State Board of Education Evolves

A rare bit of good news out of the SBOE

Here's a sentence seldom seen over the past few decades: Science advocates are praising the Texas State Board of Education. Such insanity is the result of the SBOE's recent vote to scrap wording in high school biology standards that instructed students to challenge evolution. The issue dates back to 2009, when the 15-member body – then led by a young-Earth creationist and influenced by intelligent design advocates at the Discovery Institute – opened the door for anti-evolution arguments in science textbooks by adding a new curriculum requirement that students must examine "all sides of scientific evidence."

After months of pressure from an SBOE-appointed science review committee made up of educators and scholars, the board unanimously agreed on April 21 to strike the "all sides" language, as well as the term "evaluate" in two places: when it comes to the complexity of cells (that got replaced with "compare and contrast scientific explanations") and when students are looking at scientific explanations of the origin of DNA (replaced with "examine"). Committee member and Southern Methodist University evolutionary anthropologist Ron Weth­er­ington deemed "evaluate" a "dog whistle" for ideological groups to impose their creationist agenda. "For the first time in decades, the science standards contain no controversial student expectations and represent mainstream science," he said. "Also for the first time, the board reached out to teachers for ongoing comment on their amendments and paid attention to the experts in the classroom."

The Texas Freedom Network, progressive watchdogs and perennial critics of the SBOE culture wars, issued rare praise for the board. "The politicians on the state board have finally listened to scientists and classroom professionals who know what students need to get a 21st century education," said TFN President Kathy Miller. "This is an important victory for science, for science education, and most importantly, for Texas students. The culture wars have no place in our classroom, and today's decision is one important step toward this board recognizing that."

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Ron Wetherington, State Board of Education, Kathy Miller

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