The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘board of education’

Evolution in U.S. Public Schools: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 17, 2009

I got an update about the current state of the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools recently.  It contains both good news and bad news, but mostly good news.  And I wanted to share it with you…

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EVOLVING STANDARDS

How is evolution faring in state science education standards? NCSE’s Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates pored over the latest standards in all fifty states. In a new study forthcoming in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, they report, “The treatment of biological
evolution in state science standards has improved dramatically over the last ten years.” Forty states received satisfactory grades for the treatment of evolution in their state science standards in Mead and Mates’s study, as opposed to only thirty-one in Lawrence S. Lerner’s 2000 study Good Science, Bad Science, conducted for the Fordham
Foundation.

But the news is not all rosy. Five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia — received the grade of F, and a further six states — Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — receive the grade of D. Moreover, the “treatment of human evolution is abysmal,” Mead and Mates lament, with only seven states (and the District of Columbia) providing a comprehensive treatment. Many states “do not reference the Big Bang as the current scientific theory for the origin of the universe,” they add, and only 17 states provide a comprehensive treatment of the connections among biological, geological, and cosmological systems.

Mead and Mates also consider a few states that furnish “excellent examples of the successes and failures of the standards-setting process.” The grades for Florida and Kansas have vaulted from F to A, although not without controversy: “the Kansas standards have seesawed between abysmal and excellent no fewer than four times in the last decade.” In Louisiana, however, the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act undermined the treatment of evolution in the standards, which now receive the grade of F. And in Texas, the state board of education’s revisions in March 2009 served to undermine the treatment of evolution in the standards to the point where they, too, receive a failing grade.

In a companion article introducing the study, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “On the basis of Mead and Matesís results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education
standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue — as science standards continue to be periodically revised — to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards.”

For Mead and Mates’s article, visit:
http://www.springer link.com/ content/9u061016 2rn51432/ fulltext. html

For Lerner’s study, visit:
http://www.fordhamf oundation. org/detail/ news.cfm? news_id=42

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Texas Board of Education Pushes Religious Ideology in Social Studies Classes

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 9, 2009

I’ve made numerous posts here about the Texas Board of Education pushing a creationist agenda in regards to science classes & textbooks, but the agenda of the religious fundamentalists in Texas is much broader than that.

I recently received the following press release from the American Humanist Association regarding an attempt by the conservative wing of the Texas BoEd to use social studies classes & textbooks in Texas to push their religious agenda. It seems that BoEd member Don McLeroy is behind the push to include what are called the “biblical motivations” of the U.S. founders in the Texas social studies curriculum.  This is code for pushing fundamentalist Christianity, folks, pure and simple.

The AHA press elaborates…

The American Humanist Association responded today to a letter from Texas State Board of Education Member Don McLeroy, arguing that social studies classes should not aim to promote religion and should accurately portray the secular nature of the United States government. McLeroy had responded to an open letter the American Humanist Association sent to the Texas State Board of Education last Thursday, prompted by reports the Board had been advised to include the “biblical motivations” of the founders in the state’s new social studies curriculum. In McLeroy’s e-mail to the American Humanist Association, he stated he disagreed with the group and cited an essay he wrote in 2002 titled “The Gift of Medieval Christendom to the World.” (The letter sent to the Texas State School Board of Education can be found here: http://www.americanhumanist.org/news/details/2009-07-humanists- say-to-texas-state-board-of-education-dont-mess-with-texas, and McLeroy’s response can be found here:
http://www.americanhumanist.org/2009/McLeroy_Letter)

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry Furthers the Creationist Agenda… Again

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 20, 2009

I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop in the ongoing fiasco that is the Texas State Board of Education, and it seems as if it has indeed dropped… with a resounding thud.  The fear was that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would appoint far-rightwing nutcase Cynthia Dunbar as the new chair of the BoEd, but what actually happened is that he went with someone a bit more low key but every bit as nutty, Gail Lowe.

The Texas Freedom Network is on the case…

Lowe’s record on the State Board of Education includes:

In 2004 Ms. Lowe opposed requiring that publishers obey curriculum standards and put medically accurate information about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention in new high school health textbooks.

