Sound Science Gains in Texas Education Battle

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We have very good news to report about the revision of the Texas public school science curriculum standards. Writing teams made up of teachers and academics have proposed final drafts of new standards that would curb efforts by evolution deniers to dumb down science education in the state’s public schools. The final drafts for all high school science courses, just released by the Texas Education Agency, remove a state-imposed requirement that students learn “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Creationists on the Texas State Board of Education have politicized and abused that language to launch unscientific attacks (phony “weaknesses”) on evolution. In the past they have even tried to force textbook publishers to water down discussions of that foundational concept in the biological sciences. (They almost certainly will try to do so again when publishers submit new science textbooks for approval in 2011.)

The final standards drafts come after a November public hearing before the State Board of Education. During the hearing, scores of parents, teachers, scientists and other academics insisted that the new standards focus on sound science and not dumb down our kids’ education by opening the door to fringe concepts and phony attacks on the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting evolution. Meeting earlier this month in Austin, the writing teams for all high school science courses agreed. They replaced requirements that students learn “weaknesses” or “limitations” of scientific theories like evolution. Instead, a new requirement includes more scientifically sound language about students analyzing scientific explanations:

(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;

The draft standards also include new language explaining that science involves the study of “testable explanations and predictions of natural phenomena.” That new language would make it clear that supernatural explanations like “intelligent design”/creationism have no place in science classrooms.

The draft standards align with calls from a large and growing coalition of Texas scientists to drop the “strengths and weaknesses” language. In addition, a Texas Freedom Network Education Fund report released in November showed that biology faculty in the state’s universities and colleges overwhelmingly agree that creationist-fabricated arguments (“weaknesses”) against evolution are not supported by scientific evidence.

The State Board of Education will hold a second public hearing on January 21 and is scheduled to take a final vote on the new standards in March. Board members have essentially two options. On the one hand, they can approve the recommendation of all the high school teacher and academic writing teams — supported by scientists and university science faculty from across the state — and give Texas schoolchildren a 21st-century science education. Or on the other hand, the creationist faction that controls the board can continue its misguided war on evolution, embarrass the state, dumb down science education and handicap our children’s ability to compete and succeed in college and the jobs of the future.

You can help ensure that the state board doesn’t put ideology ahead of the education of Texas schoolchildren. Learn more here about how you can Stand Up for Science!

(Our friends at the National Center for Science Education have a nice summary of events here.)

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16 Responses to “Sound Science Gains in Texas Education Battle”

  1. jdg Says:

    We all know that the creationists won’t be happy with these new drafts. As a realist, I feel they will change the curriculum to reflect “strenghts and weaknesses”. TFN, as educators we have a “ethics” code in our district policy. Can’t we use that as a reason not to teach this weakness stuff???? Either way, I will NOT teach it.

  2. James F Says:

    jdg,

    Since teaching creationism in public school science classrooms is unconstitutional, you’ll have no problems – it would be amusing to see what sorts of S&W they would expect you to teach! It’s those who want to circumvent the Establishment Clause that stand to gain some cover from S&W language.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you and yours! Congratulations, and keep up the good work!

  3. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Well, what the biology committee did was move “limitations” from Sec. 3(A) in the 2nd draft to Sec. 3(D) in the committee’s final draft, so Sec. 3(D) of the biology standards now reads, “evaluate models according to their limitations in representing biological objects or events,”

    You paranoid Darwinists are “protesting too much” — as the saying goes — about words like “weaknesses” and “limitations.” Omitting those words would not prevent the adoption of textbooks that present weaknesses and/or limitations of evolution. You are making a tempest in a teapot and a mountain out of a molehill.

    As I said before, I recommended the term “strengths and criticisms.” “Criticisms” is a neutral, general term that covers limitations, real weaknesses, invalid criticisms (including pseudoscientific criticisms, which IMO should be studied by students as an educational exercise), criticisms of whole theories, and criticisms of imperfections in theories.

    TFN says,
    — the creationist faction that controls the board–

    I have seen no evidence that the board’s known supporters of the “strengths and weaknesses” language are all creationists, and in any event, they don’t quite “control” the board. The last I heard, of the 15 board members, 7 support the “strengths and weaknesses” language, 6 are opposed, and 2 are undecided.

