scientific fact – except, perhaps, in Texas, where the school board is trying to cast doubt on it


Jerry Coyne
The Guardian
Thursday 26 March 2009

Imagine that your state legislature has decided to revamp the way that health and medicine are taught in public schools. To do this, they must tackle the "germ theory of disease", the idea that infectious disease is caused by microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The legislature, noting that this idea has many vocal opponents, declares that it is "only a theory". Many people, for instance, think that Aids has nothing to do with viruses, but is the byproduct of a dissipated life. Christian Scientists believe that disease results from sin and ignorance, spiritual healers implicate disturbed auras and shamans cite demonic possession.

In light of this "controversy", the legislature sets up a school board that includes not only doctors, but also shamans, faith healers and, for good measure a few "psychic surgeons" who pretend to extract veal cutlets from patients' intact bodies. Taking account of these diverse views, the board recommends that from now on all teaching of modern medicine must be accompanied by a discussion of its weaknesses, including the "evidence" that Aids results from drug use and malnutrition, as well as from impure thoughts and evil spirits. And our failure to understand the complexities of chronic fatigue syndrome might be seen as reflecting its causation by an inscrutable and supernatural designer.

You would rightly be furious if all this happened. After all, the "germ theory" of disease is more than just a theory – it's a fact. Like all scientific theories, it might be wrong, but in this case that chance is roughly zero. That is because the germ theory works. Antibiotic and antiviral drugs really do cure diseases, while spiritual healing does not. Only an idiot, you'd say, would try to tamper with medical education in this way.

But this is precisely what is happening in Texas with respect to another well-established theory of biology: evolution.

Like the "germ theory" of disease, the "theory" of evolution is also a fact, as firmly established as the proposition that bacteria cause tuberculosis, or viruses cause Aids. And the fact of evolution is supported by mountains of evidence from many areas of biology. Every one of the thousands of sequences of DNA that have been studied support the theory of evolution.

What's more, evolution explains many puzzling observations about biology, like the existence of transitional fossils, vestigial organs and nonfunctional genes, that are incomprehensible under any creationist view. No serious biologist doubts the major tenets of the modern theory of evolution, which are these: life began around 3.5 billion years ago, all living species have common ancestors, descent involves evolution (genetic change over time), lineages divide, forming new species that lead to the branching tree of life, this change took immense spans of time, and that, in the vast majority of cases the diversification and change was due to natural selection and other well-understood evolutionary processes.

So what do creationism and its new incarnation of "intelligent design" explain? Nothing.

Despite all this, the Texas school board will vote this week on a bill that requires educators and textbooks to play up the "problems" with evolution, emphasising both its "strengths and weaknesses". The weaknesses supposedly involve "the insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." This is nonsense, of course. There is a mountain of evidence for common ancestry – ancestry that clearly explains the "sequential nature of groups in the fossil record".

The bill also requires schools to teach "the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of cells." More nonsense, straight out of the playbook of intelligent design. Of course we don't understand everything about the evolution of cells – if evolution had all the answers it would be a dead field – but there is plenty of evidence that natural selection was involved in cell evolution, and not a shred of evidence that it wasn't.

The mention of "sudden appearance" of species leaves no doubt about the bill's motivation, which is to promote Biblically-based creationism in public schools. Tellingly, the Texas bill is not aimed at discussing the "strengths and weaknesses" of chemistry, physics or astronomy. It singles out evolution for one reason alone: it is the only branch of science that some Christians perceive as endangering their theology.

It's no surprise, then, that seven of the 15 members of the Texas state board of education have a socially conservative agenda, several of them explicitly endorsing creationism. And the head of the school board, one Don McElroy, is a creationist dentist whose pedagogical experience is limited to teaching Sunday school. McElroy also holds the Biblically-based view that the world is only 6,000-10,000 years old. How can it be that someone with such preposterous views is given any say in the education of our children?

What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. That state is a sizeable consumer of public school textbooks, and it's likely that if it waters down its science standards, textbook publishers all over the country will follow suit. This makes every American school hostage to the caprices of a few benighted Texas legislators.

What's next? Since there are many who deny the Holocaust, can we expect legislation requiring history classes to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of the idea that Nazis persecuted Jews? Should we teach our children astrology in their psychology classes as an alternative theory of human behaviour? And, given the number of shamans in the world, shouldn't their views be represented in medical schools?

Our children will face enormous challenges when they grow up: global warming, depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation, epidemic disease. There is no better way to prepare their generation than to teach them how to distinguish fact from mythology, and to encourage them to have good reasons for what they believe.

How sad that in the 21st century the Texas legislature proposes the exact opposite, indoctrinating our children with false ideas based squarely on religious dogma. Can't we just let our kids learn real science?

Jerry Coyne's latest book is Why Evolution is True (Viking), which summarises the many lines of evidence for evolution.

===========

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/26/AR2009032600630.html

Texas ed board's vote a mixed bag for evolution

By APRIL CASTRO
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 26, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas science teachers will no longer be required to teach weaknesses of scientific theory, including evolution, under new curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the State Board of Education on Thursday.

Supporters of evolution hailed the vote but were critical of amendments adopted by the board that they said could create new paths to teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

If given final approval in a vote expected Friday, the new standards will drop a 20-year-old rule that requires both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories to be taught. Critics say the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The new standards, which would be in place for the next decade, govern what appears on standardized tests and material published in textbooks. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country.

"Publishers are waiting to hear what to put in their textbooks," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

In approving a handful of amendments Thursday, the board "slammed the door on creationism, then ran around the house opening up all the windows to let it in another way," Quinn said. "We hope the vote tomorrow will reverse a lot of that."

In one amendment, the board agreed to require high school biology students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell."

Board member Don McLeroy said his amendment was intended "to account for that amazing complexity. I think it's a standard that makes it honest with our children."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching public schools teaching creationism and intelligent design, which holds that life is so complex that it must have come from an intelligent higher power.

===========

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/education/27texas.html

Defeat and Some Success for Texas Evolution Foes

By MICHAEL BRICK
The New York Times
Published: March 26, 2009

AUSTIN, Tex. -- In an evenly split vote, the State Board of Education on Thursday upheld teaching evolution as accepted mainstream science.

But social conservatives on the board, using a series of amendments tailored to particular school subjects, succeeded in requiring teachers to evaluate critically a variety of scientific principles like cell formation and the Big Bang.

The debate over new curriculum requirements, to take effect in 2010, stands to influence educational standards nationwide. Once every decade, major textbook publishers revise their offerings to match the requirements newly set forth by Texas, which is one of their largest bulk customers.

More than 80 years after the biology teacher John Scopes was tried on charges of illegally teaching evolution in Tennessee, the controversy here has played out with more subtlety, involving political code words and efforts to undermine the theory itself.

The debate has centered on a longstanding clause that requires teachers to address the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Teachers quietly ignored the requirements for decades.

The board tentatively decided in January to drop the "strengths and weaknesses" language. On Thursday, Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board blocked a proposal by social conservatives to reinstate it. Even with one moderate board member missing, the measure was blocked with a preliminary 7-to-7 vote.

The full board is set to take a final vote on Friday.

Failing to overhaul the curriculum broadly, conservatives instead attached a series of measures specific to subjects like biology, where teachers would be newly required to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell."

In the earth-science curriculum, conservatives weakened language concerning "the concept of an expanding universe" to address instead "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe."

With protesters on both sides of the issue carrying signs outside its meetings, the board has heard impassioned testimony from science teachers, parents and others.

A conservative board member, Bob Craig of Lubbock, expressed satisfaction with the overall changes.

"I personally believe that language is good language," Mr. Craig said in an interview. "It allows for full discussion of all sides of the issue."

