Texas Citizens for Science Responds to the Thomas Fordham Institute's
The State of State Science Standards, 2012
January 31, 2012
Steven Schafersman, Ph.D., President
Texas Citizens for Science (http://www.texscience.org)
The State of State Science Standards 2012
January 31, 2012
"Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up," 2009
The State of State Science Standards 2005
Today the Thomas Fordham Institute releases its latest review of state science standards, giving Texas a C grade for its efforts. Texas deserves a C, but it should have an A, and it would have earned an A if the ideologically-driven and activist Republican members of the Texas State Board of Education had not voted to edit, manipulate, censor, distort, and corrupt the science standards presented to them by panels of scientists, science curriculum experts, and science teachers in 2009. The standards were not perfect, but they were much better than the final version that resulted after the State Board did its dirty work by a series of 8-7 votes to amend the standards. The best science standards Texas could adopt are those of the Common Core State Standards coalition, thereby completely eliminating the scientifically-ignorant and politically-motivated members of the Texas State Board of Education.
Fordham's previous evaluations of state science standards were published in 2000 and 2005. Texas made a C in 2000 for having mediocre coverage of evolution in biology standards. In 2005, Texas received an F for its poorly conceived and implemented science standards, failing in the categories of Expectations, Organization, Science Content and Approach, Quality, Inquiry, and Evolution. The state's final percentage score was an amazingly low 34%. The Fordham reviewers commented that "the incidence of confusion, misunderstanding, and plain ignorance grows rapidly" as the standards reach middle and high school levels. They remarked that "Texas provides, by way of scant substance or careless writing or plain errors, something not really adequate" in the way of science standards. They singled out Texas' treatment of evolution in biology as "adequate" (a compliment) but criticized the superficial treatment and missing "large expanses of necessary content." Other states, such as California, Massachusetts, and New York received grades of A for their fine science standards.
Texas science standards were heavily revised by science professionals in 2008-2009, but the Biology and Earth and Space Science standards were then politically manipulated by the ideologically- and religiously-driven members of the State Board of Education before being finalized. Texas Citizens for Science and other science organizations complained of the interference of agenda-driven non-scientists who compromised and corrupted some standards. Steven Schafersman, TCS President, was a member of the panels that created the Earth and Space Science Standards and the introductory scientific inquiry and methodology standards.
In 2009, a study by two science curriculum experts sponsored by the National Center for Science Education ("Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up" by Louise S. Meade and Anton Mates) again gave Texas science standards an F, this time precisely for the new unscientific standards and rewording of standards by "Creationists on the [State] Board of Education." Standards were added to and reworded in Biology that demanded that information be included that SBOE Creationists thought would support Intelligent Design Creationism; standards were reworded in Earth and Space Science to remove references to a "14 billion year" old universe and the "evolution" of organisms in the fossil record; in an important process skill students were required to be able to "critique scientific explanations . . . including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations" when students learn only the most accurate and reliable scientific information, not having the time to deal with controversies. Their final conclusion. "Given the loss and adulteration of content in the areas of cosmological and geological evolution and the profusion of creationist jargon, we cannot score Texas’ current standards as other than an F."
Fordham has now given Texas science standards a C in 2012 even though these are the identical standards that received an F in 2009 from the NCSE reviewers. Why the difference? There are three reasons: First, the NCSE reviewers focused only on Biology standards subjected to anti-scientific rewriting by Texas State Board non-scientist members, not other disciplines. These Creationist members did not negatively rewrite other science standards, such as those for Chemistry, Physics, Environmental Systems, and Astronomy. Second, the new Texas Earth and Space Science standards were written using the very best standards available in the country as a guide and deliberately included much recent knowledge about climate change, sedimentary and tectonic processes, energy resources, and paleontological and origin of life research. Prior to State Board Creationist manipulation, these standards were the outstanding example of the best that could be achieved in the United States. Third, the Fordham reviewers looked at all K-12 standards while most censorship and editing by Board members took place in two high school courses, primarily Biology and secondarily Earth and Space Science (ESS); the latter is not a core curriculum course and is taken by very few students. Therefore, without the State Board-mandated political and anti-scientific changes in Biology and ESS, Texas would have received at least a B and perhaps even an A from the Fordham reviewers.
The Fordham reviewers thought highly of the completely rewritten scientific inquiry and methodology standards. Great pains had been taken by several scientists and science curriculum experts, including the present author, to really improve these and the improvement was noticed. Curiously, the Fordham reviewers ignored the changed process skill 3A, probably because it did not mandate teaching any pseudoscientific knowledge. Earth and Space Science was singled out for special praise, saying the material "is strong, appearing at appropriate grade levels and with sufficient depth." The emphasis on climate change was noticed: "To its credit, Texas also dispassionately and unapologetically introduces students to global warming, a political hot potato in many places." The few words (evolution, 14 billion years) eliminated by Creationist Board members were not noticed to be missing.
Significantly, the Life Science (Biology) standards received the most criticism, but not for the reasons expected. Despite characterizing the Biology standards as "woefully imbalanced," the odd Creationist-inserted standards and words in high school Biology were not considered a problem by Fordham (indeed, that turned out to also be the case when several agenda-driven Creationists were replaced with pragmatic, pro-science State Board members in the November 2010 election, so the Creationist activists did not have a political majority to force their views on publishers who all refused to add Creationist-inspired content). Instead, the Fordham reviewers complained about the inadequate K-9 science standards that did not fully prepare high school Biology and Environmental Systems students to learn the more advanced material. Standards with factual errors were noted, and the biggest problem with middle school standards is "their coverage of evolution." In Texas, students are not introduced to evolution until they take Biology in high school. I actually lobbied the Biology panel to require some coverage of evolution in 7th grade, but the members refused, much to my dismay. I am happy to note that Fordham recognizes this as a problem. The review of Life Science concludes that,
In spite of the Texas [State] Board of Education's erratic approach to evolution, the state's current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly. There are no concessions to "controversies" or "alternative theories. In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution."
Yes, except for the State Board Creationist-inspired textual additions, which are hard to overlook by anyone who understands the context or controversy, the high school Biology standards are good, but not exemplary, and certainly worth a B or C. In addition to the requirements that misrepresent evolution which Fordham ignored, the Texas Biology standards do not include a requirement to cover human evolution. I lobbied the Biology panel for this, also, but again they refused. I cannot characterize the Biology standards as exemplary when much better ones are possible and indeed exist in the standards of other states. Frankly, I would give the Texas Biology standards an F as they read now, incomplete and corrupted with Creationist jargon. With the other science standards receiving an A or B, I agree that the overall grade of C for Texas science standards is deserved. It must be emphasized that a C grade is still not very good when states such as California, Indiana, Virginia, and Massachusetts receive an A or A- grade. Texas needs to adopt the Common Core State Standards when they are completed. Then Texas science standards will be exemplary overall and deserving of an A grade.