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Fordham Institute and Discovery Institute Agree: Texas High School Evolution Standards Are Good for Students

Casey Luskin

The influential Fordham Report is put out by California State University, Long Beach professor Lawrence Lerner to score the quality of science education standards in states across the country. In past years, the methodology behind the report went essentially like this: the more dogmatically pro-evolution the science standards are, the higher a grade they get. In fact, you could often quickly identify states with objective science standards simply by looking for the ones that received low grades from the Fordham Report. Phillip Johnson pulled no punches when he said about the Fordham Report: “I think it is a pile of nonsense and the enlistment of the cultural and financial power of the scientific enterprise in a program of indoctrination and not education.”

For once, however, the Fordham Report has gotten something right. The 2012 Fordham Report on Texas’s science standards states:

In spite of the Texas Board of Education’s erratic approach to evolution, the state’s current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly. There are no concessions to “controversies” or “alternative theories.” In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. (emphasis added)

What? Did Dr. Lerner forget to have his coffee one morning and miss something? He just called Texas’s 2009 science standards for biology “exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution.” I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Some of the people who we have to thank for these “exemplary” standards are Stephen Meyer and Ralph Seelke (co-authors of the textbook Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism), as well as Baylor University organic chemist Charles Garner — each of whom testified before the Texas State Board that students should learn fully about evolution, including both its scientific strengths and weaknesses. And the Board listened to these experts. It seems that even the pro-Darwin Fordham Institute has now admitted that this approach is the best way to teach evolution: teach more evolution, not less, and encourage students to exercise their critical thinking abilities.

This also means that the Lerner’s allies in the Darwin lobby, like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), may have to retract many of their prior attacks on Texas’s 2009 standards (also called the “TEKS”). As former chairman of the Texas State Board of Education Don McLeroy notes, NCSE staffers like Steve Newton had claimed the 2009 TEKS “are the most specific assault I’ve seen against the teaching of evolution and modern science.” Likewise NCSE executive director Eugenie Scott stated the TEKS were full of “intelligent design talking points.”

Indeed, in a 2009 article in the pro-evolution journal Evolution Education and Outreach, NCSE staffers Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates had the following to say about Texas’s standards:

Local and state control of education can lead to state science standards that reflect political and religious agendas, rather than good pedagogy and strong science. Texas is an excellent example where recent amendments to the Texas Educational Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) document now require the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell [and] the completeness of the fossil record …

(Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates, “Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up,” Evolution, Education and Outreach, Vol. 2:359 (August, 2009).)

But wait, didn’t Lawrence Lerner just say that Texas’s standards contain “no concessions” to “alternative theories”? I guess he didn’t get the memo that the 2009 TEKS are “creationist.”

Mead and Mates may have a lot more retracting to do. Apparently feeling the need to repeatedly use the word “creationist,” they state: “Creationists on the [Texas] Board of Education attempted unsuccessfully to replace this language but did add many other pieces of creationist jargon.” The allegedly “creationist jargon” from the 2009 TEKS includes the following:

  • “in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student;”
  • “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;”
  • “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell;”
  • “analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life;”
  • “analyze and evaluate a variety of fossil types such as transitional fossils, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and alignment with scientific explanations in light of this fossil data . . . .”

Do you see any religion in those standards? I don’t. How about creationism? I’m still not seeing it. Maybe I just don’t have the special glasses that they use over at the NCSE.

What you’re seeing is a a standard NCSE ploy: they aim to censor from students legitimate analysis of evolutionary theory by relabeling that scientific inquiry as “creationism” or “religion.”

In their article, Mead and Mates tried re-using Lerner’s criteria to grade all of the states. Lerner’s 2012 Fordham Report gave Texas a “C,” but they gave Texas an “F,” largely because it got negative 20 points in the “creationist jargon” category. (I’m not joking: “creationist jargon” was one of the rigorous categories they used to score state science standards.) But the Fordham Report didn’t use such contrived, non-credible criticisms, calling the TEKS “exemplary.”

And guess what other state got an F? Louisiana, largely because it lost some 50 points for, among other things, supposed “creationist jargon” and “disclaimers” and for encouraging schools to “to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” You’ve got to read what they wrote to believe it:

A second strain of creationist language is perhaps more dangerous because it is more subtle. This strain directs the student to judge the validity of evolution — to “critique,” “assess,” or “evaluate” it. The Louisiana Science Education Act over-egged the pudding by urging teachers to help their students to “understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”
(Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates, “Why Science Standards are Important to a Strong Science Curriculum and How States Measure Up,” Evolution, Education and Outreach (August, 2009).)

So there you have it: the NCSE considers it “dangerous” for students to study evolution “in an objective manner.” At least they don’t hide their true feelings.

Here, however, the Fordham Report agreed, stating Louisiana’s Science Education Act “is a far-from-subtle encouragement to teach creationism instead of science.” Perhaps Dr. Lerner forgot to read the whole bill, which states “This Section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine.”

In any case, regarding Texas, the latest Fordham Report has contradicted the NCSE. If we are to believe Eugenie Scott and the latest Fordham Report, then apparently “intelligent design talking points” make for “exemplary” science standards.