Archive for the ‘creationism’ Category

Anti-Evolution Politics Hurt Science Education

March 22, 2012

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has posted a new essay following up on the organization’s January report giving low marks to science curriculum standards in most states, including Texas. Dr. Paul R. Gross, an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia, writes for Fordham’s Education Gadfly e-newsletter that weak coverage of evolution is a product both of religious objections and politics.

“A focused combination of politics with religion, in pursuit of (or opposed to) governmental action, is vastly more effective than either one alone.

By themselves … religious anti-evolutionists would wield scant power over state decisions. Real power comes by politicizing the arguments and switching them from scripture to more stylish notions: ‘scientific alternatives,’ ‘critical thinking,’ or—most commonly—’strengths and weaknesses of [Darwin’s] theory.’ When these are pressed by politicians dissing ‘Darwinism,’ a downgrading of science is underway.”

Gross writes that increasing efforts in state legislatures to politicize and undermine the teaching of evolution have serious consequences for science even if proposed anti-evolution measures don’t pass:

“(T)hey can still have real effect on classroom teaching, on textbook content and selection, as well as on the curriculum as taught. All this political activity and the sense of popular support that it engenders can easily discourage teachers from teaching evolution, or from giving it proper emphasis—if only by signaling that it’s a highly controversial subject. Teachers, understandably, fear controversy and potential attack by parents. Meanwhile, for this and many other reasons, science performance of our children against their overseas peers remains average to poor.

The common anti-evolution claims are no more than talking points, less cogent even than the talking points of politics. The primary scientific literature has disposed of them all, as any serious reader can discover. Their real purpose is simply to cast doubt on evolution as a shaper of life forms. But there is no reasonable doubt that Earth is four billion years old and that life’s diversity emerged over eons in steps, usually small, driven by such (evolutionary) mechanisms as genetic change and natural selection.”

Remember this when creationists on the Texas State Board of Education (and in the Texas Legislature) argue — as they have repeatedly — that they aren’t trying to promote their religious views in science classrooms. That’s because they know the courts would slap them down. No, the goal of evolution deniers is to undermine confidence in science itself, thus opening the door to “alternative” concepts that have no basis in science (“intelligent design”). That’s really what Don McLeroy was trying to do when he demanded that “somebody’s gotta stand up to experts” during the debate over new science standards for Texas schools  in 2009.

But that kind of ignorance is undermining the education of millions of schoolchildren.

Click here to help elect a new State Board of Education in Texas this year.

Texas Science Education Battle in 2013

February 1, 2012

After several years of especially divisive “culture war” battles over what Texas public school students should learn about evolution, history and other subjects, the State Board of Education last week decided that it will adopt new science textbooks for all schools in 2013. The new adoption schedule also has the board approving textbooks for history and social studies in 2014.

The decision to adopt new science and social studies textbooks comes after the board adopted controversial curriculum standards for both in recent years — science in 2009 and social studies in 2010. Independent reports over the past year have given both sets of standards poor marks.

Yesterday, for example, a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized the 2009 science standards in Texas as “riddled with errors,” “sketchy,” “redundant,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Last year a Fordham report called the American history standards adopted in 2010 a “politicized distortion” of American history filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” And last fall a report for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Social Studies Faculty Collaborative warned that the social studies standards are “ineffective,” “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards,” and “ignore the principles of sound pedagogy.”

Even so, the board will now ask publishers to submit new textbooks based on those deeply flawed standards. All of this comes after the board last summer adopted online instructional materials for some science courses. Working with our friends at the National Center for Science Education, Texas Citizens for Science and other organizations, we succeeded in keeping off of that adoption list any materials promoting creationism/”intelligent design” and related anti-science arguments.

However, the coming adoption of science and social studies textbooks highlights the importance of State Board of Education elections this year. In fact, all 15 of the state board’s seats are up for grabs in 2012. That means the primary elections this spring and the general election in November will determine whether the board’s far-right creationist bloc controls decisions about which science and social studies textbooks students will use for nearly a decade. (Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.)