In 2008 Ms. Lowe voted to throw out nearly three years of work by teacher writing teams on new language arts standards. Over the strenuous objections of teachers and curriculum specialists, Lowe instead voted for a standards document that the board’s far-right bloc patched together overnight and slipped under hotel doors the morning of the final vote.

In 2003 and 2009 Ms. Lowe supported dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

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More Creationist Crazy on the Horizon in Texas?

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 7, 2009

The issue of government-sponsored creationism may be rearing its ugly head once again in Texas.  As I outlined earlier, in Good News from Texas: McLeroy Gets the Boot!, the chairman of the Texas State BoEd, Don McLeroy, was denied another term by the Texas Legislature due to his crazy, ideologically-driven antics.

Well, now the other shoe may soon drop – Texas Gov. Rick Perry, also a noted right-wing ideologue & creationist, seems to be considering someone who is even more extreme than Don McLeroy as the next chair of the State BoEd!

Conservative eyed for State Board of Education

Critics who engineered the recent ouster of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, in part because of his strong religious beliefs, could end up with someone even more outspoken in her faith.

Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richardson, who advocated more Christianity in the public square last year with the publication of her book, “One Nation Under God,” is among those that Gov. Rick Perry is considering to lead the State Board of Education, some of her colleagues say. …

In addition to likely sharing the same extremist creationist views as Perry & McLeroy, it’s interesting to see that Dunbar also doesn’t seem to have a grasp of the United States Constitution, which specifically forbids religious tests for public office in Article 6.

In a book published last year, Dunbar argued the country’s founding fathers created “an emphatically Christian government” and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test.” She endorses a belief system that requires “any person desiring to govern have a sincere knowledge and appreciation for the Word of God in order to rightly govern.”

And if that isn’t enough, Dunbar is actually openly hostile to the entire idea of public education in the first place.  Yeah, it makes a whole lot of sense to put someone like her in charge of the State BoEd…

Also in the book, she calls public education a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.”

The establishment of public schools is unconstitutional and even “tyrannical,” she wrote, because it threatens the authority of families, granted by God through Scripture, to direct the instruction of their children.

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Good News from Texas: McLeroy Gets the Boot!

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 29, 2009

For the last few months, I have been following the fight against creationists in Texas on this blog. Well today the side of science & reason won a big fight – the chairman of the Texas Board of Education, noted creationist & right-wing whackjob Don McLeroy, has just lost his bid in the Texas legislature to be confirmed for another term! 😀

McLeroy Fail

This is great news, mostly because it shows that the legislature in Texas seems to have grown a spine and is now standing up to the creationist right-wingers. It seems that McLeroy’s antics and wild statements concerning the nature of science & education have rubbed enough lawmakers the wrong way – I suppose there’s a reason folks like McLeroy try to do their dirty work behind closed doors, because if people saw how they really think they’d rightfully conclude that such people have absolutely no business dictating how children get taught science.

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Progress in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 4, 2009

In the ongoing soap opera that is the science vs. nonsense battle on the Texas State Board of Education, it seems that the right-wing creationist ideologues are losing.  The Austin-American Statesman published an article that outlines how these nutjobs are finally running afoul of the Legislature in Texas…

Senate confirmation of Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, is dead in the water, the Nominations Committee chairman said Thursday.

The House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment Monday that would move the investment decisions about the $17.5 billion Permanent School Fund away from the board to an appointed council of financial professionals.

And a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to take away the elected board’s authority over curriculum and textbooks.

A convergence of high-profile, bloody curriculum battles and controversial comments from some board members caught the attention of the legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, who could leave the somewhat obscure body headless and toothless after this session.

Folks, this is excellent news! 🙂  What it means is that the Texas BoEd could no longer have the capability to influence public school science standards & textbook selection, which is why creationists have targeted it for so long in an effort to push their religiously-oriented pseudoscience.

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More Creationist Shenanigans in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2009

Well, there seems to be an interesting mix of sanity & lunacy coming to Texas.  I am referring to the recent effort by creationists with the Institute for Creationist Research (ICR) to demand the state recognize their “Master’s degree in science education.” Needless to say, had the ICR been successful, this would have been an absolute disaster.  Fortunately, the ICR lost their bid with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

Well, true to form, the ICR is not going away quietly.  Instead, they are now threatening to sue the THECB…

The complaint, filed on April 16, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, named Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and its members as defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, accusing them of imposing “an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS’s academic freedom and religious liberties” (p. 63) and asking the court for declarative and injunctive relief.