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that promotes the teaching of evolution, said the vote would not end the debate.

"If they don't get the political strategy, they'll go piecemeal," Mr. Quinn said. "The State Board of Education pretty much slammed the door on 'strengths and weaknesses,' but then went around and opened all the windows in the house."

===========

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/State_board_removes_controversial_evolution_standard.html

State board removes controversial evolution standard

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/26/2009

AUSTIN – The State Board of Education tentatively approved new science curriculum standards Thursday with changes in how Texas school children will learn about evolutionary theory.

Teachers and students no longer would be expected to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and the theory about the origin of life developed by Charles Darwin 150 years ago.

The preliminary vote is a setback for critics of evolution. They want teachers and students to analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution- a standard that has been a part of Texas school science standards for about 20 years.

Scientists and more than 50 national and state science organizations urged the 15-member board not to include references "to creationist-fabricated 'weaknesses' or other attempts to undermine instruction on evolution." Many scientists contend that evolutionary theory has no weaknesses at the basic level for high school students and to suggest it does would confuse students.

However, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, fought to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" clause, which board-appointed science experts removed from the proposed standards. The board's seven social conservative members supported that effort but fell one vote short.

Not all scientists agree about the evolution theory, Mercer argued.

"There are questions about evolution…(ellipsis). There are weaknesses," he said.

Darwin's evolution theory posits that all life is related and descended from a common ancestor.

The theory is not without its critics. Darwinists try to conceal some of the weaknesses and fallacies of evolution theory, Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

"They are not the sole possessors of truth. Our school children belong to the parents, and they want their children educated," she said. "They don't want them indoctrinated with one side. They know that evolution has weaknesses."

The board will take a final vote on Friday. The new science curriculum standards will take effect starting for the 2010-2011 school year and last a decade. The standards will influence new science textbooks – not only for Texas but also for most other states because publishers, considering the volume, typically duplicate textbooks used by Texas schools. About 4.6 million students attend K-12 grades in Texas public schools.

While the board agreed on many of the new science standards, most of the disagreement hinged on teaching the "weaknesses" of evolution.

Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, offered a compromise to make sure that schools can explore the controversies of evolution. Students will be expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations. Craig wanted to make it clear that teachers and students could discuss "what is not fully understood so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

Craig, describing himself as a devout Christian, suggested that his approach would address "some of the concerns that people have that they won't be able to discuss all sides (in the evolution controversy)."

But the board's conservative members defeated Craig's amendment.

"We want students to truly analyze all aspects of the (evolution) theory. It was a compromise to help them, and then they didn't bother to take you up on it? Yes, I am very frustrated by that," said Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth, who supported Craig's amendment.

===========

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/Evolution_foes_facing_setback.html

Evolution foes facing setback

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/27/2009

AUSTIN -- The State Board of Education gave a nearly-final nod to new science curriculum standards Thursday that would change a long-standing Texas tradition over how schoolchildren learn about evolution.

The tentative vote -- a final one is expected today -- will mean teachers and students no longer will be expected to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and the theory about the origin of life developed by Charles Darwin 150 years ago.

The move is a setback for critics of evolution, who argued that teachers and students should have to analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution -- a standard that has been a part of Texas school science standards for 20 years.

But the argument over how to teach evolution continues, with final votes today on several amendments that some scientists say seek to cast doubt on evolution.

One asks students to evaluate fossil types, as some contend gaps in fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent. Another questions "natural selection."

Scientists are working on Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, in an effort to switch his votes on the amendments. He voted with the social conservatives on the amendments, though he ultimately sided with scientists on the "strengths and weaknesses" issue. The vote was 7-7; eight votes were needed to restore it.

Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, who missed Thursday's hearing, is expected to participate in the final vote.

"If you can't attack evolution through strengths and weaknesses, talk about the insufficiency of natural selection. We see this in other states. This is what creationists are doing -- is attacking evolution," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

Scientists and more than 50 national and state science organizations urged the 15-member board Thursday not to include references "to creationist-fabricated 'weaknesses' or other attempts to undermine instruction on evolution."

Many scientists contend basic evolutionary theory at the high school level has no weaknesses, and to suggest it does would confuse students.

However, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, fought to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" clause, which board-appointed science experts removed from the proposed standards. The board's seven social conservative members supported that effort but fell one vote short.

Not all scientists agree about evolution, Mercer argued.

"There are questions about evolution. ... There are weaknesses," he said.

Darwin's theory of evolution posits that all life is descended from a common ancestor.

The theory is not without its critics. Darwinists try to conceal some of the weaknesses and fallacies of evolution theory, said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

"They are not the sole possessors of truth. Our schoolchildren belong to the parents, and they want their children educated," she said. "They don't want them indoctrinated with one side. They know that evolution has weaknesses."

The new science curriculum standards will take effect in the 2010-2011 school year and last a decade.

The standards will influence new science textbooks, not only for Texas but also for most other states. Publishers, considering the volume, typically duplicate textbooks used by Texas schools. About 4.6 million students attend K-12 grades in Texas public schools.

===========

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/State_board_adopts_new_science_standards.html

State protects evolution education

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/27/2009

AUSTIN – After a debate drawing national attention, the State Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards Friday that protect the teaching of evolution championed by many scientists but opposed by social conservative members.

The new standards will influence what Texas public school children learn about biology and other science courses starting in the 2010-2011 school year.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and six other social conservatives lost several key votes designed to cast specific doubt on evolution.

"Prestigious science goes down," McLeroy said.

By narrow, 8-7 votes, the board removed specific references to insufficiencies of common ancestry, natural selection and "the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of fossil evidence."

All are key parts of evolutionary theory posited by Charles Darwin's Origin of Life 150 years ago.

The board eventually approved several amendments creating expectations that students analyze and evaluate such issues as fossil data and the complexity of the cell without specific references to common ancestry and natural selection.

The opportunity of students to analyze and evaluate controversies pleased McLeroy.

"The science community got its luster back," he said.

The board voted 13-2 for the new science standards. Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, opposed the new standards, which no longer contain a provision allowing educators to teach the "weaknesses" of evolution. But students will be expected to analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations.

Those science curriculum standards will last 10 years and influence new science textbooks. About 4.6 million students attend Texas public schools.

Scientists from throughout Texas and helped shape the new science curriculum standards.

"They came to tell the board 'this is what science is, this is what you should be doing'. This is the scientific consensus to completely ignore that in favor of political expediency is very dangerous for education in Texas," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education.

===========

http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/Evolution_standards_for_draw_a_mixed_reaction.html

Teaching evolution now protected

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/27/2009

AUSTIN -- After a debate drawing national attention, the State Board of Education adopted new science curriculum standards for Texas schools Friday that protect the teaching of evolution championed by many scientists.

The decision on how to handle future evolution education will influence what Texas public schools teach about biology and other sciences, and what is published in new science textbooks, for the next 10 years, starting in the 2010-2011 school year.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and six other social conservatives lost several narrow votes designed to cast specific doubt on evolution.

The new standards no longer contain a provision allowing educators to teach the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory, part of the current standards.

By 8-7 votes, the board removed specific references to insufficiencies of evidence for common ancestry and natural selection and to "the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of fossil evidence." All are key parts of evolutionary theory.

The board did approve several amendments creating expectations that students analyze and evaluate such issues as fossil data and the complexity of the cell without specific references to common ancestry and natural selection.

The opportunity for students to analyze and evaluate those controversies pleased McLeroy.

"The science community got its luster back," he said.

The final board vote to adopt the new standards, 13-2, with dissenting votes by Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

Scientists from throughout Texas and helped shape the new science curriculum standards.

