Holding the line in Texas textbooks

"Science scholars in Texas are giving thumbs up to coverage of evolution in proposed new high school biology textbooks," according to a press release from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund dated August 13, 2013.

As NCSE previously reported, when the Texas state board of education last revised the state science standards in 2009, the result was a flawed set of standards. Although creationists were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of standards, they eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the origin of life.

The state board of education is presently in the process of evaluating science textbooks and other instructional materials, with a final vote expected in November 2013. The worry, for those concerned with the scientific integrity of Texas's textbooks, is that publishers would be pressured to compromise their treatment of evolution in order to comply with the flawed standards. The worry was compounded, as the TFN Education Fund's press release explains, by the fact that "[s]ome of the country's most prominent evolution deniers got influential positions on official state review panels examining the next textbooks and online materials."

The TFN Education Fund commissioned a detailed review of the treatment of evolution in the textbooks and instructional materials submitted by publishers. The reviewers discovered (PDF, p. 3) that "creationists on the State Board of Education have failed to pressure publishers into including 'junk science' that questions evolutionary theory in the new high school biology materials. Indeed, all of the publishers have submitted biology instructional materials that honestly address and support the science of evolution and that do not include pseudoscience intended to water down or 'disprove' evolution."

Kathy Miller, the president of the TFN Education Fund, commented, "It appears that publishers have done a good job resisting political pressure to weaken instruction on evolution with junk science in their new textbooks ... That should be reassuring for parents who want their kids to get a science education that prepares them for college and a 21st[-]century economy." "But," she added, "we’re already seeing signs that the pressure on publishers will increase in the coming months.” The board is expected to hold at least one and perhaps two public hearings on the proposed instructional materials.

The board is expected to receive the official reports on the proposed instructional materials before its September 18-20, 2013, meeting, during which the first public hearing will be held; Appendix B to the TFN Education Fund's report explains the process.