    Another bad thing about the standards is that they redefine “scientific theories” as being “well-established and highly reliable explanations.” I have not seen “scientific theories” defined in this way in any standard dictionary. There are strong scientific theories and weal scientific theories. Also, the standards contain philosophies of science, which do not belong in state science standards.

  4. jdg Says:

    Larry Fafarman

    Do you know any “strenghts and weaknesses” in genetics or gravity? They are Theories as well!!! List them.

  5. africangenesis Says:

    jdg, I’ve already listed the weaknesses in general relativity elsewhere, inflation, dark energy and dark matter have already been proposed to fill in the apparent weaknesses.

    There are many conditions with an arguably heritable component that don’t fit mendelian inheritance patterns, polygenetic, epigenetic, mitochondrial, intestinal flora and intrautero environmental influences on expression patterns have been proposed to explain the inheritance patterns. Many are well eastablished by the evidence and others are still to be investigated.

    Evolutionary theory doesn’t have any weaknesses, but that may be an artifact of a more facile, all encompassing interpretation that has developed over the decades. Perhaps, it has become a sort of meta-theory, so that asking whether evolution has any weaknesses, is a bit like asking “Does science have any weaknesses”.

  6. Ben Says:

    “Evolutionary theory doesn’t have any weaknesses, but that may be an artifact of a more facile, all encompassing interpretation that has developed over the decades.”

    Or perhaps it’s simply because evolutionary theory has no weaknesses.

  7. jdg Says:

    africangenesis …. aka “concern troll”….. science doesn’t have any weaknesses. There are areas that we don’t have a full understanding of, but are not called “weaknesses”. They are areas of research, not weaknesses.

  8. Larry Fafarman Says:

    africangenesis said,
    –Evolution theory doesn’t have any weaknesses —

    It does not matter whether or not evolution theory has any real weaknesses or limitations. Teaching criticisms of evolution theory — whether those criticisms are valid or not — broadens students’ education, promotes critical thinking, increases student interest, helps students learn the material, helps correct misconceptions, and helps assure that technically sophisticated criticisms are taught by qualified science teachers.

    Furthermore, courtrooms, board of education meetings, legislatures’ meetings, etc. are not the proper forums for debating the evolution controversy. You Darwinists are always saying that scientists should decide what is science, yet you are perfectly willing to let judges and politicians decide what is science. Sometimes it is necessary for judges to make decisions about scientific questions, but that is not the case with the evolution controversy. The courts should declare the evolution controversy to be non-justiciable.

  9. africangenesis Says:

    jdg, Since you raised the issue of gravity, perhaps you can provide details rather than mere assertions, on how general relativity doesn’t have any weaknesses, and how inflation, dark energy and dark matter are mere areas of research without implications for “gravity”. Making simplistic and erroneous assertions and then rather than defending them, engaging in personal attacks is weakness. Did you really think comparing evolution to gravity and genetics was a valid argument for your “evolution doesn’t have any weaknesses” proposition?

  10. jdg Says:

    africangenesis Says:
    Did you really think comparing evolution to gravity and genetics was a valid argument for your “evolution doesn’t have any weaknesses” proposition?

    Yes, now list “weaknesses” for gravity and genetics. They are all theories, right?

  11. jdg Says:

    Larry Fafarman Says:
    Furthermore, courtrooms, board of education meetings, legislatures’ meetings, etc. are not the proper forums for debating the evolution controversy.
    — courtrooms are needed to prevent religious extremists, such as yourself, from introducing your religious propaganda into a science classroom maquerading as “strenghts and weaknesses”——

    Larry Fafarman Says:
    You Darwinists are always saying that scientists should decide what is science, yet you are perfectly willing to let judges and politicians decide what is science.
    —- once again, scientists use empirical non supernatural/superstition evidence to come up with conclusions that are continously tested, that’s how theories are formed.
    Without the courts, we would be forced to tell students that evolution is wrong/outdated, which it is not. You creationists cannont stand the fact that we evolved and that there is abundant proof of it. You guys want to indoctrinate people that some “magic” hand made everthing, which is absurd. Remember, religion was made up by man to explain the world 2000 years ago, long before science came along. Now that we have science, religion is no longer needed, it is a myth.