"They came to tell the board 'this is what science is, this is what you should be doing.' This is the scientific consensus and to completely ignore that in favor of political expediency is very dangerous for education in Texas," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education.

The conflict over how to teach evolution in public schools is greater in Texas than most other states, she said.

"It's been very frustrating to see the politicization of science education," Scott said. "It's sad to see that anyplace in the country, but I think it's worse in Texas than just about any other place."

About 4.6 million students attend Texas public schools.

The evolution issue has made rewriting science curriculum standards in Texas particularly sensitive. The Texas Education Agency received more than 10,000 emails on the subject.

Some board members complained of unspecified threats directed at them from over-zealous partisans.

Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, said she received both indirect and direct threats of consequences if she did not oppose the evolution perspective.

Berlanga, who has been tending to her ailing husband during his intensive care in a Houston hospital, said people "were even rude about that."

"I have received many, many threats," Berlanga said. "I can't tell you what the stress I have been under."

Berlanga told board members that her husband's condition has stabilized "because of science and because of God."

The board's final action brought mixed reactions.

"The requirement that students examine, 'analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations' and examine all sides of scientific evidence is the strongest critical thinking standard in any state science standards," said Casey Luskin, a lawyer for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which challenges evolution theory. "Looking at today's overall outcome, Texas now leads the nation in requiring critical analysis of evolution in high school science classes."

Texans Citizens for Science President Steven Schafersman said scientists did not achieve complete victory but got enough to make him happy.

"I think the science standards will be OK. Frankly, the publishers and the authors of the textbooks will be able to use this standard and write good textbooks," Schafersman said. "They won't be forced to do anything really bad."

But Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which fought efforts to water down evolution education, was less satisfied.

Although teachers won't be able to teach the "weaknesses" of the theory, she complained that "the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms."

"Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks," she said.

===========

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/6345172.html

Evolution moves to head of class in Texas schools

By GARY SCHARRER
Austin Bureau
Houston Chronicle
March 27, 2009

AUSTIN -- The State Board of Education gave a nearly final nod to new science curriculum standards Thursday that would change a long-standing Texas tradition over how schoolchildren learn about evolution.

The tentative vote -- a final one is expected today -- will mean that teachers and students no longer will be expected to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and the theory about the origin of life developed by Charles Darwin 150 years ago.

The move is a setback for critics of evolution, who argued that teachers and students should have to analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution -- a standard that has been a part of Texas school science standards for 20 years.

Scientists and more than 50 national and state science organizations urged the 15-member board not to include references "to creationist-fabricated 'weaknesses' or other attempts to undermine instruction on evolution."

Many scientists contend that basic evolutionary theory at the high school level has no weaknesses, and to suggest it does would confuse students.

However, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, fought to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" clause, saying not all scientists agree about evolution theory.

"There are questions about evolution," he said. "There are weaknesses."

Darwin's evolution theory posits that all life is related and descended from a common ancestor.

The theory is not without its critics.

Darwinists try to conceal some of the weaknesses and fallacies of evolution theory, said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

"They are not the sole possessors of truth. Our schoolchildren belong to the parents, and they want their children educated," she said. "They don't want them indoctrinated with one side. They know that evolution has weaknesses."

The board will take a final vote today. The new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year and last a decade.

The standards will influence new science textbooks not only for Texas, but also for most other states because publishers, considering the volume, typically duplicate textbooks used by Texas schools. About 4.6 million students attend K-12 grades in Texas public schools.

Some board members will try today to reverse amendments that some experts contend attempt to dilute evolution. One asks students to evaluate fossil types and to assess "arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence." Another would cast doubt on "natural selection."

"If you can't attack evolution through strengths and weaknesses, talk about the insufficiency of natural selection. We see this in other states. This is what creationists are doing ... attacking evolution," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.

gscharrer@express-news.net

=============

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/6346503.html

Evolution debate in Austin shaped by science

By GARY SCHARRER
San Antonio Express-News
March 27, 2009

AUSTIN – The State Board of Education signed off Friday on new science curriculum standards for Texas schools that protect the teaching of evolution championed by many scientists.

The new standards, debated for weeks and watched closely across the country, will influence what Texas public school children learn about biology and other sciences and what is published in new science textbooks for the next 10 years, starting in the 2010-11 school year.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and six other social conservatives lost several key votes designed to cast specific doubt on evolution.

The new standards no longer contain a provision allowing educators to teach the "weaknesses" of evolutionary theory, part of the current standards.

By an 8-7 vote, the board removed specific references to insufficiencies of evidence for common ancestry and natural selection and to "the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of fossil evidence." All are key parts of evolutionary theory.

The board did, however, approve several amendments creating expectations that students analyze and evaluate such issues as fossil data and the complexity of the cell without specific references to common ancestry and natural selection.

The final board vote to adopt the new standards was 13-2, with dissenting votes by Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, and Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

Scientists from throughout Texas helped shape the new science curriculum standards.
Not a complete victory

"They came to tell the board, 'This is what science is, this is what you should be doing.' This is the scientific consensus and to completely ignore that in favor of political expediency is very dangerous for education in Texas," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the Oakland-based National Center for Science Education.

The conflict over how to teach evolution in public schools is greater in Texas than most other states, she said.

"It's been very frustrating to see the politicization of science education," Scott said. "It's sad to see that anyplace in the country, but I think it's worse in Texas than just about any other place."

About 4.6 million students attend Texas public schools.

The evolution issue has made rewriting science curriculum standards in Texas particularly sensitive. The Texas Education Agency received more than 10,000 e-mails on the subject.

The board's final action brought mixed reactions.

"The requirement that students 'analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations' and examine all sides of scientific evidence is the strongest critical thinking standard in any state science standards," said Casey Luskin, a lawyer for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which challenges evolution theory.

Texas Citizens for Science President Steven Schafersman said scientists did not achieve complete victory but got enough.

"I think the science standards will be OK. Frankly, the publishers and the authors of the textbooks will be able to use this standard and write good textbooks," Schafersman said. "They won't be forced to do anything really bad."

gscharrer@express-news.net

============

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/032809dntexevolution.78a4720b.html

Texas education board cuts provisions questioning evolution from science curriculum

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Friday, March 27, 2009

AUSTIN – Social conservatives lost another skirmish over evolution Friday when the State Board of Education stripped two provisions from proposed science standards that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution.

In identical 8-7 votes, board members removed two sections written by Chairman Don McLeroy that would have required students in high school biology classes to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species. Both are key principles of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Five Democrats and three Republicans joined to narrowly outvote the seven Republicans on the board aligned with social conservative groups.

The science standards were ultimately adopted 13-2, setting the state's curriculum in the subject for the next decade. The standards will determine what students are taught in class and what must be covered in science textbooks.

Afterward, a disappointed McLeroy, R-College Station, called the board's decisions a blow to science education in Texas.

"Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this," he said. Earlier, McLeroy, a creationist, argued that many aspects of Darwin's theory are not supported by fossil records – though he pointed out he favors the teaching evolution in the public schools.

Board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, was among those who voted to delete the two provisions. She said the proposals conflicted with other requirements on evolution in the curriculum standards for science.

"It doesn't make any sense to have these in our standards," she said, pointing out that students in science classes will still be able to examine all aspects of Darwin's theory – including those questioned by evolution critics.

Groups representing science teachers and academics had urged the board to dump McLeroy's proposals on common ancestry and natural selection of species, contending they would be used to undermine teaching of evolution.

Those groups also questioned board decisions Friday to adopt compromise language in other areas – on the study of fossil records and the complexity of cells. Those compromises were supported by McLeroy and most other board members.

