The process will be different than originally expected, but next year the battle over what Texas students learn about evolution in their science classrooms returns to the State Board of Education. With legislators tasked with closing a huge state budget gap next year, the state board voted in July to postpone indefinitely the adoption of new science textbooks originally scheduled for 2011. Those textbooks were to be based on new curriculum standards the board adopted in March 2009. The previous science standards had been in place since 1998. On the other hand, this summer the state board asked publishers to submit — for middle school and high school science courses — supplemental instructional materials (not full textbooks) that address only those 2009 standards that are new or “expanded” from the 1998 version.
And guess which new and expanded standards are among the most prominent? You got it: standards dealing with what students learn about evolutionary science.
The Texas Education Agency has posted the middle school and high school standards here. Each of the standards documents highlights the new and “expanded” standards that supplemental materials will have to cover.
In 2009 the Texas Freedom Network and our coalition partners succeeded in forcing the state board to keep out of the new standards a requirement that students study phony “weaknesses” of evolution. Our success represented a major defeat for anti-evolution pressure groups like the Discovery Institute in Seattle. Those groups have used the “weaknesses” requirement to promote the falsehood that the science of evolution isn’t backed by overwhelming mainstream evidence.
Unfortunately, the board’s far-right members succeeded in adding other standards that they hope will force publishers to call evolution into question in their instructional materials. They hope, for example, that materials will suggest evidence supporting the concept of natural selection is weak or incomplete and that “gaps” in the fossil record also represent “weaknesses” in the scientific evidence. Mainstream scientists — including Nobel laureates — have repeatedly told board members that such claims are ridiculous.
For the 2011 adoption, publishers will be required to submit supplemental materials online only — textbooks and other materials in other formats will not be accepted. Board members hope that digital delivery of content for classrooms will help lower costs for the cash-strapped state. Some board members — such as Don McLeroy, R-College Station — have already expressed their hope that limiting the adoption to online supplemental materials that must address only new and “expanded” standards will open the door to smaller publishers and vendors. Since major textbook publishers have tended to include only real science in their textbooks, one doesn’t have to wonder too much what kind of smaller publishers and vendors McLeroy is hoping will submit materials for this adoption. That’s right: don’t be surprised to see outfits like Discovery Institute or the Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research try to get materials based on junk science approved for use in classrooms.
Publishers must indicate their intention to submit materials for high school no later than
December 10 October 31 of this year. They will then be required to submit their proposed instructional materials by March 4 February 25. Review panels appointed by the state board will examine those materials in April March, with the board scheduled to make final adoption decisions in May April. Publishers will submit materials for middle school later in the spring, with final adoption for those set for July. Adopted materials would then be available for the 2011-12 school year. [NOTE: This posting now reflects the adoption schedule approved by the state board in November.]
The Texas Freedom Network will be closely monitoring developments in the science adoption. You can stay informed by keeping an eye on TFN Insider and by subscribing to TFN News Clips.