  12. James F Says:

    Larry Fafarman wrote:

    It does not matter whether or not evolution theory has any real weaknesses or limitations. Teaching criticisms of evolution theory — whether those criticisms are valid or not — broadens students’ education, promotes critical thinking, increases student interest, helps students learn the material, helps correct misconceptions, and helps assure that technically sophisticated criticisms are taught by qualified science teachers.

    Devoting time to a discussion of pseudoscience is a waste of time for the most part, except when students have questions about social and religious controversies over evolution. As I’ve said before, teachers should be ready to discuss why creationism (from old-earth to intelligent design) is not science, although for practical purposes this is far more likely to come up in Texas than, say, Massachusetts. It’s also critical not to teach pseudoscience as science, which is completely dishonest.

    Furthermore, courtrooms, board of education meetings, legislatures’ meetings, etc. are not the proper forums for debating the evolution controversy.

    The “controversy” has already been settled in science for decades. Creationists, as the long-time losers, are the ones who want their day in court or time before the legislature or school board to try to force their specific non-scientific dogma into public school classrooms in the guise of science. After an unbroken losing streak in the courts, they now focus on legislatures and school boards, which, ironically, will get them back to the courts. What they haven’t done is make the case that they are supporting valid scientific concepts. So if you want the “controversy” to be decided exclusively by scientists, good news, it’s over and we can turn our attentions elsewhere!

  13. africangenesis Says:

    jdg, gravity and genetics are not theories. You have to be more specific. I assume you intend general relativity as your theory of gravity since older theories tend to have more weaknesses. Your mistake was not original, so I have previously listed its weaknesses here:

    https://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/live-blogging-from-the-sboe-science-hearing-part-v/#comment-367

    Please specify what you mean by the theory of genetics, I already listed a few of the weaknesses found in Mendel’s theory. Of course, only a small part of the genetic code actually codes for genes. What you mean by genetics as a “theory” may actually have meta-theory aspects and represent a field rather than a theory. A field might encompass a group of the ories.

  14. Larry Fafarman Says:

    James F said (December 30, 2008 at 8:57 am ) —
    –Larry Fafarman wrote:

    It does not matter whether or not evolution theory has any real weaknesses or limitations. Teaching criticisms of evolution theory — whether those criticisms are valid or not — broadens students’ education, promotes critical thinking, increases student interest, helps students learn the material, helps correct misconceptions, and helps assure that technically sophisticated criticisms are taught by qualified science teachers.

    Devoting time to a discussion of pseudoscience is a waste of time for the most part, except when students have questions about social and religious controversies over evolution.–

    I have given several reasons why pseudoscience should be taught and you have given no reason why pseudoscience should not be taught.

    Obviously, questions concerning the scientific merits of criticisms of evolution — which are questions that have perplexed generations of scientists and philosophers — are not going to be conclusively settled by the State Board of Education. That is one of the reasons why I am arguing that it is OK to teach these criticisms even if they are pseudoscientific — that way the SBOE does not have to make decisions on those merits one way or the other.

    –After an unbroken losing streak in the courts–

    Actually, the scores for the “creationists” are not as bad as you seem to assume. Here are the stories behind the last three major monkey trials, which all resulted in rulings against evolution-disclaimer statements:

    (1) Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish. An en banc (full court) appeals court rehearing and certiorari by the Supreme Court were both denied by margins of just one vote. In both courts, dissenters against the denials wrote long opinions condemning the decision (it is unusual for Supreme Court justices to comment when certiorari is denied).

    (2) Selman v. Cobb County. Lawsuit against textbook stickers. In an oral hearing, the appeals court judges indicated that they were leaning towards reversal. One judge, Ed Carnes, told the plaintiffs’ attorney things like, “I don’t think y’all can contest any of the sentences — the sticker says evolution is a theory and not a fact — the book supports that,” and “your problem is that you have to take this sticker that is reflective of the book you admire so much, and say that it violates the 1st Amendment.” Another judge said that there was no evidence that the sticker misled students. However, the decision was vacated and remanded because of missing evidence and the case was eventually settled out of court.