The Texas Freedom Network, which has battled social conservative groups on education issues, warned that the compromise language could still be used to water down coverage of evolution in textbooks.

"This document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms," said the group's president, Kathy Miller, who predicted heated battles over the content of biology textbooks in two years.

McLeroy promised as much on Friday, saying that publishers heard the debate and know that "they'll have to get their textbooks approved by us in a few years."

He also said he was pleased with compromise language adopted by the board on a 13-2 vote that says students will examine "all sides of scientific evidence" of theories, including evolution.

Friday's votes came a day after social conservatives lost one of their key objectives in the debate over evolution – to require that science teachers and textbooks cover the "weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory as well as its strengths. That proposal failed on a 7-7 vote.

============

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6346723.html
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_Science_Curriculum_Evolution.html

Texas Ed board approves science standards

By APRIL CASTRO
Associated Press Writer
March 27, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas -- State education leaders forged a compromise on the teaching of evolution Friday, capping a week of impassioned debate that had scientists, teachers and textbook publishers from around the country focused on Texas.

The move represented something of a victory for pro-evolutionists, who wanted the State Board of Education to drop a 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught.

But the board's 13-2 vote also means students in public school will be encouraged to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories. That left some of the pro-evolution crowd upset.

"I think we've seen some classic examples of politics interfering with science education," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Critics say the requirement has been used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The words strengths and weaknesses have become "code for creationism and (the similar theory of) intelligent design," said board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. "So by being more clear in the language and using words that aren't seen as code words, we were able to get all of the 15 board members to agree that this is how we'll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence."

The curriculum will require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

One of the nation's leading critics of evolution, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, called the vote a major victory.

The new standards, which will be in place for the next decade, govern what teachers are required to cover in the classroom, topics students are tested on and material published in textbooks.

As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country. Publishers compete to have their books approved by the state board, which has authority to review all books and recommend approval to local school districts.

With new biology textbooks up for adoption in 2011, the new curriculum, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, determine what will be required of publishers who want to be approved to sell books on Texas.

"What this is about in Texas is textbooks, because what is in the TEKS is going to be used to tell the textbook publishers what to put in their books the next time textbooks are approved," Scott said. "Biology is up for approval in a couple of years and that's what this is all about."

In a string of amendments proposed after the compromise, the board adopted subtle changes that critics say cast a shadow over key tenets of the theory of evolution -- natural selection and common ancestry.

"The document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

"We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don't agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

Supporters of the changes applauded efforts to encourage critical thinking in science classrooms.

============

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/27/AR2009032702270.html

Texas education board approves science standards

By APRIL CASTRO
The Associated Press
Friday, March 27, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas -- State education leaders forged a compromise Friday on the teaching of evolution in Texas, adopting a new science curriculum that no longer requires educators to teach the weaknesses of all scientific theories.

The State Board of Education voted 13-2 to put in place a plan that would instead require teachers to encourage students to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, a move criticized by evolution proponents.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which will be in place for the next decade, governs what teachers are required to cover in the classroom, the topics students are tested on and the material published in textbooks.

Pro-evolutionists, who wanted the State Board of Education to drop the 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories be taught, said the new plan uses confusing language that allows creationist arguments to slip into Texas classrooms.

"Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

But board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the new standards were "more clear in the language and using words that aren't seen as code words" that helped convince the board to "agree that this is how we'll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence."

Supporters of the changes also applauded the efforts to encourage critical thinking in science classrooms.

The state of Texas, one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country. Publishers compete to have their books approved by the state board, which has authority to review all books and recommend approval to local school districts.

With new biology textbooks up for adoption in 2011, the new curriculum determines what will be required of publishers who want to be approved to sell books in Texas.

"What this is about in Texas is textbooks, because what is in the TEKS is going to be used to tell the textbook publishers what to put in their books the next time textbooks are approved," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Federal courts have ruled against teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

============

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819751472561761.html

Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts

By STEPHANIE SIMON
The Wall Street Journal
March 27, 2009

The Texas Board of Education approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to raise doubts about evolution.

Critics of evolution said they were thrilled with Friday's move. "Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that argues an intelligent designer created life.

Kathy Miller, president of the pro-evolution Texas Freedom Network, said, "The board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks."

Science standards in Texas resonate across the U.S., since it approves one set of books for the entire state. That makes Texas the nation's single largest market for high-school textbooks.

In the past, publishers often have written texts to its curriculum and marketed them nationally rather than spend time and money reworking them for different states and districts.

That influence has diminished, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' school division, as districts and statewide boards of education have become more likely to scrutinize texts approved in other states. Desktop publishing also has made it easier for companies to amend textbooks to suit different markets.

"It's not necessarily the case" that the Texas curriculum will pop up in other states, Mr. Diskey said. But within Texas, what the board says, goes. Several years ago, the board expressed concern that a description of the Ice Age occurring "millions of years ago" conflicted with biblical timelines. The publisher changed it to "in the distant past." Another publisher sought to satisfy the board by inserting a heading about "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" in a biology text, drawing condemnation from science organizations.

The board will use the new standards to choose new textbooks in 2011.

Friday's meeting started with a victory for backers of evolution. The board voted to remove a longstanding requirement that students analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory. Mainstream scientists resoundingly reject that language, saying there are no weak links in the theory of evolution, which has been corroborated by discoveries in fields ranging from genetics to geology.

Through the afternoon, board members offered up a series of amendments and counter-amendments designed to shape presentations in biology classes across the state. The board voted down curriculum standards questioning the evolutionary principle that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry.

Yet the board approved standards that require students to analyze and evaluate the fossil record and the complexity of the cell. Social conservatives on the board, led by chairman Don McLeroy, have made clear they expect books to address those topics by raising questions about the validity of evolutionary theory.

For instance, they want textbooks to suggest the theory of evolution is undercut by fossils that show some organisms -- such as ferns -- haven't changed much over millions of years. They also want texts to discuss the explosion of life forms during the Cambrian Era as inconsistent with the incremental march of evolution.

Scientists respond that the fossil record clearly traces the roots of Cambrian Era creatures back as far as 100 million years.

It isn't just evolution at issue: The board also approved an earth-science curriculum that challenges the widely accepted Big Bang Theory. Students are expected to learn that there are "differing theories" on the "origin and history of the universe."

Board members also deleted a reference to the scientific consensus that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old. The board's chairman has said he believes God created the universe fewer than 10,000 years ago.

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

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http://www.texasobserver.org/blog/index.php/2009/03/27/and-so-it-ends/

And So It Ends

by Dave Mann
Texas Observer
March 27th, 2009

After six hours of often mind-numbing debate, the State Board of Education has mercifully passed a final version of new science standards that will guide the content of science textbooks and curriculum for the next decade.

Reporters and members of the public packed the meeting room in Austin today to see if creationists on the board could succeed in poisoning Texas science classes with a requirement to teach so-called weaknesses in evolutionary theory. On that front, the pro-evolution side mostly won the day (more on this in a minute).

But perhaps the most notable aspect of today's proceedings was not what the Board members did, but how they did it. Dysfunctional doesn't quite cover it. These folks make the Texas Legislature look organized and deliberative.

Imagine a policy-making body run by the Smothers Brothers with help from the Three Stooges and you get some idea of what it's like to sit through a State Board of Education meeting.

The board has supposedly been working on these science standards for a year, yet members were still debating topics as mundane as word choice on this, the very last day. There were quite a few substantive amendments, of course, but they took a while to get through. Most of the amendments were hand-written (see photo below). Sloppy scrawl and poor spelling (one key amendment included the word "expirimental") made proposals hard to read. It typically took at least 10 minutes of discussion before all the board members could even understand what some amendments were proposing.

