Archive for the ‘Fordham Institute’ 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.

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.

Report Authors Rip Far-Right Critics in Texas

February 27, 2011

The authors of a think tank’s report that slammed the new and heavily politicized social studies curriculum standards in Texas clearly aren’t going to suffer silently as right-wing critics hurl lies and distortions at their work. Those critics have been absurdly suggesting that, among other things, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a left-wing organization that deliberately used its new report to embarrass Texas. But the Fordham Institute is  a conservative organization whose scholars simply think it was wrong for the Texas State Board of Education‘s far-right members to use the new U.S. history standards to promote their own personal and political agendas in public schools.

In a new essay for the History News Network, historians Sheldon and Jeremy Stern address a variety of criticisms of their report about U.S. history standards in states across the country. In a footnote at the end of their piece, the Sterns are especially dismissive of the ridiculously dishonest criticisms from Liberty Institute, the far-right Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family:

Claims that we have “lied” focus particularly on our criticism of Texas’s handling of slavery, which is barely discussed in the standards prior to the Civil War, and is then deftly subordinated in importance to “states’ rights” as the cause of the conflict. Texas’s Liberty Institute responded by doing a search for the word “slavery” in the document and triumphantly declaring that the standards do mention it… though, ironically, the quotes they produced demonstrate the very historical flaws we described (flaws also pointedly noted by Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s first secretary of education, and hardly a liberal shill). Likewise, angrily rejecting our criticism that the history of separation of church and state was dismissed and distorted in the standards, the Liberty Institute jubilantly declared, after another word search, that the phrase does indeed appear in the standards—yet the passage which they produced to refute our claim is again the very passage to which we referred in the first place! Yes, it does mention the concept of separation, but only to insinuate that it is a historical myth (a position Texas’s State Board of Education members took openly in their public hearings on the standards). And so it goes.

Here’s more from the Sterns about the Texas standards:

(more…)

Conservative Think Tank Slams TX Standards

February 16, 2011

We’ll have more on this later, but we just sent out this press release. This is big news.

TFN PRESIDENT: FORDHAM ANALYSIS CONFIRMS THAT NEW SOCIAL STUDIES STANDARDS ARE A DISASTER FOR TEXAS SCHOOLS

Conservative Think Tank’s Report Savages State Board of Education for Politicizing New Curriculum Standards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 16, 2011

A conservative think tank’s analysis confirms what the Texas Freedom Network has been saying for months: new social studies standards adopted by the State Board of Education last year are a disaster for Texas schools and students, TFN President Kathy Miller said today.

“This analysis adds to a growing chorus of criticism aimed at state board members who deliberately and arrogantly substituted their own political biases for facts and scholarship throughout the standards,” Miller said. “It’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment of the way the board has politicized and manipulated the education of Texas kids over the past several years. Political agendas – from the left or the right – simply have no place in our kids’ classrooms.”

The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute released its analysis today. “The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011” analyzes U.S. history curriculum standards from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report gives Texas a grade of “D” for its standards.

Among Fordham’s criticisms is that Texas State Board of Education members engaged in “ideological manipulation” by basing many of the new standards on their own personal and political biases. The analysis goes so far as to compare the heavily politicized approach in part of the standards to Soviet indoctrination in schools of the old USSR.

(more…)