Message to Texas Citizens for Science Members and Supporters
About the Public Testimony for Texas Science Standards

2008 November 13

Dear Texas Citizens for Science Members and Supporters,

I need your help. Now is the time for you to do something for Texas science education. You got my first announcement about public testimony for science standards a week ago. Today, you may have received a letter from NCSE (if not, it is reprinted below). This message is my second announcement.

If possible, please register to speak to the Texas State Board of Education in Austin on Wednesday, November 19. You can register Friday, Nov 14, or Monday, Nov 17, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The directions to register are at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/op_rules.html#publictestimony. You can find the latest November second draft of the proposed Science Standards at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/scienceTEKS.html (these are still not posted yet as I write this on Thursday night, but they should be up on Friday, Nov 14, so I'm going to use that date). Specify that you will speak about Agenda Item 7, Discussion of Proposed Revisions to the Science TEKS, at the Committee of the Full Board on Wednesday, Nov 19, at 9:00 a.m. You can find information about this item at
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/schedule/2008/november/full_board/items/wed_7_science_i.html. Remember to bring 35 copies of your testimony to hand out. This will only be one page, since you will only have 3 minutes to speak.

If you can't speak in person, please just write something and mail it to the SBOE and especially to your own SBOE member. Phone them too and leave a voice mail. Believe me, you will get their attention. Also, send the suggestions I recommend below to the Biology panel using the directions on the Science Standards webpage listed above.

I am involved with the revised Texas science standards or TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). I participated in writing the standards for the new Earth and Space Science course. However, that is not what I need to write to you about. I am concerned here only with the Biology standards, which is what I plan to testify about myself on Nov 19, and encourage you to also. The original 1997-98 standards, still in use, have several problems:

1. They contain Knowledge Statement (or Rule or Requirement) (c)(3)(A) (or 3A) that requires--in Student Expectation (A)--that students "critique" the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific explanation, including theories. This rule is only enforced with regard to evolution, and obviously allows anti-scientific mischief from Creationists who attempt to use the rule to inset bogus "weaknesses" and "critiques" of evolution into biology textbooks. Creationists failed in 1997 and 2003 to do this because the rule also requires that "scientific evidence and information" be used for the "weaknesses" and "critique," and scientists, science educators, and science advocates were able to convince a majority of 15 SBOE members (11-4 in 2003) that no such "scientific evidence and information" actually exists to do that. Now, the Creationists have 7 committed votes and have been befriending and soliciting the 8th vote. We--the defenders of accurate science education in Texas--face a great danger.

2. Biology KS no. 7, the one that deals with evolution, had two problems. First, it was the only KS in biology that used the term "theory." The term was not used for development, cell biology, genetics, etc. It could have but did not say that the student must "understand biological evolution" or "the scientific theory of evolution." Second, a requirement for knowing something about human evolution was omitted. The "theory" wording and omission of human evolution are deliberate (i.e. the writers engaged in self-censorship) because the writers in 1997 believed (quite correctly, I'm sure) that the SBOE would never allow this topic to be required in Texas.

Let's discuss Knowledge and Skills (KS, often called Rule or Requirement) 3A first. Here is the sequence of revisions of this rule in Biology:

Original version (adopted 1997, effective in 1998) KS 3A:
(3) Scientific Processes The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

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Revised 2008 September 22 Draft, the First Public Release:
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;

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Revised 2008 November 14 Draft--the Second Public Release:
(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and evaluate strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data, and evidence from students’ observations, experiments, models, and logical statements;

As you can see, rule 3A was considerably improved in September. The words "critique" and "weaknesses" and "theory" were removed, eliminating a host of semantic difficulties, and the scientific method aspects were strengthened. But now we've got a problem. On November 1, Biology adopted the second draft rule 3A that Physics and Chemistry also adopted. This second draft rule 3A is of course better than the 1997 original, but is not better than the September first draft, for it continues to leave openings for Creationist mischief. It uses the language "strengths and limitations of scientific explanations including those based on accepted scientific data..." Creationists will exploit this language, demanding that biology textbooks contain information about the "limitations" of biological evolution and other scientific theories, since they're based on "accepted scientific data."