Board Chair Don McLeroy, the dentist from Bryan, didn't help. McLeroy's frequent bumbling of parliamentary rules left some board members confused. "OK, we're going to get this right now," McLeroy would say. At least twice, fellow social conservative David Bradley interrupted McLeroy's ramblings to summarize and clarify exactly what the board had just done, so the minutes would be correct.

"Slow me down if I get too fast" McLeroy said at one point.

"I've been trying to," Bradley quipped.

You can read our earlier dispatch on today's meeting here. Also, the Texas Freedom Network live-blogged the meeting, and has a good play-by-play of the amendments and maneuverings (from the pro-evolution side of things) here.

In the end, the pro-evolution side won several significant victories today. The language that required students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution is gone from the standards, presumably forever. (In its place are some rather harmless-sounding compromise phrases that ask students to examine "all sides of scientific evidence of the scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking.")

A statement from TFN this afternoon says the new language is better, but still will allow social conservatives to pressure textbook writers into including doubts about evolution. Perhaps, but if there's wiggle room there, it's very small.

Similar compromises were struck in the sections governing biology and Earth science classes. Pro-evolution members removed the most controversial, anti-evolution language and replaced it with compromise phrases that encourage critical thinking and examination of all sides. For example, the board removed language that McLeroy had promoted that would require students to learn how certain parts of the fossil record supposedly disprove evolution.

When this junk science was taken out, McLeroy launched into a lecture. He said that examining flaws in the fossil record was the scientific thing to do. He also added that genetics was the true basis of science and that evolution had simply hitched itself to genetics. "Evolution goes back to a man [Darwin] who basically came up with philosophical speculation."

The board finally compromised on language that satisfied both McLeroy and the pro-evolution board members, asking students to examine "scientific explanations concerning" different elements of the fossil record.

Again, there may be some maneuvering room there for social conservatives in future debates, but not much.

In the end, it seems, after much debate and effort, the school children of Texas were saved from the whims of the State Board's seven social conservatives.

Others of us weren't so lucky.

============

http://www.sciam.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=texas-vote-moves-evolution-to-the-t-2009-03-27

Texas vote moves evolution to the top of the class

By Katherine Harmon in 60-Second Science Blog
Mar 27, 2009

The Texas Board of Education voted today by a 13-to-2 margin to change controversial language in the state's curriculum, making it harder for creationism to creep into public classrooms. For the past 20 years, the state's curriculum has instructed teachers to present the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, opening the door to nonscientific, faith-based alternatives.

Today's vote strikes the old language and replaces it with instruction to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing," according to Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a pro-evolution non–profit based on Oakland, Calif. Other curriculum amendments proposed by social conservatives failed today, according to the Dallas Morning News, including two that called for biology classes to dissect the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of evidence for aspects of evolutionary theory.

Texas' curriculum can have a major impact on what's taught nationwide because it's such a big buyer of textbooks. "It's kind of like the Wal-Mart effect," says NCSE spokesperson Steven Newton. "If they won't carry your product, you modify your product so they will buy it." The Texas changes are set to take effect next year and remain in place until 2020.

Comment

nuhuh at 10:05 PM on 03/27/09
This article is completely incorrect in its implication. Texas has merely replaced some controversial language with completely different, arguably worse, controversial language. The door is still wide open for pseudoscientific crap to masquerade as "alternative theories" to accepted science, and the door is still wide open to write in straw man arguments that cast doubt on evolution for completely baseless reasons.

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http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2009/03/using_religion_to_suppress_debate_on_evolution.html

Using Religion to Suppress Debate on Evolution

By John G. West
Senior Fellow, Discovery Institute
Guest Voices, Washington Post
March 27, 2009

Evolution was back in the headlines this week as the Texas State Board of Education voted 13-2 to require students to "analyze and evaluate" major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations, as well as adopting a critical thinking standard calling on students to "critique" and examine "all sides of scientific evidence."

The vote was a loss for defenders of evolution who had pushed the Board to strip the "analyze and evaluate" language from the evolution standards and gut the overall critical thinking standard.

Evolutionists typically cast themselves as the champions of secular reason against superstition, but in Texas they tried to inject religion into the debate at every turn.

Indeed, this past week it seemed that they couldn't stop talking about religion. They boasted about their credentials as Sunday School teachers and church elders. They quoted the Bible and appealed to theology. And, of course, they attacked the religious beliefs of their opponents, branding them religious fundamentalists.

By contrast, supporters of teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution focused mostly on science, not religion. They even had a procession of Ph.D. biologists and science teachers testify before the Board of Education about their scientific skepticism of key parts of modern evolutionary theory.

Biology professor Wade Warren testified about the challenges to evolutionary theory posed by DNA, the fossil record, and the physiology of the cell. Microbiologist Donald Ewert, who spent much of his research career at the prestigious Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, discussed the limits of what experimental biology can show about natural selection's power to produce major evolutionary change.

But the most dramatic testimony came from Sarah Hicks, who earned her Ph.D. in evolutionary ecology and biology from Rice University. Hicks described the intimidation--and fear--she experienced as a graduate student when a fellow student who expressed skepticism about part of evolutionary theory was forced to leave the program.

Because such thoughtful voices didn't fit the stereotype, reporters ignored them. That is unfortunate. As someone who is not a fundamentalist (and who doesn't believe the Bible is a science textbook), it is discouraging to see reporters endlessly recycle caricatures rather than genuinely try to understand the diverse viewpoints of those raising questions about modern Darwinism.

It is equally disheartening to see evolution activists using religion as a pretext to shut down debate.

Instead of responding to the substantive points raised by their opponents, evolutionists increasingly try to short-circuit public discourse by claiming that a person's religious beliefs should disqualify him or her from being heard by public officials. Never mind that a person offers secular arguments based on secular evidence. If the person holds disfavored religious beliefs, he is supposed to be discounted and ignored.

Far from being required by the separation of church and state, such an approach flatly contradicts the Constitution's guarantees religious liberty and equal protection. And far from serving the cause of science, such dogmatism is grounded in a Darwinian fundamentalism that is anything but scientific.

Fortunately, the Texas Board of Education adopted a different approach in its new science standards, one that favors an open discussion of the scientific evidence.

John G. West, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute and author of "Darwin Day in America" (ISI Books).

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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-evolution_28tex.ART.State.Edition1.4a87415.html

Conservatives lose another battle over evolution

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Saturday, March 28, 2009

AUSTIN – Social conservatives lost another skirmish over evolution Friday when the State Board of Education stripped two provisions from proposed science standards that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution.

In identical 8-7 votes, board members removed two sections written by Chairman Don McLeroy that would have required students in high school biology classes to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection of species. Both are key principles of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Five Democrats and three Republicans joined to narrowly outvote the seven Republicans on the board aligned with social conservative groups.

The science standards were ultimately adopted 13-2, setting the state's curriculum in the subject for the next decade. The standards will determine what students are taught in class and what must be covered in science textbooks.

Afterward, a disappointed McLeroy, R-College Station, called the board's decisions a blow to science education in Texas.

"Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this," he said.

Earlier, McLeroy, a creationist, argued that many aspects of Darwin's theory are not supported by fossil records – though he pointed out he favors the teaching evolution in the public schools.

Board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, was among those who voted to delete the two provisions. She said the proposals conflicted with other requirements on evolution in the curriculum standards for science.

"It doesn't make any sense to have these in our standards," she said, pointing out that students in science classes will still be able to examine all aspects of Darwin's theory – including those questioned by evolution critics.

Groups representing science teachers and academics had urged the board to dump McLeroy's proposals on common ancestry and natural selection of species, contending they would be used to undermine teaching of evolution.