Based on the state board’s decisions last week, this how the schedule for adopting textbooks and other instructional materials looks going forward (estimated costs for purchasing new materials in parentheses):

  • 2013: Science, Grades K-12; Math, K-8; Technology applications ($625.65 million)
  • 2014: Social studies, K-12; Math, 9-12; Fine Arts ($683.18 million)
  • 2015: Languages other than English ($78.82 million)
  • 2016: Career and technical education ($103.67 million)
  • 2017: English Language Arts and Reading, K-5, Prekindergarten Systems ($536.46 million)
  • 2018: English Language Arts and Reading, 6-12; Health; Physical Education ($663.14 million)

The state board is likely to revise and adopt curriculum standards (on which textbooks and other instructional materials must be based) according to the following schedule:

  • 2012: Math curriculum standards adoption
  • 2013: Fine arts curriculum standards adoption
  • 2014: Languages other than English curriculum standards adoption
  • 2015: Career technology education curriculum standards adoption
  • 2016: English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards adoption
  • 2017: Science and health/physical education curriculum standards adoptions (Health standards include guidelines on sex education.)
  • 2018: Social studies curriculum standards adoption

So next year the Texas Freedom Network will once again be mobilizing supporters of science education to stop creationists on the state board from dumbing down instruction on evolution in new textbooks and other materials. And you can be sure that we will be leading the fight for sound textbooks and curriculum standards each year afterward.

Celebrating Mediocrity in Texas?

January 31, 2012

This should tell you a lot about the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Texas State Board of Education. Last year the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute sharply criticized the state board for its “ideological manipulation,” historical revisionism and contempt for expertise in adopting new social studies curriculum standards for Texas public schools in 2010. Today a new Fordham report gives science curriculum standards adopted by the state board in 2009 a grade of “C.” Yet here’s what state board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, had to say about the new Fordham report:

“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor. We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”

Seriously? She celebrates a “C” grade? She really thinks Texas is giving kids the “best instruction” with “excellent science standards” that, in fact, get low marks from a conservative education think-tank? News flash for Ms. Cargill: Most parents don’t think mediocrity is something to celebrate, especially when it comes to the education of their children.

From the Fordham report’s section on Texas:

“Texas has produced a set of science standards with areas of strength—including a particularly well-done sequence for earth and space science—but also with weaknesses that cannot be overlooked. These include a tendency across nearly all disciplines to pay lip service to critical content with vague statements, and, somewhat less often, the presence of material that’s well below grade level.”

While giving the standards decent marks in some areas, Fordham describes other sections with words like “sketchy,” “redundant,” “riddled with errors,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Would you describe such standards as “excellent”? We doubt it, but an ideologue like Cargill does.

Don McLeroy, a former board member who served as chairman during the science curriculum standards adoption, was pleased with Fordham’s remarks about how evolution is covered in the standards. Says McLeroy:

“The report confirms what I have always insisted: that the creationists inserted real scientific rigor into the teaching of evolution.”

Good grief. Fordham actually said “evolution is all but ignored” in standards for primary grades, and discussions on the topic in middle school grades are inaccurate. The report points to one particular misleading section about the evolution of finches:

“Creationists often distort these important findings to argue that Darwinian macroevolution does not occur—instead, microevolution does. In addition, the word ‘evolution’ is never used in any of the middle school standards, and the term “natural selection” is never explained.”

Fordham does give the high school bi0logy of evolution good marks, noting that “there are no concessions to ‘controversies’ or ‘alternative theories.'” But that’s actually despite the efforts of Cargill and McLeroy, who wanted the standards to include phony “weaknesses” of evolution promoted by creationists. Fortunately, TFN and other supporters of science education kept that nonsense out of the standards.

And then this from Fordham:

“(T)he high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. Even so, the term ‘natural selection’ appears just three times, as does the word ‘evolution’ and its variants. It is hard to see how Texas students will be able to handle this course, given the insufficient foundations offered prior to high school.”

