Reports of the National Center for Science Education

Texas Textbook Adoptions: Whither (Wither) Evolution?

Texas Textbook Adoptions: Whither (Wither) Evolution?
Reviewed by
Eugenie C. Scott

Texas is the largest single purchaser of textbooks in the nation, thus what Texas wants in its textbooks strongly influences what other states get. In past years, evolution was systematically deleted or downplayed in textbooks because Texas required textbooks to print a disclaimer that any textbook dealing with evolution.

... shall identify it as only one of several explanations of the origin of humankind and avoid limiting young people in their search for meaning of their human existence. [Evolution must be treated] ... as a theory rather than fact [and] ... in a manner which is not detrimental to other theories of origin.

In 1984, the Texas attorney general declared that the requirement was unconstitutional, and it was dropped. Shortly thereafter, evolution began to make a re-appearance in textbooks, assisted in large part when California required extensive coverage of the subject in its curriculum guide, the California Science Framework. In 1990, when Texas adopted its biology textbooks, the Proclamation (Texas's curriculum guide) required evolution to be included. The textbooks of the early 1990's included more evolution than had been seen in textbooks since the late 1960's. They didn't always get it right, but at least it was in there!

Now Texas has issued a new Proclamation for biology textbooks, and it does not mention the "e-word." Further changes in the adoption procedure make us doubt that textbook publishers will be encouraged by the state to treat evolution as a necessary component of biology (as directed by the National Science Education Standards). We hope we will not be moving back to the bad old days.

The state legislature has partly decentralized the textbook selection procedure and in some ways weakened the formerly highly-centralized process. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. A document entitled the "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" (TEKS) will direct publishers as to what to include, but the first draft of the TEKS did not include evolution, though it mentioned the "theory of natural selection." After teachers complained, the second and third drafts mentioned evolution, but not prominently. As this issue goes to press, the third draft has not yet been accepted by the state board of education.

Books and other instructional materials will be divided into those "conforming" to the TEKS (i.e., meeting all requirements), "nonconforming" (meeting 50% of the TEKS), and "open" (no content guidelines). Basic curricula such as science, social science, language arts, and mathematics must have instructional materials from the first two lists-districts are not free to choose just any old book and spend state money on it. Whether creationist books like Of Pandas and People will meet either standard is yet to be determined. The legislature also sought to eliminate the textbook adoption process, but it succeeded only in decentralizing it. Local districts will have more authority in the choice of books and two lists to choose from, rather than one. If creationist materials are approved, it will require stringent monitoring of local districts by NCSE members to insure that inferior materials are not adopted locally.

Biology books are coming up for adoption in 1997. Prospective textbooks will be available at regional centers for review before the textbook committee holds public hearings in November. Publishers are well aware of complaints against textbooks with "too much evolution" and need little encouragement to diminish their coverage of evolution. NCSE will keep you posted on developments.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.