Those groups also questioned board decisions Friday to adopt compromise language in other areas – on the study of fossil records and the complexity of cells. Those compromises were supported by McLeroy and most other board members.

The Texas Freedom Network, which has battled social conservative groups on education issues, warned that the compromise language could still be used to water down coverage of evolution in textbooks.

"This document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms," said the group's president, Kathy Miller, who predicted heated battles over the content of biology textbooks in two years.

McLeroy promised as much on Friday, saying that publishers heard the debate and know that "they'll have to get their textbooks approved by us in a few years."

He also said he was pleased with compromise language adopted by the board on a 13-2 vote that says students will examine "all sides of scientific evidence" of theories, including evolution.

Friday's votes came a day after social conservatives lost one of their key objectives in the debate over evolution – to require that science teachers and textbooks cover the "weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory as well as its strengths.

That proposal failed on a 7-7 vote.

============

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16859-texas-vote-leaves-loopholes-for-teaching-creationism.html

Texas vote leaves loopholes for teaching creationism

by Amanda Gefter
New Scientist
28 March 2009

It was a mixed bag of victory and defeat for science on Friday when the Texas Board of Education voted on their state science standards. In a move that pleased the scientific community, the board voted to not include proposed changes that would call for the teaching of the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories – code words for allowing creationist views into the classroom.

However, additional amendments that were voted through provide loopholes for creationist teaching. "It's as if they slammed the door shut with strengths and weaknesses, then ran around the house opening windows to let it in a bunch of other ways," says Dan Quinn, who was on site at the hearings. Quinn is communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, a community watchdog organisation.

One amendment calls for students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell," phrasing that rings of intelligent design arguments.

Another amendment requires students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record." These issues are commonly held up by creationists as arguments against evolution, even though the scientific community disagrees.

Anti-evolutionist Don McLeroy, a dentist and chair of the Texas State Board of Education, testified at Friday's hearing: "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts."

Age of the universe

An amendment to the environmental sciences standards requires students to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming", despite overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that global warming exists.

An amendment to the Earth and space sciences curriculum requires the teaching of different theories of the origin, age and history of the universe. The board voted to remove from the standards the statement that the universe is roughly 14 billion years old.

"The goal here was to make science more tentative and vague so that teachers have room to tell students, 'This is only one explanation and the scientists are not even sure about it themselves' – which is, of course, utter nonsense," says Quinn.

School textbooks are required to comply with a state's science standards, so all changes to the science standards translate into changes to textbooks. In two years, the board will meet to review the state's textbooks, so creationists have been eager to slip in changes to the standards ahead of time.
Influential state

Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the US, a market publishers can't afford to lose. So they will likely have to water down the science in their books and add in creationist pseudo-science to appease the school board. "If the publishers don't come back with arguments against natural selection and common descent, the board is going to vote to reject those textbooks," Quinn says.

What's more, while the "strengths and weaknesses" language was rather vague, the new amendments provide publishers with a very specific roadmap for what they have to include in their textbooks. "It will be much harder for publishers to fudge," says Quinn.

Creating a Texas-only edition of a biology textbook would be expensive, which means other states would probably end up having to use the same scientifically inaccurate textbooks. "Many publishers are in dire economic straits these days, so the added expense of making a special edition for one state is not something they would be eager to take on," says Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education. "I think it's likely this would affect other states."

"We're going to be watching and we will make sure that if the textbooks include junk science, that people know about it," Quinn says. "If other states reject these books, publishers might stop publishing for Texas because it's so expensive."
Discovery ties

If that happens, other publishers more friendly to intelligent design (ID) might fill the breach. The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based headquarters of the ID movement, for example, has already published its own biology textbook entitled Explore Evolution: The arguments for and against Neo-Darwinism.

The book does not explicitly mention ID, but presents its standard arguments, arguments that are precisely in line with those adopted in the new standards. That may be no coincidence: one of the co-authors of the book, Ralph Seelke, was chosen by McLeroy to serve as an expert curriculum reviewer for the Texas board. So too was Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin also testified at the board meeting, saying, "We urge you to make students aware of these scientific debates."

"The Discovery Institute is in this up to their eyeballs," says Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert on the history of creationism. "They are heavily invested in what happens in Texas." In fact, McLeroy has been working with Discovery Institute fellow Walter Bradley, a Texan, since at least 2003 to promote changes to the biology textbooks.

Academic freedom

Texas creationists had already crafted a back-up plan in case Friday's school board vote didn't go their way.

Republican House Representative Wayne Christian has drafted a piece of legislation (House Bill 4224) that proposes to add the "strengths and weaknesses" language back into the standards.

What's more, if passed, the bill would protect students from being "penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories" and allow teachers to help students to "understand, analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

The bill is the latest in a series of "academic freedom bills" that have been proposed throughout several states in the US. Most have failed – in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Iowa they were quickly killed off, while in Missouri, Alabama and Florida such bills are still pending.

Last year, Louisiana became the first state to sign an academic freedom bill into law. If the same thing happens in Texas, it could be extremely detrimental to science education in that state and beyond.

'Subjective' science

"It would essentially override the school board's vote to insert the 'strengths and weaknesses' language back into the standards," says Newton. "Telling a student that they can't be penalized grade-wise because they subscribe to a specific opinion on science – that will be a big problem. It opens science up to being a relative thing."

"And you can imagine a teacher thinking, 'I'll have a potential lawsuit from this student if I grade them down, so I'm not even going to touch on controversial topics like evolution, the age of the Earth, the formation of the solar system, etc.,'" Newton told New Scientist. "Everyone still has in their minds that figure of a million dollars that the Dover school district had to pay out [in legal fees after an intelligent design trial], and that's a powerful thing."

The academic freedom legislation is the brainchild of the Discovery Institute and the promoters of the film Expelled, a pro-intelligent design "documentary" in which former Nixon speech writer Ben Stein argued that Darwin's theory of evolution led to the Holocaust.

'Pushing the legal envelope'

Experts suspect that strategically, the Discovery Institute actually wants teachers to be prosecuted in a Dover-style court case, and that they are using the proposed Texas academic freedom bill to lure teachers into a legal trap by encouraging them to bring religious ideas into the classroom.

"Teaching creationism or ID has been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional," Forrest says. "These bills cannot supersede the constitution and will not protect the teachers from litigation."

"The Discovery Institute is pushing the legal envelope and inviting litigation because they have been shopping around for years for the right judicial district in which they could win this kind of case," she told New Scientist. "They need a district where they can control the people on the ground, as they do in Texas. They want a ruling that conflicts with Dover in a different judicial district, because that would be the most likely scenario in which the Supreme Court would hear a case. That is exactly what they want."
Insurance salesmen

Meanwhile, pro-science legislators are also doing their best to fight these actions. Senator Rodney Ellis and House Representative Garnet Coleman – both Democrats from Houston, Texas – have introduced legislation (Senate Bill 440 and House Bill 3382, respectively) that would transfer authority for textbook adoptions and curriculum approval from the Board of Education to the Texas Education Agency.

"When you have dentists and insurance salesmen and attorneys deciding what students should learn about science in a public school classroom, you've got a problem," says Quinn.

And elections for the members of the Board of Education will be held next year, so voters could potentially get more science advocates on the board before the textbook reviews the following year.

Science took some blows in Texas on Friday, but the battle isn't close to over, and Quinn, for one, is optimistic that people will continue to fight the good fight. "When you have an elected body doing everything it can to undermine the education of your kids and making it harder for them to compete and succeed in the 21st century," he says, "that's when people take notice and stand up."

