Evolving Standards

On March 27 the State Board of Education set its new science curriculum standards. Of course, the real issue was the teaching of evolution. There were good stories in the Dallas Morning New, Houston Chronicle, and Austin-American Statesman on the Board’s final decision. CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times also took covered the story, in part because of the impact of the Texas market on textbooks nationally, .

Somehow, both sides seemed to be claiming victory despite the fact that the anti-evolution forces lost several close votes. Gone are the requirements that students be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. That was a victory for the advocates of evolution.  However, the Discovery Institute claimed victory because the new curriculum asks students to “analyze and evaluate” the scientific evidence. Obviously, these creationists would be experts at fig leafs and it’s  clear that they lost on several key votes that weakened the current policy.

The science teachers didn’t get everything they wanted. Steven Schafersman, the President of Texas Citizens for Science, saw some improvement from the old policy. “I think the science standards will be OK. Frankly, the publishers and the authors of the textbooks will be able to use this standard and write good textbooks.”

There remain several footholds that creationists can use to lobby publishers and teachers can use to teach intelligent design. However,  the new language should make it much easier for textbooks proposed for use in Texas to match the scientific standards set by much of the rest of the country.

The change is not a dramatic and instead looks like a classic example of the kind of incremental change that we expect. Well established interest groups seldom lose their grip on an area in which they have invested heavily. In the end, policy policy is usually much more like the evolutionary process being debated.

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As a follow up: My local state representative (Rep. Wayne Christian) submitted a bill on Thursday (before the final vote) that would reverse the State Board of Education’s decision.  (Kind of put a damper on the Discovery Institutes’s victory party, didn’t it?). In a story in the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel Christian described the board’s decision as a “heinous direction.”  Christian complained that the decision was part of  a culture “political correctness.” So he’s going to correct the problem politically.

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