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Recap: Texas Board of Education's Actions on Evolution

Earlier today, the Texas State Board of Education unanimously approved the first reading of new science standards for the state. It was one step back, two giant steps forward. Although the Board refused to reinstate language calling on students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, the Board added new language requiring students to "analyze and evaluate" all the major parts of evolutionary theory, including common descent, natural selection, and mutation. The additions to the proposed science standards were adopted yesterday in committee, but as we reported last night, most of the newsmedia completely missed the boat on what happened, probably because many reporters didn't stay to the end of the meeting. Here is a preliminary summary of what the Board did:

On the minus side, Board members narrowly defeated in committee a motion to reinstate language from the state's existing science standards calling on students to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. The motion failed on a tie vote (7-7). As a result, the Board left intact less specific language requiring students to "analyze and evaluate" scientific explanations. The less specific language isn't great, because it might be easier to evade, but it's not terrible either--especially if the standard is actually applied to how students learn about evolution (something never done consistently with the "strengths and weaknesses" language). Notably, several opponents on the Board of the stronger "strengths and weaknesses" language insisted that the new "analyze and evaluate" language would provide for just as much critical inquiry as the "strengths and weaknesses" language. The new language should be interpreted and applied accordingly (we'll see whether it is).

On the plus side, Board members adopted a series of amendments to require students to "analyze and evaluate" the evidence for evolution. (Note: The following preliminary text is based on what I heard from the live audio of yesterday's hearing. New text is in bold.)

First, a series of amendments were made to the standards for the new Earth and Space Science course, most notably one to a standard on common ancestry:

evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence.

Next, a series of amendments were made to the standards on evolution for high school biology requiring that students "analyze and evaluate" key concepts in modern evolutionary theory:

(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:

(A) analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;

(B) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;

(C) analyze and evaluate how the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources result in differential reproductive success;

(D) analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation, and to the development of diversity in and among species; and

(E) analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.

Finally, the Board approved in committee the insertion of a new evolution standard for high school biology on common ancestry:

Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.

Of course, these revisions aren't final. Now that the Board has approved the first draft, you can bet that Darwinists will do their best to undo the good changes at the Board's March meeting, where the final vote on adoption will occur. At the same time, those who support genuine critical inquiry in science need to continue to push for the "strengths and weaknesses" language to be restored to the standards, as well as to defend the good changes that have been made requiring students to analyze and evaluate the main parts of evolutionary theory.