    (3) Kitzmiller v. Dover — an unappealed decision by a biased activist judge who showed extreme prejudice against Intelligent Design and the Dover defendants — regardless of whether or not ID is a religious concept — by saying in a Dickinson College commencement speech that his decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not “true” religions.

    Anyway, the “creationists” (as you call them) have learned how to “lawsuit-proof” criticisms of evolution in the public schools.

    –So if you want the “controversy” to be decided exclusively by scientists–

    I never said or implied that I want the controversy to be decided “exclusively” by scientists — you are implicitly putting words in my mouth.

  15. Der Rot Baron Says:

    As any good teacher would say to their class: “Children PLEASE, take your seats, stop fighting, be quiet and reasonable!”. Children, we are not going to decide who is captain of the junior high debate team here in elementary school. This is rather obviously about power brokerage, and who has it, through the narrow idiom of each various parties’ competing belief systems.

    What’s called “science” in Western Civ, particularly the empirical methodology, systematic testing, and *predictive* constructs, clearly started over 5,000 years ago in what’s now China! When the Chinese political system undermined these processes, this “science”/methodology diffused or reappeared to peoples we now call Arabs and Persians, long before there was any clear Judaism or even the prediction of a redemptive prophet(s). The empiric applied end point of what we call “science”, technology, is well evidenced for modern humans back hundreds of thousands of years, leaving us with suggestions that symbol use is rather old in modern humans.

    The “mind”, including the “scientific mind” is a result of largely linguistic symbols in us moderns. Symbols are referential! Symbols refer to something else, stand for it, in its place. The end result is that all human belief systems, regardless of content, have the same properties, ie universals, the same flaws, and can only approximate what’s outside our “minds”, to more or less adaptive degrees. Those beliefs become associated with complexes of (group & learned) behavior, and those complexes of behavior are minimally (and socially) adaptive, or they don’t persist over time. There is a directional selection ongoing. We *are* facing the problem of “reality construction” and reality testing, of meta-myth and the ineffable. In this discussion some have called it the difference between the interrogatory of “how” vs “why”. Linguistic performance has everything to do with power brokerage. And, it is about power brokerage and domination, including large groups of people having dominion over other large groups of people, thus the importance of socialization practices and beliefs in those competing human groups, particularly modern public education. Beliefs systems that are what Westerner’s call “magical thinking”, or “religious thinking” vs “scientific thinking” may, or may not lead to domination of one nation-state over another, depending the technology it engenders, how that’s used, the aggregate behavior engendered. And, this seems to be, in the context of power brokerage (& politics), who gets to interpret (enforceably decide) what’s “admissible” evidence, and what the standards of evidence used are, be it for “evolution” or public school performance in teaching science or educational policy, or going to the moon.

    As noted elsewhere, science never has, and never will, dictate policy, including educational policy about science and science teaching. But science should have much better informed policy than it has in the past. Policy is a political process. There is an assumption though, that if it had, we would be “better” off as a people now somehow, an assumption that still requires outcome evidence testing in a science of human politics, power brokerage, and public education. Based on the evidence we have, the public educational systems of just about every “developed” country, and many of the still developing countries, are out performing American public school students in science, math, reading, and cultural competencies, ie analytical, computational, literacy, and general competence, on an age/grade matched basis.

    In “Cool Hand Luke” the line was “What we have here is a failure to communicate”, depicted literally as “shoot the messenger”. What I think is, “What we have here is a failure of socialization”, generally in and through public education in America, and specifically for science, as well as in other areas important to our future as a people. The Chinese are clobbering us educationally, and within a few years, so will be the Indians. Chile, Poland, Brazil, you name it, we’re getting clobbered educationally, mostly in secondary public education. And, that’s not just an issue for biology, its also chemistry, physics, math to support the science, literacy, etc. We cannot afford any further loss of rigor or basic knowledge about science in the general American population. We’ve already lost the general population’s political will on science education as a direct result of this failure of socialization over the last four decades, allowing the destruction of the culturally/politically constructed boundary between religion and science into the public commons, ie the “state”, and schools. That’s why this discussion is unresolved and unrelenting, and confounding the development of educational policy and specific curriculum buzzwords in science education. Educators have always been enamored with the brilliance and power of their own PC buzzwords, just like preachers, and the imputed far flung implications of their influence. Its a matter of empirical evidence and investigation as to where, when and how/how much educators, or preachers, are correct in this assumption. Now public education, over the last four decades, has become mostly about the adult players in the system, and their power brokerage, not the students’ skills, ie aka the failure of socialization. The pedagogue jousts with the priest for power. That has serious implications for our future. These “evolutionary” debates, and the curriculum standards, text books, etc are about power and are simply an idiom for that adult power struggle. Its a matter of who will be the “chosen few” selected.

