On Friday, the Texas State Board of Education adopted streamlined science standards that preserve language calling for critical analysis of evolution. You wouldn’t know that fact from media coverage of the vote. A number of media outlets wrongly reported that the Board had dropped requirements for evolution to be critically examined in the classroom.
Sarah Chaffee, Program Officer in Education and Public Policy at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, points out what really happened:
This vote marked an important achievement for Texans. The Board of Education decided to retain the requirement that students “analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations” in biology study. They also retained the call for critical inquiry on such topics as the origin of DNA — life’s code — the intricacies of the cell, natural selection, and other subjects relating to biodiversity and evolution. This ignites wonder, learning, and the excitement about objective investigation that is a hallmark of outstanding science education.
The decision concluded a year-plus long process in which committees of teachers and experts, including a CSC fellow, met and provided feedback on the standards.
Standards on cellular complexity, the origin of life, and the fossil record were the subjects of hot debate for months. As now approved, they are:
- Standard 4A: “Compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including their complexity, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity”
- Standard 6A: “Identify components of DNA, identify how information for specifying the traits of an organism is carried in the DNA, and examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA.”
- Standard 7B: “Examine scientific explanations of abrupt appearance and stasis in the fossil record.”
Furthermore, while the wording “analyze and evaluate” met with some opposition, it was preserved in four other evolution standards – three on natural selection and one on common ancestry:
- Standard 7A: “Analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies, including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;”
- Standard 7C: “Analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;”
- Standard 7D: “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;”
- Standard 7E: “Analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation and to the development of diversity in and among species…”
It was also preserved in Standard 3A, which says in part:
- “The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to: A) analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing;…”
This language authorizes teachers to present mainstream scientific evidence both for and against evolutionary theory.
Standard 3A is a general process standard instructing students to analyze and evaluate as they learn biology. 4A makes sure that students compare and contrast explanations for cellular complexity. 6A preserves the requirement that students examine scientific explanations for the origin of life. 7B asks students and teachers to examine the concepts of abrupt appearance and stasis. And four other evolution standards instruct students to analyze and evaluate concepts, including natural selection.
In reaching its decision, the Board heard from concerned Texas parents, professionals, scholars, and scientists. CSC Senior Fellow and Senior Project Manager Jonathan Witt, based in Discovery Institute’s Dallas office, testified several times. CSC Fellow Walter Bradley also traveled to Austin to testify at Board meetings in the fall and this past week. And biologist and CSC Fellow Raymond Bohlin served on the biology science standards streamlining committee.