==========

http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2009/03/texas-may-end-s.html

Texas scraps school anti-evolution requirements

Posted by Doug Stanglin
USA Today Blogs
March 27, 2009

The Texas Board of Education has scrapped a 20-year-old requirement that public school students discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, the Associated Press and other news outlets report.

But the board, in what some in the news media viewed as a compromise, did vote to encourage students to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, the Houston Chronicle reports.)

It adopted language that says the curriculum will require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

The issue is so complicated and controversial, however, that we thought we'd give you a flavor of the issue by showing you how various news organizations reported the final vote:

The 13-2 vote removes current requirements that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Instead, teachers will be required to have students scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, a move criticized by evolution proponents. (The Austin American-Statesman)

The Texas Board of Education voted today by a 13-to-2 margin to change controversial language in the state's curriculum, making it harder for creationism to creep into public classrooms. For the past 20 years, the state's curriculum has instructed teachers to present the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, opening the door to non-scientific, faith-based alternatives. (The Scientific American)

Social conservatives lost another skirmish over evolution Friday when the State Board of Education stripped two provisions from proposed science standards that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution. (The Dallas Morning News)

After six hours of often mind-numbing debate, the State Board of Education has mercifully passed a final version of new science standards that will guide the content of science textbooks and curriculum for the next decade. (The Texas Observer)

Earlier posting: The Texas school board has tentatively voted to scrap a 20-year requirement that public school students discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and Darwin's theory of the origin of life, the Houston Chronicle reports.

If adopted in a final vote today, the new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year and last a decade. The Chronicle calls the move a "setback for critics of evolution."

The Dallas Morning News, however, notes that critics of evolution scored some victories in winning adoption of a requirement that students in some specific subjects study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection, two key Darwin tenets, in examining fossil records and cell structure.

Scientists and more than 50 national and state science organizations have urged the board not to include references "to creationist-fabricated 'weaknesses' or other attempts to undermine instruction on evolution," the Chronicle says.

The board's decision will have a big impact on science textbooks nationwide because publishers preparing material for the huge Texas market typically sell the same book to other states, the newspaper says.

The board also adopted language that would have students study the "different views on the existence of global warming," the Chronicle says.

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http://www.salon.com/env/feature/2009/03/28/texas_evolution_case/

Texas on evolution: Needs further study

Although the state ruled that schools must support Darwin's theory, creationists are singing the praises of Friday's decision.


By Gordy Slack
Salon.com
March 28, 2009

Language matters. And we are lucky that some people will go to the mat over a few words. In Austin, Texas, this week, scientists and creationists battled over whether to include the words "strengths and weaknesses" in the state's official statement about evolution. The words would influence how evolution is taught in Texas classrooms and would be immortalized in Lone Star textbooks. As the largest textbook market in the country, the decision could pressure other high school textbook publishers to conform to Texas standards.

Dan McLeroy, the Texas State Board of Education chairman, a dentist and self-described creationist, led the charge to mandate teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory of evolution. After three days of high-pitched argument on both sides, the 15-member board, by a vote of 8-7, rejected the language, relieving textbook authors and publishers of the pressure to insert what opponents called "junk science" into their pages. But in a compromise that alarms and dismays many science education advocates, the board did adopt language that attempts to cast a shadow of doubt over the validity of the central evolutionary concepts of natural selection and common ancestry.

Proponents of the theory of intelligent design, and other brands of neo-creationism, argue that evolution is inadequate to the job of explaining the diversity and history of life on earth. If they can cast doubts about evolution's validity, they have a chance to fill the authority vacuum with the tenets of creationism. But since late 2005, when a federal judge in Dover, Pa., ruled that intelligent design was a form of creationism, and that its introduction into public high school curricula was unconstitutional, advocates of teaching neo-creationism have been forced to seek other ways into public science classrooms. Enter the "strengths and weaknesses" strategy, crafted by the Seattle-based, pro-intelligent-design think thank, Discovery Institute.

Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization dedicated to protecting the integrity of science education in the public schools, says that once McLeroy and his allies failed to pass the "strengths and weakness" language, "they had a fallback position, which was to continue amending the standards to achieve through the back door what they couldn't achieve upfront."

And they succeeded. Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute lawyer, and its guy on the Austin scene, was psyched by the outcome. "These are the strongest standards in the country now," he says. "The language adapted requires students to have critical thinking about all of science, including evolution, and it urges them to look at all sides of the issue."

One amendment calls for students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record." The key words are "sudden appearance" and "stasis." McLeroy argues that "the sudden appearance" of forms in the Cambrian period, when there was a rapid multiplication and diversification of species, and the persistence of forms over long periods of time (stasis) are evidence against evolution. And thus for creationism.

In 2012, when the board next selects textbooks, anti-evolution members will be able to argue against books that don't sufficiently "evaluate scientific explanations" concerning stasis or so-called sudden appearance. Another amendment requires that teachers and textbooks include language to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanation concerning the complexity of the cell." Arguing for the "irreducible complexity" of cells is another key creationist theme.

Each of the amendments singles out an old creationist argument, strips it of its overtly ideological language, and requires teachers and textbook publishers to adopt it. In other words, says Joshua Rosenau of NCSE, if the books don't at least pay lip service to criticizing natural selection, they risk not being adopted.

However, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that neither periods of rapid evolution, nor the persistence of forms that have adapted successful ways of surviving for long periods of time, poses any threat to the theory of evolution. Yes, cells are complex, but so are the explanatory tools of modern evolutionary theory. Over the history of the debate, critics of evolution have invariably said something or other was too complex for Darwin's theory to explain. Yet scientists have consistently pointed out that two of the critics' favorite examples, the human eye and the bacterial flagellum, have been illuminated by and explained in terms of natural selection.

"The theory of evolution has no weaknesses," says Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University. There are many unanswered questions about how organisms evolve and diversify, and what drives them to do so, but Charles Darwin's 150-year-old insights that all life on earth descended from one or a few simple common ancestors, and that natural selection explains how they did, remain solid foundations of modern biology. As the late, great biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky is famous for saying, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Not that science makes sense to a creationist like McLeroy. "Scientific consensus means nothing," he tells Salon. "All it takes is one fact to overthrow consensus. Evolution has a status that it simply doesn't deserve. People say it's vital to understanding biology. But it's genetics that's the foundation for biology. A biologist once said that nothing in biology makes sense without evolution. Well, that's not true. You go into the top biology labs, and it makes no difference if evolution is true or false to what they're doing and studying. It makes no difference."

It makes all the difference in the world, says Miller, who notes the irony of McLeroy quoting Dobzhansky, one of the fathers of the modern evolutionary synthesis. Adds Miller: McLeroy's "fundamental misunderstanding of the way genetics and evolution have produced a unified science of biology is nothing short of breathtaking."

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http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/science-setback-texas-schools-004708

Science setback for Texas schools

PRESS RELEASE
National Center for Science Education
March 30, 2009

"Somebody's got to stand up to experts!" cries board chair Don McLeroy.

OAKLAND — After three all-day meetings and a blizzard of amendments and counter-amendments, the Texas Board of Education cast its final vote Friday on state science standards. The results weren't pretty.

The board majority amended the Earth and Space Sciences standards as well as the Biology standards (TEKS) with loopholes and language that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks.

"The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science," says Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). "The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country." NCSE presented the board with a petition from 54 scientific and educational societies, urging the board to reject language that misrepresents or undermines the teaching of evolution, which the board likewise ignored.

Although the "strengths and weaknesses" wording that has been part of the standards for over a decade was finally excised — wording that has been used to pressure science textbook publishers to include creationist arguments — a number of amendments put the creationist-inspired wording back in.

"What we now have is Son of Strengths and Weaknesses," says Josh Rosenau, a project director for NCSE. "Having students 'analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence' is code that gives creationists a green light to attack biology textbooks."