It’s no surprise Fordham found that “natural selection” gets short shrift in the standards — it was one of the core concepts that McLeroy and other creationists on the board specifically tried to weaken in 2009.

Public education is clearly under siege in Texas. The Legislature is cutting billions of dollars in funding for public schools. Thousands of teachers are losing their jobs. And members of the State Board of Education are celebrating mediocrity (or worse) in the curriculum standards they’re adopting.

It’s hard to imagine that voters need more evidence that this year — with all 15 state board seats up for election — will be critical to the future of public education in Texas. Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.

2011 in Quotes: The War on Science

December 26, 2011

The assault on science and science education continued throughout 2011. Today’s review of quotes from the past year shows that evolution and climate change were major targets in the right’s war on science, especially in Texas. Read other quotes from the far right in 2011 here.

“The controversy over science standards was actually the result of an attempted hijacking of science for ideological purposes by evolutionists. Their agenda was much more about worldviews than biology. The standards reflect real science and challenge students to study some of evolution’s most glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.”

– Don McLeroy, former Texas State Board of Education member, writing in an op-ed column about the board’s record over the past several years. Austin American-Statesman, January 1, 2011

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

– Ken Mercer, member of the Texas State Board of Education, in another installment of his argument that evolution is bad science because there are no cat-dog and rat-cat hybrids. TFN Insider, October 28, 2011

“Evolutionists will go ‘Oh, it just happened by chance.’ Today we know that’s false. Today we know that even a single-celled organism is hugely complex. When was the last time we’ve seen someone go into a windstorm or a tornado or any other kind of natural disaster, and say ‘Guess what? That windstorm just created a watch.'”

– Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, responding to a question about whether or not he is a creationist. Zedler proposed legislation to bar “discrimination” against college faculty and students who promote creationism. It failed to pass. Mother Jones, March 21, 2011

“Are you kidding me, Earth Day in the schools? We’ve got to save the Earth? I mean, that’s like a tick . . . trying to save a whole heard of cattle. I mean, ticks go along for the ride, they don’t manage the cattle, they don’t tell them where to go. And that’s our arrogance in thinking that we can do something to save the planet and control where the planet goes. You know, we’re just along for the ride and we’re insignificant peons on this thing.”

– David Barton, president of the religious-right group WallBuilders, on human attempts to slow climate change. RightWingWatch, April 26, 2011

“As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!”

– David Barton, the religious right’s favorite fake historian, on the Founding Fathers and their opinions on teaching evolution and creationism/intelligent design. Mother Jones, June 9, 2011

“I hear your mom was asking about evolution and, you know, it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

– Texas Gov. Rick Perry, talking to a young boy in New Hampshire during a presidential campaign stop. National Public Radio, August 18, 2011

“I think what you’re advocating for is censorship on the part of government. So the government would prohibit intelligent design from even the possibility of being taught in questioning the issue of evolution. And if you look at scientists there is not a unanimity of agreement on the origins of life. … Why would we forestall any particular theory? Because I don’t think that even evolutionists, by and large, would say that this is proven fact. They say that this is a theory, as well as intelligent design. So I think the best thing to do is to let all scientific facts on the table, and let students decide.”

– Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, at an Iowa forum where she explained her views on teaching creationism in public schools. Think Progress, November 30, 2011

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

– Gov. Rick Perry, again in New Hampshire on the Republican presidential campaign trail, making a claim that was a contender for Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” Politifact Texas, Austin American-Statesman, December 5, 2011

Mercer Still Attacking Science and Teachers

October 28, 2011

How in the world did we miss this? Seems that in August, Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, had some interesting things to say about science and social studies curriculum standards on a Tea Party radio program. Speaking on the San Antonio Tea Party’s Boiling Point radio show, Mercer offered much of the usual commentary we’ve come to expect from the state board’s far-right members. But some of what he said was more revealing than he probably intended.

