Shenanigans in Texas

09.16.2016

Members of the Texas state board of education launched a preemptive attack on a panel appointed to streamline the state science standards for biology during its September 14, 2016, meeting, according to the Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller, who criticized the attack in a September 16, 2016, letter to the board posted on the Texas Freedom Network's blog.

A panel of educators and scientists is currently working on streamlining the science standards for biology, and a staff member from the Texas department of education was scheduled to deliver a routine report on the panel's progress at the board's meeting.

But a member of the panel — Raymond Bohlin, associated with Probe Ministries and the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture — appeared at the meeting, criticizing the majority of the panel for a preliminary vote to remove certain standards.

The standards that the panel voted to remove were aimed at undermining the treatment of evolution. They were inserted, without input from scientists or educators, by members of the state board during the last revision of the standards in 2009.

The objectionable standards called for students to analyze "all sides of scientific evidence" and to evaluate "sudden appearance, stasis" in the fossil record, "the complexity of the cell," and "the DNA molecule for self-replicating life."

The history as well as the pedagogical and scientific problems of these standards is described (PDF) in detail by Ryan Valentine of the Texas Freedom Network, Ben Pierce of Southwestern University, and John Wise of Southern Methodist University in a 2015 report.

The panel's vote to remove the standards is only preliminary; a final vote will follow after the panel reviews results from a survey of Texas educators. The panel's recommendation will presumably then be considered by the state board of education.

The fact that a number of members of the board — reportedly including Marty Rowley, Ken Mercer, and Barbara Cargill — were sympathetic to Bohlin's complaints about the panel's vote struck Miller as "deeply disturbing."

Also disturbing was the discovery that antievolutionist Charles Garner of Baylor University was appointed to the panel after the application deadline, over the objections of the state department of education, at the behest of Barbara Cargill.

"The state board should respect the process it has established and refrain from any further efforts to pressure curriculum panelists and undermine their work," Miller wrote in her letter to the board. Harking back to previous controversies, she added, "Texas has been embarrassed enough already, and our kids deserve far better."