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Texas Ed Board Pressured to Make It Harder for Teachers and Students to Evaluate Evolution Evidence

Sarah Chaffee

As we’ve mentioned on here before, Texas is in the middle of its science standards streamlining process. Over the past year, committees have reviewed the standards. Amid much media and Darwin lobby pressure, the biology committee presented draft streamlined science standards in the fall. These streamlined standards removed good language from the 2009 standards that protected examination of evidence both for and against major origins issues — the fossil record and abrupt appearance, the origins of life, and the complexity of the cell.

The good news is that despite intense pressure, the Board of Education tentatively adopted changes to the standards that preserved teachers’ ability to critically analyze scientific evidence regarding biological and chemical evolution.

However, the Biology committee has recently sent a letter to the Board asking for the word ”evaluate” to be stripped out of standards 4A and 6A on the complexity of the cell and the origin of DNA.  The committee seems to be concerned that the evaluation of scientific explanations would take too much class time and require too much detailed knowledge on the part of students.

For 4A they said that students would not readily be able to evaluate the complexity of the cell and suggested that language be changed from

compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and evaluate scientific explanations for their complexity

to the weaker:

compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including scientific explanations for their complexity

The proposed change is a bad idea.  Learning how to evaluate scientific explanations is a key skill needed by future scientists and citizens alike; and students are certainly capable of evaluating scientific claims under the guidance of a teacher. This sort of evaluation does not require mastery of everything, nor must it take more than one or two class periods. Good teachers know how to incorporate critical thinking into the time available by picking key aspects of a topic to evaluate.

Furthermore, it misrepresents the science to act as if one can give pat and easy “scientific explanations.” for cellular complexity as if it is a resolved issue. Indeed, the origin of eukaryotic cells remains a great scientific mystery, and students need to know this fact.

About 6A the committee stated:

We make the same argument against the expectation to “evaluate” in this amendment that we made, just above, to the same term in (4)(A)—and for the same reasons. We ask for a compromise: keep the expectation level as it was, and let the amendment read “and identify scientific explanations for the origin of DNA,” which the Board, in principle, has approved. This will allow students to become familiar with the Miller-Urey experiments, and others, which are now embedded in most textbooks, without needing to “evaluate” the biochemistry involved, and without passing judgment on speculations regarding early earth atmospheres.

What? Teach mainly about Miller-Urey and brush over questions regarding early earth atmospheres? This is right out of Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution. Texas students deserve better than this kind of dogmatic teaching.

And again — teachers and students can briefly evaluate differing explanations such as RNA as forerunner or metabolism first.

The Board of Education will be voting on final adoption of standards at its April 18-21 meeting. They should keep the wording adopted at their January/February meeting, and preserve evaluation of key concepts regarding the evolution and the origin of life.

If you are a Texas resident, please weigh in and contact board members! See this link for more information.

Image credit: © Brandon Seidel —

Sarah Chaffee

Now a teacher, Sarah Chaffee served as Program Officer in Education and Public Policy at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. She earned her B.A. in Government. During college she interned at Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office and for Prison Fellowship Ministries. Before coming to Discovery, she worked for a private land trust with holdings in the Southwest.



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