For example, Mercer claims during the radio interview that one of his particularly goofy arguments against evolutionary science in 2009 was just a joke. But as he continues, it sounds like he really does believe that the absence of “dog-cats” and “cat-rats” makes the case against evolution:

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

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Creationist Materials Found Where?!

September 23, 2011

What’s wrong with this picture?

According to the Dallas Observer, this PowerPoint slide was found on the central curriculum website (accessible only by teachers) for the Dallas Independent School District, the 12th-largest public school system in the country.

The slide was apparently part of a presentation titled “The Cell Theory.” The Observer notes most of the presentation was based on sound science. Until, of course, you got to the kicker in this slide.

The slide has since been yanked — after the Observer reporter started asking questions.

How did such blatantly unconstitutional creationism wind up  in the curricular materials for one of the country’s biggest school districts? We don’t know. Honest mistake or not, it goes to show that keeping creationist materials out of public school classrooms requires constant vigilance. Kudos to the Dallas Observer.

Easiest $500 Perry Ever Made

August 26, 2011

Gov. Perry, we’d like to bring an exciting money-making opportunity to your attention.

Have you ever met Ken Mercer? You might have. Mercer is the District 5 representative on the State Board of Education and, proudly, a member of that body’s far-right bloc.

Last month when the SBOE debated adoption of instructional materials in science, Mercer made a very generous offer:

You show me one (science curriculum standard) where there’s God or Jesus, intelligent design, creationism. Show me that, and I’ll give you $500.

The National Center for Science Education has video of Mercer’s offer:

Now fast forward a few weeks, where you stated unequivocally:

In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.

Video here:

You and Mr. Mercer should talk about that $500 check. He doesn’t strike us as a welcher, so we’re sure he’ll hand that $500 right over.

A word of caution, though. A bunch of us fact-checked your creationism comment, and despite your assertion, we couldn’t find anything in the standards calling for creationism to be taught in public schools, probably in large part because it’s a constitutional no-no. Our guess is that Mercer doesn’t technically owe you anything. But since you’ve appointed most of Texas’ Supreme Court justices, you might be able force him to pay up, if you want to explore litigation.

Oh, and do you have the Texas Education Agency’s phone number? They need to hear about this offer, too.

TEA’s Ambiguous Creationism Statement

August 22, 2011

Is the Texas Education Agency (TEA) climbing out on the limb with Gov. Rick Perry? The agency’s statement regarding Gov. Perry’s  claim that creationism is taught side-by-side with evolution in science classes is a little ambiguous. And more than a little alarming.

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Gov. Perry: We Teach Creationism in Texas

August 18, 2011

For Gov. Rick Perry so loved the Constitution that he was willing to ignore it.

Gov. Perry must be so wrapped up in his recently-launched presidential campaign, that he’s starting to forget the Constitution and the oath of office in which he swore to uphold it.

In a galling display of irresponsibility, Gov. Perry today once again waded into the culture wars for political gain when he told a young boy while campaigning in New Hampshire that “in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”

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Rick Perry’s Problem with Science Education

August 16, 2011

The culture wars will feature prominently in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The Texas Freedom Network has put together a primer on Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars at www.tfn.org/rickperry. Here, for example, is what the governor says about teaching “intelligent design”/creationism in public school science classes. From a letter to a Texas constituent:

“Recognizing that evolution is a theory, and not claimed by anyone to be more than that, the governor believes it would be a disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration. Intelligent design is a concept that is gaining greater traction because it points to a notion that most people believe to be true: that we were created by an intelligent being who designed the human race with great detail and complexity….”

From a newspaper interview:

“I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.”

The governor has also appointed — in 2007, 2009 and this year — three creationists in a row to chair the State Board of Education, which guides what public schools teach nearly 5 million Texas kids.

Read more about Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars here.

A Final Victory for Science

August 15, 2011

That sound you hear is the collective heads of the anti-science lobby exploding. That other sound you hear is their two-year effort to undermine science education in Texas going down the drain.