    At the level we all live out our lives everyday, the second law of thermodynamics is real, and absolutely empirically predictive and verifiable. Its called a “law” because that’s what it is, at that level of phenomenon. I happen to believe, based on the evidence available to me directly, as a scientist, and someone who teaches science when I can, that evolution is neither a hypothesis, nor a theory, but rather a law of terrestrial living things, a law that best explains and *predicts* differences we see in living things around us, change over time, etc. Evolution certainly explains power brokerage (as social glue) in social primates, including us. Perhaps, if we restored representative constitutional democracy, we could restore the numerous destroyed boundaries, and some balance, between the public (commons) and private (corporate?) in American society, including the socialization institutions, like public schools. Democracy doesn’t function without alternative access to power, and for most, that functionally means courts, which are becoming increasingly unaccessible to the average American. If Rep Donna Howard’s bill helps to reconstruct the boundary intended between public and private, in public schools, then that would be wonderful. This is about power, and it needs to be more about student skills and our future than it has been so far. Magical thinking can sure create a lot of power for a selected, chosen few. Don’t believe me? Look at the financial markets! Hank Paulson called the financial markets a “confidence game”. Stop fighting children, and start getting something constructive done about the socialization institutions and our future.

  16. africangenesis Says:

    Der Rot Baron,

    Why are you thinking in terms of national comparisons? Nationalism is just a prejudice. “We” don’t need to be doing anything. Public schools are probably turning off more students than they are inspiring. Those other countries are largely engaging in high stakes testing with stressful environments that destroy creativity and love of learning. That is too high a price to pay for mere academic performance. Does it translate into anything substantial? In an information society, there is a lot of value added that is not “science”. Music, movies, sports, web design and games are all content where there can be excellance and achievement without good performance in the highschool core curriculum. Students are probably better off achieving excellance in something they care about that inspires them, rather than something the SBOE cares about.

    Most users of the internet, did not learn how to use it in school. More than a billion people have probably learned it on their own, in record time. Learning can occur outside of school, all people really need to know is how to learn, and to want to learn and they’ll probably do fine. They are modern humans and don’t need someone elses big ideas being imposed upon them by force or fiat. They don’t need socialization institutions, they are social animals, socialization happens.

    Education is a social “science”. As noted by Daniel Sarewitz and Richard Nelson in the Dec 18 journal Nature, “In the United States, nearly a half century of research, application of new technologies and development of new methods and policies has failed to translate into improved reading abilities for the nation’s children … no particular method or theory has been able to achieve long-term or widespread dominance and for which compelling evidence of improved efficacy even over timescales of a century is lacking.”

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v456/n7224/full/456871a.html

    Given the nature of education, any single centrally imposed “solution” will almost certainly be wrong for most people. Education should be decentralized and choice and flexibility rather than fixed approaches should be emphasized. As the authors state:

    “When knowledge is not largely embodied in an effective technology, but must instead be applied to practice through, say, training, institutional incentives, organizational structures or public policies, the difficulty of improving outcomes is greatly amplified. Now the task involves moulding, coordinating and governing the activities of practitioners, who themselves must acquire judgement and skill that may not be easily translatable from one context to another. Interpreting the results of management or policy innovations is difficult because of the many variables involved, few of which are directly related to the actual technology deployment. When the results of applying knowledge to practice are uncertain, the value of the new knowledge itself becomes subject to controversy.”

    Perhaps this is why throwing money at, and imposing standards upon education has been fruitless. If you want education removed from the realm of “power” and into the realm of innovation, defy the teachers unions, and at least give the parents and students options via something like school vouchers and school choice. Where is there any evidence that Donna Howard will defy the teachers unions, and free the education system from this centrally controlled strait jacket.

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