If physics and chemistry use this new language it will only be unfortunate, since the rule will be ignored in their case as it always has, but if biology keeps it, it will be a disaster! We need to do something about this immediately. There is still time to do something, but this will be the last opportunity! The science panels meet again on December 4-6, and the Biology panel members must be encouraged to go back to the September first draft language, which is scientifically most accurate. Please ask Biology to do this. Thankfully, the other five science disciplines kept or adopted the September first draft rule 3A for their November second draft.

Next, let's discuss Biology Knowledge and Skills (KS) no. 7, the one that deals with evolution. Here is the sequence of revisions of this KS:

Original version (adopted 1997, effective in 1998) KS (7):
(7) Science concepts. The student knows the theory of biological evolution. The student is expected to:
(A) identify evidence of change in species using fossils, DNA sequences, anatomical similarities, physiological similarities, and embryology; and
(B) illustrate the results of natural selection in speciation, diversity, phylogeny, adaptation, behavior, and extinction.

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Revised 2008 September 22 Draft, the First Public Release:
(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life. The student is expected to:
(A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, physiological, behavioral and developmental;
(B) recognize that natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;
(C) describe the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources resulting in differential reproductive success;
(D) recognize the significance of natural selection to adaptation, and to the diversity of species; and
(E) analyze the results of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.

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Revised 2008 November 14 Draft--the Second Public Release:
(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:
(A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, physiological, behavioral and developmental;
(B) recognize that natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;
(C) describe the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources resulting in differential reproductive success;
(D) recognize the relationship of natural selection to adaptation, and to the development of diversity in and among species; and
(E) analyze the results of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.

As you can see, the Student Expectations (lettered items) are significantly improved, so we don't have to worry about them. The only problem is that human evolution is not explicitly required as a SE. I had initially expected this to be added, since I had suggested it (!), but it was not. If biology doesn't require human evolution, teachers will avoid that topic in Texas and just teach evolution in general as those who actually teach evolution do, and the vast majority of Texas students will never learn the scientific explanation for the origin of our own species in their lifetimes, because they certainly aren't going to get this knowledge anywhere else (unless they accidentally catch a PBS program on human evolution while channel surfing). Only five or six states explicitly require that human evolution be taught (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/24/education/24evolution.html) and Florida was the most recent one to do so. Texas should be next, especially if it values the science education of its children. I request that you ask for human evolution in the Biology standards.

Now, let's discuss the other problem with Biology's KS no. 7. The Biology panel changed "The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life" to "The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life." This is certainly an improvement, but it's not the best wording possible. I pointed out, in my public feedback, that only evolution was named "evolutionary theory" and the terms genetic theory, cell theory, developmental theory, etc. were not used, so this weakened the requirement by introducing a hook for deliberate misinterpretation and potential downgrading of evolution compared to the other topics, so I asked for the word "theory" to be removed. As you know, it is common for Creationists, including the seven Creationist members on the SBOE, to claim that "evolution is only a theory and should be taught as such." Using the word theory here only plays into that willful scientific incompetence. Please ask that the word "theory" be removed.

Adding "scientific" as an adjective to "explanation" is an improvement, but it would be better if Biology would add "scientific" to the word "theory" if the desire is to keep the word "theory." I agree that in context the word "theory" refers to "scientific theory," but I think it needs to be explicit, since any lapse or poor wording will be exploited by science's enemies. Please ask that the word "scientific" be added to "theory" if the term "theory" is kept.

There is one more thing to consider. The phrase "the theory of biological evolution" had been changed to "evolutionary theory is an explanation for the unity and diversity of life" in September and to "evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life" in November. To be precise and accurate, the standard should read "The student knows that evolution is the scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life," but the Biology KS for evolution has been made more ambiguous and inexact. For some reason, the Biology panel members got the idea to make sure this standard was not "too dogmatic." Perhaps they know of another scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life in addition to evolution. Right now, the second draft standard is not good enough, and should be changed to "evolution is the scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life." In your testimony, please request that this be done.

As you can see, slight differences in language and terms can make an enormous difference. If the proper terms and phrases aren't used, anti-science Creationists will exploit the Texas science standards language and try to damage biology textbooks and biology classroom instruction. We must not let this happen. Otherwise, science education in Texas will suffer and we will not be teaching 21st Century science in the 21st Century.

