Texas State Board of Education debating how evolution should be taught

The Texas State Board of Education Debates over how evolution should be taught in 8th grade biology.
The Texas State Board of Education Debates over how evolution should be taught in 8th grade biology.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas State Board of Education members met Tuesday in Austin to hear public testimony as they define curriculum standards. While the board is defining standards for all the main subject areas, much of the debate  focused on science — in particular how evolution is taught in eighth grade biology classes.

The bulk of the testimony Tuesday centered around changes to standards 4(A) and 6(A) of the Biology TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and skills) in section 112.34.  Those standards discuss explanations for cells and DNA.

“The question is what kind of language do we insert into those standards,” explained Marty Rowley, vice chair of the SBOE and the representative of District 15.  “Some people were proposing language like ‘evaluate’ the scientific explanations, others were saying define and identify those scientific explanations. It sounds like one of the middle grounds that was discussed today was using the word ‘examine’ and what that does was allow teachers to decide what depth to go into when they’re looking critically at evolution and other scientific explanations.”

Rowley said he believes “examine” is the best word to use in the the wording of the curriculum, and thinks his fellow board members do as well.

Board member Tom Maynard, who represents parts of Travis County, Williamson County, and other places in Central Texas, said Tuesday he is also behind using the word “examine.”

“There is nothing nefarious about a student examining those scientific explanations,” Maynard said.

“This discussion has been framed as creationism versus evolution, there’s really nothing in the rule text that even suggests that,” he continued. He added that the standards simply define what students need to know, students and teachers can have discussions outside of the content of those standards.

“Understanding that what science is — what we can empirically measure or observe — versus there are certain things that when the Bible says we walk by faith not by sight, that tells you there are certain things we accept by faith,” Maynard explained

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, attended the state board meeting. She believes that anti-evolution “pressure groups” have been presenting for the board, rallying around using the word “evaluate” instead. Miller said TFN believes that the word “examine” sets the curriculum on the right track. Miller also worries that these “pressure groups” may still have time to lobby for different wording.

“I’m very hopeful that for the first time in a long long time, the state board of education members will actually listen to the teachers and experts who have done their homework in reviewing the science curriculum standards and have made recommendations,” Miller said. “I did hear board members — who are partisan politicians after all — start quibbling over certain words or start suggesting modifications and it always raises some alarm bells.”

Miller said eighth grade biology standards are crucial because it may be the last time some students take biology classes and learn biological theories before they go to college.

Barbara Cargill, SBOE member for District 8, said that she has specific wording she prefers.

“Although I prefer the word “evaluate” for the 2 standards that were discussed (4A and 6A), I also understand the purpose of streamlining. So I am willing to consider “compare and contrast” for 4A and “examine” for 6A,” Cargill said Tuesday afternoon in an email. “During testimony, it seemed that there was a lot of agreement about this.”

Though Cargill also noted, “I think we are in a very good place with the biology standards.”

Wednesday the curriculum will be voted on in committee and Friday the board will have their final vote on the curriculum.

Once the curriculum is approved, Vice Chair Rowley said he would be surprised to see it go into effect in 2017, he said more realistically it will be implemented in 2017 and 2018.

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