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Anti-Science Forces Try to Spin Loss

July 22, 2011

We wondered how the evolution-deniers would spin this disastrous end to their two-year campaign to insert bogus criticisms of evolution into Texas science instructional materials. Predictably, we didn’t have to wait long. They are absurdly claiming they somehow won.

The primary mouthpiece for the state’s anti-evolution lobby — the Texas-affiliate of Focus on the Family that calls itself Liberty Institute — tweeted this knee-slapper:

“Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”

Since these folks don’t have a good grasp of what just happened, let’s review some facts here.

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Science Education Triumphs in Texas

July 22, 2011

Moments ago TFN released the following statement on the vote this morning at the State Board of Education:

TEXAS FREEDOM NETWORK STATEMENT
TFN PRESIDENT KATHY MILLER: TEXAS KIDS, SOUND SCIENCE EDUCATION TRIUMPH IN SBOE VOTE

New Instructional Materials Teach Sound Evolutionary Science

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

July 22, 2011

Today the State Board of Education voted to adopt the Texas education commissioner’s recommended list of science instructional materials. Special interest groups and activists off the state board failed in their efforts to force publishers to change their instructional materials to include arguments against evolutionary science. In addition, the board voted unanimously to reject the adoption of instructional materials from a New Mexico-based vendor that promoted “intelligent design”/creationism.

The following statement is from TFN President Kathy Miller:

“Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education. Now our public schools can focus on teaching their students fact-based science that will prepare them for college and a 21st-century economy. And our schoolchildren won’t be held hostage to bad decisions made by a politicized board that adopted flawed science curriculum standards two years ago. Moreover, today we saw that the far right’s stranglehold over the state board is finally loosening after last year’s elections. That’s very good news for public education in Texas.”

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The Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan education and religious liberties watchdog. The grassroots organization of religious and community leaders support public education, religious freedom and individual liberties.

Live-Blogging the Final Science Materials Vote

July 22, 2011

We’re back in the hearing room for the final vote, which is beginning now.

9:24 – The board jumps right in to a discussion of the disputed Holt McDougal product. A TEA spokesperson clarifies that they could find NO documentation to substantiate that multiple review panel members signed-off on the alleged “error” list presented yesterday. It appears that a single member of this panel is responsible for these charges, and it does not reflect a consensus opinion of the panel.

9:27 – Important note: TFN has obtained a copy of letter addressed to the state board signed by five members of the official biology review panels. The letter challenges the alleged “errors” identified in the report presented to the board late yesterday, concluding:

“Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.”

9:28 – Board member Michael Soto, D-San Antonio, moves to strike the disputed “error” list in the Holt McDougal product. Heated discussion ensues.

9:31 – Here is a summary of what is going on: the alleged “errors” identified in the Holt McDougal product appear to originate from a single member of the review panel, apparently David Shormann (a self-identified young earth creationist). TEA staff confirms that other members of that panel did NOT sign off on the alleged “errors.” That means the board yesterday voted to force Holt to make changes based on the objections of a single person. Dr. Soto’s motion would undo that vote and allow Holt McDougal to proceed with their proposed submission without making these disputed changes (which would insert junk science into the submission).

9:40 – Board members are reacting with alarm to this revelation. A number of board members make the point that to force these disputed changes might actually create errors in these materials. Precisely.

9:45 – David Bradley, R-Buna, has some nerve. He’s lecturing the board about how substantive changes shouldn’t be made on the final Friday of the meeting. Wow. We would remind Mr. Bradley that he personally participated in massive revisions to social studies standards (2010), science standards (2009) and English-Language Arts standards (2008).

9:50 – Soto speaks to his motion. He makes the reasonable point that the board should not be adjudicating technical matters biology, since they are not experts in this area. But when they find an undisputed mistake in the process like this, they must take corrective action. The board should not force changes on a publisher that do not represent a consensus opinion of the review committees.

9:56 – The board votes to take a 15 minute recess. Stay tuned.

10:19 – We’re back. David Bradley is reading a statement from Holt McDougal, saying they will respect the decisions of the board. No surprises there.

