Archive for the ‘Science adoption (2011)’ Category

Liberty Institute: Cargill Hearts Liberals

August 29, 2011

We told you that we didn’t expect the far right to take it well when they heard that students would be treated to science, and only science, in new instructional materials approved by the State Board of Education. But this we did not see this coming — the far-right embracing an entirely new standard of success for SBOE chair Barbara Cargill: pleasing us.



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.


Liberty Institute: ‘So-Called Scientists’

July 27, 2011

The State Board of Education late last week approved science instructional materials that will be in classrooms for the next decade, a decision lauded by TFN because the materials are free of creationist anti-science propaganda. But that’s not what we’re here for in this blog post. We’re here for the sideshow that is the far-right Liberty Institute, the Texas offspring of Focus on the Family.

Prior to Thursday’s SBOE hearing, TFN held a press conference in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency building for which plenty of media showed. Aaaaand Liberty Institute’s lawyer-lobbyist showed up.

We don’t really care that he was there. It was a public building and it was a public event. But it’s what he said after the press conference that caught our attention. Approached by a reporter to get his side’s viewpoint, he referred to our speakers as “so-called scientists.”

We would normally let such a cheap swipe go, but the people we invited to speak for us took time out of their busy lives — and in one case traveled across the country — for the sake of the education of the children of this state. So, yeah, we’re going to stand up for them a little.


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.


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:


New Instructional Materials Teach Sound Evolutionary Science


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.”


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.

Creationists Target Publisher in Texas Adoption

July 21, 2011

Update: 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.”

The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing and debate over proposed new science instructional materials today went well — until a big bump at the end. Most of the instructional materials the education commissioner has recommended for adoption received preliminary approval from the state board. The board has scheduled a final vote tomorrow.

But toward the end of the debate this afternoon, Texas Education Agency staff revealed that a review team had identified eight objections to content in the Biology instructional materials submitted for approval by publisher Holt McDougal. Board members were told that Holt McDougal is arguing that the objections are based on bad science.

Indeed, the objections appear to be largely the work of a young-earth creationist — David Shormann — on the team that reviewed the company’s materials. Here is a review Shormann wrote about the Holt McDougal materials and shared with his review team. We obtained this document last week through a Public Information Act request to TEA.

You can see that many of Shormann’s objections in his review have been repeated — almost word for word — in this document TEA distributed to state board members this afternoon. The TEA document lists the eight objections and includes Holt’s rationale for not making the changes Shormann demands. Because of the very abbreviated and opaque review process the state board established for this science adoption, it appears that few people outside TEA and Holt McDougal even knew about these objections. Indeed, the ability of the public to get information about the proposed instructional materials and reviews has been very limited.

In any case, the state board’s creationist members obviously smell blood. In fact, they successfully opposed even permitting a representative from Holt McDougal to address the board and explain why the demanded changes represent bad science. So the board will have to sort through this issue tomorrow.

Live-Blogging the SBOE Science Debate I

July 21, 2011

4:30 – With the end of the public hearing on proposed new science instructional materials, the State Board of Education is now starting debate over whether to adopt the materials recommended by the Texas education commissioner. In past adoptions, the state board has taken a preliminary vote at the end of this initial debate. The final, formal vote on which materials to put on the official adoption list is scheduled for Friday.

We’re also live-tweeting at #sboe. For anyone who wants to watch the proceedings, the meeting is being live-streamed here. For a primer on what’s at stake today and tomorrow, you can view an archive of TFN Insider posts on the science debate by clicking here.

4:37 – The board will consider the proposed instructional materials by grade level, beginning with Grade 5. Under consideration are science materials for Grades 5-8 and materials for Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Integrated Physics and Chemistry at the high school level.

4:41 – The board is considering a motion that would require publishers to make corrections to errors identified by the Texas Education Agency’s instructional review teams in June. This motion would apply to all materials, for Grades 5-8 and high school. This is not particularly alarming. If the review teams identified real errors, they should be corrected.

4:47 – The board is now voting on approval of the commissioner’s recommendations by grade level, subject to publishers making required changes to errors.

4:48 – Chairwoman Barbara Cargill moves Biology to the end of the list. That’s when we’ll find out if board members have concerns about proposed materials from certain publishers.

5:03 – So far the board has given preliminary approval to the commissioner’s list for Grades 5-8 (subject to publishers correcting any errors review teams identified). (Final approval is required tomorrow.)

