Every ten years the Texas Education Agency (TEA) revises the curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). In addition to guiding classroom content, the TEKS inform textbook content and adoption. Science education advocates have been focused on Texas since the latest revision of the Science TEKS began in 2008.
The battle over the Science TEKS has been brewing since 1997, when the standards were last revised. Those standards included evolution for the first time, but contentious wording to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, particularly of chemical and biological evolution. Strengths and weaknesses is language lobbied for by intelligent design/creationism advocates. This phrase was included as compromise language because the TEA was concerned that creationist members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) would object to the addition of evolution in the standards. A 2003 attempt to use the language to guide statewide textbook adoption was unsuccessful.
The Texas debate has national implications. After California, Texas is the largest textbook purchaser. If Texas requires books include non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena, then textbook publishers would likely introduce this content into books.
The TEA released new draft science standards in September 2008 that no longer included “strengths and weaknesses” language. In January 2009, the Texas SBOE voted to accept the revised science standards in a 7-7 decision. A majority vote was needed to defeat the proposed change. Thus, the tie vote supported removal of the language. However, the process still required a public comment period, and the final vote on adoption of the TEKS was not cast until March 2009.
The 25-27 March 2009 SBOE meeting featured testimony from science education experts, including Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education. Following a day of testimony, the SBOE held the final vote on the “strengths and weaknesses” language. The final vote was a 7-7 tie, and therefore upheld the preliminary January decision to remove the controversial language from the TEKS. The revised TEKS will guide science instruction in Texas for the next ten years.
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