Remember, I'm asking you to request five items:
1. Ask that the Biology TEKS use the September 22 First Release version of KS 3A, so that the terms "weaknesses," "critique," "theory," and "limitations" are not used.
2. Ask that the Biology TEKS add a Student Expectation for human evolution in KS 7.
3. Ask that the Biology TEKS just use the term "evolution" rather than "evolutionary theory" or the "theory of evolution" in KS 7.
4. Ask that the Biology TEKS use the adjective "scientific" in front of "theory" if the term "theory" is kept in KS 7.
5. Ask that the Biology TEKS refer to "the scientific explanation" rather than "an explanation" or "a scientific explanation" in KS 7.

Please read the entire Biology TEKS and those of the other science disciplines and comment on those, too, if you wish. But you will only have 3 minutes in your verbal testimony. In Texas, everything is political and that includes the formulation and adoption of science standards to use in public schools. You are part of the "polis," or body of citizens, so I encourage you to become involved if you value good science education.

Best,

Steven Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science
tcs@texscience.org
http://www.texscience.org/

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From the National Center for Science Education:

Dear Texas Friends,

If it is at all possible for you to attend the November 19, 2008 board of education meeting in Austin to testify in support of sound science education standards, please, please do so. Information on testifying will be found below.

If it is not possible for you to attend, please provide feedback on the standards at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/scienceTEKS.html

The primary issue is whether evolution will be treated with integrity, or whether the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the science standards) will capitulate to political pressure and require textbook publishers to include disguised creationism in books submitted for adoption in Texas. These TEKS will form the basis for science curriculum for years to come.

The first draft of the new TEKS has been released and reviewed by an outside committee. Now that the TEKS language is becoming finalized, it is important that the SBOE hear from as many concerned citizens as possible.

The matter of primary concern is the wording of the standard C. Knowledge and Skills, #3, Scientific Processes, A. (in short, “Process Skill 3A). In the current version of the TEKS, it reads:

C. Knowledge and Skills
(3) Scientific Processes. The student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

Although on the surface this sounds like a reasonable, “critical thinking” educational standard encouraging students to evaluate scientific explanations, in practice it has been used to attack evolution in the curriculum. In 2003, textbook publishers were threatened with having to include “weaknesses of evolution” – i.e., creationist arguments like “gaps in the fossil record” and “irreducible complexity” along with evolution. These attacks were narrowly defeated after much controversy and considerable effort from scientists and teachers.

During the current 2008 revision of the standards, committees of scientists and teachers are suggesting new wording for Process Skill 3A to the Board of Education. Wording was changed from “strengths and weaknesses” to something that better encourages TRUE critical thinking:

C. 3. (A) analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing; We encourage everyone concerned about science education in Texas to make their opinions known to the board. Public input is an important part of this process, and numbers count.

You can also make your opinions known during the upcoming State Board of Education meeting, which will take place Wednesday, November 19th, beginning at 9:00 AM in room 1-104 of the TEA building, 1701 N. Congress, in Austin. Point 7 of the agenda will involve TEKS science standards, and will probably be taken up late morning or shortly after lunch. Information on this meeting and a full agenda for the meeting can be found here:
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/mtg_mat_current.html

To testify, you must sign up on either Friday, November 14 or Monday, November 17, either in person at TEA between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM, or by filling out a form and faxing it to them. No one will be allowed to testify who has not signed up in advance. Sign up early! The form is at
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/forms/registration_testimony.html. You want to check “Committee of the Full Board”, and fax the form to 512-936-4319. You may also telephone in your registration to 512-463-9007.

You have only 3 minutes to testify, so make your testimony count. Explain your qualifications to speak on the topic (including being a taxpayer/parent/scientist/teacher – whatever combination describes you). You should make only one or at the most two points, make them succinctly, and preferably bring 35 copies of your testimony to
distribute to the board and staff. Stress the importance of teaching evolution without phony “weaknesses” not recognized by professional scientists.

And feel free to consult with us for additional ideas. Numbers count! Please sign up to testimony if you possibly can, and also comment on the posted standards, supporting the wording that avoids the creationist-inspired “weaknesses” language.

Thanks for your support of evolution education. For more information on Texas evolution education issues, please visit: http://www.texscience.org/

Sincerely,
Steven Newton
Eugenie C. Scott
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
http://www.ncseweb.org/


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 November 13