5:08 – We should note that the “errors” that publishers must correct include grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes. It’s not unusual for publishers to correct numerous such errors after initial submission for adoption. Alarm bells will go off if some state board members start identifying “errors” that are really personal or political objections to content.

5:21 – Board members are raising concerns that they might be adopting instructional materials without knowing how publishers will make corrections to identified errors. Of course, TFN has noted in the past that this adoption process is greatly abbreviated (compared to past adoptions of instructional materials), leaving little time for board members — not to mention concerns folks outside the board — to review the materials and publishers’ corrections to errors. Board members are only recognizing this flaw in their process now?

5:33 – Board member Gail Lowe is proposing a mechanism for publishers to report their error corrections to the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education.

5:37 – Lowe’s suggestion approved. Chemistry products cleared for now. On to Physics materials.

5:38 – Materials for Physics and then Integrated Physics and Chemistry (IPC) get preliminary approval. On to Biology.

5:50 – And now we run into precisely the kind of problem we thought might occur because of the lack of transparency in this adoption process. Apparently, one of the publishers — Holt McDougal — has refused to change what a review panel identified as “errors.” Indeed, the publisher is insisting that its materials are based on sound science. This is the first time TFN and state board members themselves have even seen this list of “errors.” It’s unclear whether the “errors” are based on the objections of one or more review panel members. But this is key: the review panel included David Shormann, a youth-earth creationist. The board is now deciding what to do.

5:56 – We’re still studying the objections to the Holt McDougal materials, but they appear to be designed to question certain processes linked to evolution.

6:00 – Board members are debating whether to allow a representative of the publisher to explain the reason for refusing to make the changes. Thomas Ratliff raises concerns that the review panel’s objections might be the product of just one panel member and that board members have no way to know at this point.

6:02 – One of the objections to the Holt material deals with a student lab activity on comparing hominid skulls. Excerpt: “The similarities in human skulls with other hominids may be convergent evolution, but it is erroneous to pretend that common ancestry is the cause.”

6:05 – The board refuses to allow Holt McDougal to address the board on the issue. We’re working to get a copy of the objections in PDF form that we can upload.

6:10 – The board has voted to give preliminary approval to the Holt McDougal materials subject to the publisher making the changes noted in the disputed objections. This just pushes the debate into tomorrow.

6:21 – Other publisher’s materials for Biology are also gaining preliminary approval. But the Holt materials are going to be an issue tomorrow.

6:33 – Motion made by Craig to reject International Databases submission. It passes unanimously.

6:34 – Board adjourns. Tomorrow will be a nail-biter. Stay tuned.

Live-Blogging the SBOE Science Hearing II

July 21, 2011

TFN has taken up its usual post in the board hearing room at the State Board of Education, where we are 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 is being live-streamed here.

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

1:00 p.m. – The SBOE is back from lunch, and the public hearing on proposed science instructional materials is about to begin.

1:10 – The board plans to limit testimony today to four hours, with each speaker permitted two minutes for his or her statement. In the past we’ve seen time for a speaker extended if board members have questions.

1:14 – Clare Wuellner of Austin kicks off testimony by calling on state board members to adopt instructional materials based on sound science.

1:16 – Testifier Tom Davis asks of anti-evolution board members: “Whose story of creation are you going to use?”

1:18 – Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna asks whether Davis can identify anywhere in the proposed instructional materials and curriculum standards where creationism is mentioned. Board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, offers a $500 reward to anyone who can identify where creationism, Jesus or religion is mentioned. Both are being terribly disingenuous. The arguments both have made against evolution come from religion-based “intelligent design”/creationism. And that’s true whether the words “intelligent design”/creationism even show up in the text.

1:25 – And how disingenuous are Bradley and Mercer being, by the way? Here’s a passage from science instructional materials submitted by New Mexico-based International Databases for adoption by the state board:

“Since such materialistic, self organization scenarios now have a history of scientific insufficiency for explaining the Origin of Life on Earth, the Null hypothesis (default) stands. This allows for the testing of the legitimate scientific hypothesis……Life on Earth is the result of intelligent causes.”

You can make out your check to “Texas Freedom Network,” Mr. Mercer.


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.

