The Texas Education Agency has released its draft of proposed state science education standards developed by a committee of teachers and academics. The document will be open for public comment prior to revision by the science panel, and debate and editing by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). The SBOE will begin discussing the draft this fall and have set a tentative March 2009 deadline for new standard adoption. Texas science standards remain in place for ten years and are used to adopt textbooks, design curriculum, and construct evaluative tests during that time.
The proposed changes from the current standards in biology include dropping the requirement that students be exposed to both the "strengths and weaknesses" in the theory of evolution and adapting a National Academy of Sciences description of the limits of what material qualifies as science. The second change is meant to make it clear that supernatural explanations cannot be scientifically tested and, thus, do not belong in the science classroom.
The state of Texas recently completed its revision of their English Language Arts and Reading standards, which proved highly contentious. The science standards also face a controversial uphill battle. Although supported by the Texas Freedom Network and the Science Teachers Association of Texas, the draft changes have evoked opposition from several SBOE members -- seven of the 15 members are Young Earth Creationists.
SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy has stated that he will oppose the recommendations. "I like the present language on strengths and weaknesses," McLeroy commented, continuing that, "This is something we've been doing for over 20 years in Texas, and we should keep doing it. To teach it [evolution] as scientific fact presents a real problem for me," McLeroy added.
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, counters, "It's time for state board members to listen to classroom teachers and true experts instead of promoting their own personal agendas." Miller went on to state, "Our students can't succeed with a 19th-century science education in their 21st-century classrooms. We applaud the science work groups for recognizing that fact."
Dr. Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science points out that although the new standards would be an improvement over the status quo, there are areas that remain worrisome. He notes that the National Academy of Sciences language was not added to all science disciplines, that human evolution was omitted from the standards, and the use of "theory" regarding evolution is not defined. Schafersman hopes the biology panel corrects this at their next opportunity.
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