Recent developments in Texas could seriously jeopardize the quality of public education in the state. If past scuffles in Texas over curriculum and textbooks are any indication, the latest attempt to introduce politically-driven material into the curriculum will jeopardize the quality of science (including evolution and environmental studies), health education, and social studies.

On 16 June 2007, Governor Rick Perry (R) signed House Bill 188, a law that changes the process by which textbooks are reviewed and adopted by public school districts or open-enrollment charter schools. The law requires the Texas State Board of Education to adopt new rules for the mid-cycle review and adoption of textbooks. Currently, the next K-12 science education textbook review proceedings are slated to begin in 2009. Additionally, the law provides for the review and adoption of supplementary instructional materials. Science education advocates are concerned that the new law will permit non-scientific books such as the Discovery Institute’s “Explore Evolution,” a book that repeats creationist arguments under the guise of “critical analysis,” to be incorporated into the biology curriculum as supplementary material.

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met 18-20 July 2007. The meeting was presided over by a new chairman, Dr. Don McLeroy, appointed a day prior by Governor Perry. The appointment of Dr. McLeroy, a Republican dentist from Bryan, Texas, concerns supporters of data-based science education. A board member since 1998, McLeroy voted against the state’s current high school biology textbook because it did not include a discussion of the weaknesses of evolution. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a citizen group advocating the separation of church and state, told the Dallas Morning News on 18 July that she would give the governor an F for appointing “a clear ideologue who has repeatedly put his own personal and political agendas ahead of sound science, good health, and solid textbooks for students.”

The SBOE meeting agenda was to include a discussion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards for science (ironically, this discussion was also to consider new TEKS for the elective Bible courses recently specified by the state legislature in HB 1287). The science TEKS were scheduled for formal review in fall 2007; however, it now appears that review of the science standards will be postponed due to delays in the completion of the English and reading TEKS.

On 11 June 2007, Governor Perry signed House Bill 3678, the Religious Viewpoint Anti-Discrimination Act, into law. This law explicitly permits public school students to express religious viewpoints and beliefs in classroom assignments and public events where student speakers are permitted. The law also permits students to organize, advertise, and conduct non-curricular religious activities to the same extent that students are permitted to organize and conduct other non-curricular activities in school facilities.

Proponents for real science education are concerned that HB 3678 makes no exception for science classes, suggesting that the law allows religious and creationist explanations for natural phenomena to be accepted in class work, homework, and exams without penalty. The law applies to the 2007-2008 school year, taking effect 1 September 2007.

 


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