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State Action on Science Education: 2017 in a Nutshell

Sarah Chaffee

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With the legislative season finished, I would like to take a moment to review progress this year toward better evolution education in K-12 public schools.

This year saw a growing movement by policymakers across the country to defend academic freedom to present the evidence for and against evolution. Two state legislative bodies commended academic freedom for teachers, Texas overcame attempts to gut their science standards on evolution, and other states took action regarding academic freedom as well.

In resolutions this legislative season, Alabama and Indiana both went on record in favor of academic freedom.

In May, Alabama’s Senate adopted House Joint Resolution 78. While not legally binding, it officially encourages authorities not to prohibit public school teachers from “helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review” the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, so long as teaching falls within the State Board of Education’s curriculum framework.

Similarly, the Indiana Senate passed Senate Resolution 17,  encouraging discussion of the spectrum of scientific viewpoints on evolution. Referencing language from the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report, it also urged the Indiana Department of Education “to reinforce support of teachers who choose to teach a diverse curriculum.”

Both resolutions are good news for teachers who want to pursue academic excellence in science teaching.

Meanwhile the Texas Board of Education rebuffed the Darwin-only crowd’s attempt to water down their state science standards on evolution. The board adopted streamlined biology standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), in April, requiring students to apply analytical reasoning to the evidence about Darwinian evolution.

“The streamlined TEKS in biology continue to call for critical thinking in the study of theories such as evolution,” Board of Education member Barbara Cargill said. “It is obvious that the intent is for students to apply these critical thinking skills to the various scientific theories about the origin of life.”

Other states made progress as well. In Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas, academic freedom bills were introduced or made it through various stages of the legislative process, though none were passed. Louisiana adopted revised science astandards and placed the entirety of the Louisiana Science Education Act (a 2008 academic freedom law) into the introduction of the standards.

Photo: Flags of the states fly outside Alabama State Capitol, by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.