10:21 – Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, suggests that Dr. Soto withdraw his motion, and allow the board to approve the Holt McDougal submission contingent upon changes approved by the Education Commissioner. This would appear to be a compromise to allow the publisher to make reasonable, accurate changes — not the political changes suggested by Shormann. Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, speaks against. He wants the publisher to make the changes Shormann advocates. The board is discussing.

10:25 – Soto calls for a vote on his motion to strike all the disputed “errors” identified by Shormann. Mercer moves to amend  Soto’s motion by exempting the materials pertinent to TEKS 7A (animation “Similarities in Microbiology” on pages 4-5 of the disputed “error” report) — this is one of Shormann’s bogus errors. Mercer wants this particular change to be forced on Holt McDougal.

10:30 – Chairwoman Cargill announces that they are separating these into two separate motions. Soto decides to withdraw his motion, so they can take up Craig’s compromise.

10:32 – Craig immediately moves to accept the Holt McDougal submission contingent upon rewording the disputed sections to the satisfaction of the Education Commissioner. Bradley speaks against.

10:33 – Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, speaks in favor. Commissioner Scott clarifies that he will look at these disputed issues very carefully and ensure the changes are accurate and conform to the curriculum standards. We understand that the commissioner intends to seek out the advice from legitimate science scholars and teachers in vetting these changes. Terri Leo, R-Spring, doesn’t like this because it prevents the board from monkeying around with the product to insert bogus creationist arguments. Mercer has the same objection.

10:41 – Call for a record vote. Craig’s amendment passes unanimously. The far-right bloc complained, but they didn’t have the courage of their convictions.

10:44 — Craig moves on a procedural vote to reject the “intelligent design” submission by International Databases. His motion is approved unanimously. These two votes represent a definitive victory for science and the students of Texas — and a complete defeat of the far-right’s two-year campaign to dumb-down instruction on evolution in Texas schools. We’ll have a press statement shortly.

Live-Blogging the SBOE Science Hearing I

July 21, 2011

TFN has taken up its usual post in the board hearing room at the State Board of Education, where we will be bringing you up-to-the-minute action from today’s one and only hearing on proposed new science instructional materials. (We’re also live-tweeting at #sboe.) For anyone who wants to watch the proceedings, the meeting will be live-streamed here. The board is scheduled to convene at 10:00, and public testimony on science is #4 on the agenda.

For a primer on what’s at stake today, you can view an archive of TFN Insider posts on the science debate by clicking here.

10:08 – New board chairwoman Cargill gavels the meeting to order and makes a personal privilege speech promising to lead the board with fairness and integrity. The chair already has some fences to mend with her fellow board members after she was captured on video two weeks ago telling the Texas Eagle Forum that there are only six “true conservative Christians” on the board, comments that offended some on the board.

10:10 – Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott makes some comments to the board about how decisions made in the just-finished legislative session will affect the board and the agency. There seems to be some change in the works regarding the board’s roll in overseeing the state’s massive Permanent School Fund (the board has been criticized in the past for problems in this area).

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials. Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

10:42 – Board now onto discussion of new technology TEKS. Only a few people are signed up to testify, so this should go pretty quickly. Science materials are up next.

10:48 – Our friend Steven Schafersman from Texas Citizens for Science is also live blogging the science hearing at his Texas Observer blog. Open up a new browser tab and follow Steve’s commentary as well.

11:00 – TFN just completed a press conference in the lobby — a big crowd of television, radio and print reporters crowded around to hear remarks from a decorated university scientist, a successful entrepreneur, a representative from our friends at the National Center for Science Education and, of course, TFN President Kathy Miller. The group all told the board to follow the recommendations from the science review panels and adopt materials that do not water down instruction on evolution. (Thanks to Steve Schafersman for the photo below.)

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

11:45 – After voting to pass the new Technology TEKS, the board has decided to break for lunch before starting the science testimony. They will reconvene at 12:50. Stay tuned.