The Coming Storm

July 20, 2011

Just a reminder about what new chairwoman Barbara Cargill — and her five “conservative Christian” allies on the State Board of Education — have in mind for the meeting this week:

I am a little bit concerned in looking at some of these science online supplementary materials. I looked at one of the links and there was a picture of a — a graphic of a human fetus next to a gorilla fetus talking about how they only differ by one amino acid. Therefore, universal common decent. So that is of some concern. And I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that. But remember we lost a conservative seat, so we’re down to six.

In this unguarded moment, Cargill drops the double-speak and is honest about her plan for the first meeting over which she will preside as chair  — pressure publishers to censor scientific information from their materials and to insert bogus information questioning evolution. And she knows exactly what her task is: to get the extra votes necessary to accomplish this.

Stay tuned to TFN Insider on Thursday and Friday as we give you a front-row seat at the contentious hearing and board vote.

TFN Insider Will Live-Blog Science Debate

July 18, 2011

TFN Insider will be live-blogging (and live-tweeting via @TFN) from the State Board of Education’s Thursday public hearing and Friday final debate and vote on the adoption of new science instructional materials for Texas public schools. This week’s state board meeting comes two years after board members adopted curriculum standards that creationists hoped would force publishers to challenge evolutionary science in their new instructional materials. Information about the meeting times and location is here.

The Texas news media is focusing on the story, including controversial comments from Barbara Cargill, the state board’s newly appointed chair. TFN Insider broke the news about Cargill’s comments questioning the faith of some of her board colleagues and insisting that the new science instructional materials be revised to conform to her creationist views. Check out an Austin American-Statesman editorial and stories from the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle.

Setback for Creationists in Texas

July 15, 2011

Efforts to push creationist instructional materials into Texas science classrooms were dealt a setback today. The Texas education commissioner’s list of science materials recommended for adoption by the State Board of Education, which was released today, doesn’t include the proposed materials from New Mexic0-based International Databases. The Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education reported last April that the International Databases materials reject mainstream evolutionary science and instead promote “intelligent design”/creationism.

The commissioner’s list is usually based on recommendations from Texas Education Agency review teams made up of teachers, scholars and other citizens. Those teams met in Austin last month to review all of the proposed science instructional materials. Apparently, the review teams decided that International Databases had failed to cover the required curriculum standards appropriately.

On the other hand, the State Board of Education can choose to adopt or reject any instructional materials simply by a majority vote, regardless of what the education commissioner recommends. Moreover, it has been difficult to obtain information regarding any changes the other publishers might have made to their products to meet objections from creationists. And new state board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has already said that she and other creationists on the board will try to force publishers to add anti-evolution arguments to their materials.


Barbara Cargill’s Anti-Science Agenda

July 11, 2011

New Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, made clear at her speech last week to Texas Eagle Forum activists that she is determined to politicize the board’s adoption of science instructional materials on July 20-22. She’ll be walking in the footsteps of former board chairman Don McLeroy and chairwoman Gail Lowe, both of whom failed to win Senate confirmation because they put their political agendas ahead of educating Texas kids.

We’ve already told you about about Cargill questioning the faith of state board colleagues who don’t agree with her. And we reported other troubling comments from Cargill’s Texas Eagle Forum talk. But Cargill also made extended comments about the coming science adoption — and those comments aren’t encouraging for parents who want their children to get an education based on sound science instead of ideology.


Discovery Institute Messes with Texas

June 8, 2011

Earlier today, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute — the Seattle-based outfit that promotes “intelligent design”/creationism and has tried for years to interject itself into science curriculum decisions in Texas — sent an email to members of the Texas State Board of Education weighing in on the proposed instructional materials up for adoption in Texas this summer. The email included a 71-page “evaluation” of the proposed curricular materials. The report is basically one long complaint that the instructional materials do not cover creationist-fabricated arguments against evolution (such as contrived conspiracy theories supposedly undermining the scientific record, long-ago-debunked nonsense about “irreducible complexity,” claims about gaps in the fossil record, etc.). From Discovery Institute’s document:

Unfortunately, as regards the TEKS that pertain to biology and evolution, only one of the proposed curricula (International Databases, LLC) makes any serious attempt to fulfill the call for meaningful critical analysis of biological and chemical evolution. The remaining curricula that were accessible online make no meaningful effort to satisfy the TEKS’ requirements that students “analyze and evaluate” neo-Darwinian evolution. [emphasis in original]