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Implications from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2009

Well, now that the dust seems to have settled in the latest round of what I’m calling the Texas Science Wars, it is worth examining in more detail how things shook out.

At the time of the adoption of the current standards, I was guardedly optimistic about the outcome. Upon further analysis, however, I think that the creationists on the Texas BoEd have yet again muddied the water of science education in an attempt to give their ideological & religious allies cover for pushing nonsense in science classrooms (and, by extension through their textbook adoption, to other states as well).

Here is a quick synopsis from the National Center for Science Education on the topic…

Consequences of the flawed standards in Texas?

Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial “strengths and weaknesses” language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms — such as “sufficiency or insufficiency” and “supportive and not supportive” — and 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 age of the universe. The result, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, was “a triumph of ideology and politics over science.”

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Quick Update: Texas Science Standards

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2009

Well, it seems that the entire Texas Board of Education ordeal is over… for now. In general, I’m pleased with the results: the anti-science fundamentalist creationists didn’t get what they really wanted, but then neither did we on the pro-science side. All in all, I’m willing to call this one a win, mostly because the highly damaging “strengths and weaknesses” language was struck out of the standards!

For a much more detailed account of how the final day of voting (and what a day it was!) for the Texas BoEd on the science standards went, take a look at the live blog of Friday’s meeting over at chron.Commons Blog. It’s a lot to read, but here’s the upshot at the end of the blog post…

What is the bottom line? Did we win or lose? Neither. We got rid of the worst language, but a great deal of qualifying language remains. I am not going to claim either victory or defeat. I realize that Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute will declare complete, unqualified victory, but it is not that for them. Neither is it for us. The standards adopted were generally good, but there are several that are flawed, fortunately most in minor ways that textbook authors and publishers can deal with. I think we can work around the few flawed standards. But the point is that there shouldn’t be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism. …

… The policy (science standards) that resulted are not the best they could be. They are acceptable but could have been pseudoscience- and Creationism influence-free. However, I can also say the standards could be much worse. The votes were so close, and several members switched their votes back and forth several times, sometimes voting with the antiscience radical right wing members and sometimes with the pro-science members, that anything could have happened. I suppose I should be grateful the results are not worse.

I, for one, am very grateful that we won the votes we did, especially regarding the biggie – “strengths & weaknesses”. Of course there is room for improvement, especially regarding the big bang & cosmology, but this is a much better situation than it could have been. Given the recent history of how wacky things have been in Texas, I call this progress…

Stuttering, two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of progress, but progress none the less.

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Win for Science Education in Texas!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 26, 2009

Hooray! 😀 It looks as if the creationists on the Texas Board of Education have been defeated in their efforts to insert “strengths and weaknesses” language into the Texas state science standards! Read more at my recent post: The Textbook Saga in Texas Continues.

This means that Texas textbooks – and, by extension, science texts nationwide – will not be watering down good science in the name of pushing pseudoscientific flim-flam as espoused by the fundamentalist creationist whackjobs on the Texas BoEd.

The vote was extremely close: it was a 7-7 tie with one board member, who fortunately opposes the creationists, being absent. The Dallas Morning News elaborates…

A last-ditch effort by social conservatives to require that Texas teachers cover the “weaknesses” in the theory of evolution in science classes was rejected by the State Board of Education Thursday in a split vote.

Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a long-time curriculum rule that “strengths and weaknesses” of all scientific theories – notably Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution – be taught in science classes and covered in textbooks for those subjects.

Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats.

The tie vote upheld a tentative decision by the board in January to delete the strengths-and-weaknesses rule in the new curriculum standards for science classes that will be in force for the next decade.

I don’t think we on the pro-science side are completely out of the woods just yet, as I wouldn’t put it past the creationists to try some kind of last-minute shenanigans. But for now we can celebrate this big win! 😀

If you’re interested in staying informed on these and similar topics, I strongly urge you to get connected with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).

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