For example, the revised biology standard (7B) reflects two discredited creationist ideas — that "sudden appearance" and "stasis" in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution. The new standard directs students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records." Other new standards include language such as "is thought to" or "proposed transitional fossils" to make evolutionary concepts seem more tentative.

The changes will not immediately affect curricula in Texas high schools, but "the standards will affect standardized tests and textbooks," says Rosenau. Thanks to such laws as No Child Left Behind, ubiquitous standardized tests are central to measuring student progress and proficiency. Teachers teach to the test, notes Rosenau, and textbooks have to reflect this.

"Will publishers cave in to pressure from the Texas board to include junk science in their textbooks? It has happened before," says Scott. "But textbooks that please the Texas board will be rejected in other states. Publishers will have to choose between junk science and real science."

"Let's be clear about this," cautioned Scott. "This is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory. The revised wording opens the door to creationism in the classroom and in the textbooks. The decisions will not only affect Texas students for the next ten years, but could result in watered-down science textbooks across the U.S. There's a reason creationists are claiming victory."

NCSE's Josh Rosenau summed up the frustration of scientists and educators alike: "This is a hell of a way to make education policy."

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/opinion/31tue3.html

Evolutionary Semantics, Texas-Style

Editorial
The New York Times
Published: March 30, 2009

The Texas Board of Education gave grudging support last week to teaching the mainstream theory of evolution without the most troubling encumbrances sought by religious and social conservatives. But the margins on crucial amendments were disturbingly close, typically a single vote on a 15-member board, and compromise language left ample room for the struggle to continue.

This was not a straightforward battle over whether to include creationism or its close cousin, intelligent design, in the science curriculum. That battle has been lost by Darwin’s opponents in the courts, the schools and most political arenas.

Rather, this was a struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could open the door to doubts about evolution. In the most ballyhooed vote, those like us who support the teaching of sound science can claim a narrow victory.

Conservatives tried -- but failed -- to reinsert a phrase requiring students to study the "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories, including evolution. That language had been in the standards for years, but it was eliminated by experts who prepared the new standards for board approval because it has become a banner for critics of Darwinian evolution who seek to exaggerate supposed weaknesses in the theory.

The conservatives also narrowly lost attempts to have students study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of natural selection to explain the complexities of the cell, a major issue for proponents of intelligent design. The conservatives also failed to get the word "sufficiency" inserted by itself, presumably because that would imply insufficiency as well. They had to settle for language requiring students to “analyze, evaluate and critique” scientific explanations and examine "all sides" of the scientific evidence.

At the end of a tense, confusing three-day meeting, Darwin’s critics claimed that this and other compromise language amounted to a huge victory that would still allow their critiques into textbooks and classrooms. One can only hope that teachers in Texas will use common sense and teach evolution as scientists understand it.

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http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/03/universes-age-erased-from-texa.html

Universe's age erased from Texas school science standards

Rachel Courtland, online reporter
New Scientist Blog: Short Sharp Science
March 31, 2009

Ever since a 2005 trial in Dover, Pennsylvania, revealed "intelligent design" to be creationism by another name, school boards that want to expand science standards to accommodate "alternative" ideas have tried to do so in a more subtle way.

Last year, for example, biologists mobilised when states began considering teacher-protection laws promoting "academic freedom," ostensibly designed to protect teachers from being fired for presenting "the full range of scientific views" on evolution.

On the surface it seemed an innocuous move; protecting teachers who want to teach evolution seems natural enough. But the law, which was modelled after a template offered by the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, came to be seen as a loophole for creationists, allowing teachers to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution.

So, given the subtleties, it's hard to know what to make of the Texas Board of Education's decision on Friday to drop mention that the universe is some 14 billion years old in the state science standards.
In an amendment sponsored by board member Barbara Cargill, the board of education voted to replace a requirement to teach the "concept of an expanding universe that originated about 14 billion years ago". According to the National Center for Science Education's Josh Rosenau, teachers must now present "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe" (emphasis added).

Those two words - theories and estimates - seem a bit out of place. If anything, astronomers and cosmologists are converging on a single idea for how the universe has expanded over time and a single estimate for the age of the universe. With the latest results compiled by NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), that age now stands at 13.73 billion years, plus or minus some 120 million years.

Is the new standard an invitation for young-Earth proponents to teach students that the Earth and the universe beyond it is just a few thousand years old? Some teachers could conceivably see it as an opening. According to a 2008 study, 16% of US science teachers believe humans were created by God in the last 10,000 years.

Perhaps the Texas board is just trying to round out their students' education, by requiring that teachers demonstrate that there are multiple ways to estimate the age of the universe. After all, decoding the cosmic recipe of how much dark energy, dark matter, and ordinary matter the universe contains is just one (quite precise) way to determine its age. But you can also make rough estimates based on the universe's current expansion rate or by looking at the ages of the oldest stars. Let's hope that's the case.

Otherwise, it looks like cosmology, which has remained relatively unaffected by recent religion-based attacks, might soon be on trial. I say, bring it on - while there are many unanswered questions about the universe - for example, what the nature of dark matter is - its age is not one of them. Establishing at a Dover-like trial that the Earth is more than 4 billion years old and the universe is more than 13 billion years old could only be good for the public understanding of science.

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http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/04/01/0401sboe_edit.html

Put Texas education board under a microscope

Watch Board of Education meetings online before they become YouTube sideshows.


EDITORIAL
Austin American-Statesman
Wednesday, April 01, 2009

After the national outrage and bitter debate stirred up by the State Board of Education's anti-evolution and anti-science positions in recent weeks, little House Bill 772 is welcome.

All this short bill does is require that board meetings be broadcast — with audio and video — over the Internet and that the board Web site maintain an archive of those videos. It was introduced by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, and passed by the House on Tuesday.

HB 772 is an important first step in bringing much-needed scrutiny to the State Board of Education. Board members make news by questioning the theory of evolution and arguing that — fossil record be damned — the universe is less than 10,000 years old. Or writing that President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer and intends to establish martial law, as did Board Member Cynthia Dunbar, who represents part of Austin, Travis County and Central Texas.

But Texans really don't know much about this board or how much power it has over public education in Texas. Requiring online video of their meetings will help more Texans understand just how subversive and beyond the mainstream the board majority is.

Broadcasting board meetings and archiving the videos also might wake up voters to the fact that they elect these people. Religious conservatives gained a stranglehold on the board several years ago because they understood they could win elections in which few voters knew anything about them or their extreme ideas.

The result is there for anyone to see. Chairman Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what they have done is not funny.

Last week's discussion about shaping the teaching of science to allow doubts about evolution was surreal. Biology texts now must include "all sides" of scientific theories — in other words, future textbooks must include criticism of long-standing scientific theories, including evolution.

The underlying point is that a board majority wants creationism to be part of the scientific discussion. And they got enough of a foot in the door with their language about teaching "all sides" of scientific theories that publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell science textbooks to Texas schools.

The point has been made here often that religious beliefs about creation have no place in high school biology and chemistry classes. Save that for Sunday school and let students learn science in the public schools.

But that doesn't deter board members set on pushing religion and social and political conservatism into the public schools. That's why HB 772 could make for a real eye-opener in the next election.

Voters would be able to see the board in action, hear members dismiss established science in favor of religious dogma, downplay human influence on global warming and more. If the bill becomes law, it provides an opportunity to expose the board majority for what it is — a group of religious conservatives who home school their children and have the most reactionary views imaginable on life, science, education and politics.

Enough voters might understand, then, that these people are essentially anti-education and anti-intellectual and should not have anything to do with public education and textbook selection.


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2009 April 1