Texas Board of Ed Continues Battle on Evolution in Biology

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

A Texas committee has written the first draft of a recommendation that would remove the requirement that state high school biology teachers teach theories that vie with the scientific explanation of evolution, according to Julie Chang of the Austin American-Statesman.

A ten-member panel of school district officials and scholars has been tasked by the State Board of Education to minimize the state’s biology standards that are part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). This whittling comes after teachers have for years complained about the volume of requisite material the state has them teaching in all subjects, which are too copious to fit into a single academic year.

In July, a majority of those on the biology committee voted to eliminate four curriculum standards that they said were at odds with the theory of evolution. Those who question evolution believe those same models, 58 in all, should be included because they encourage students to think critically on certain evidence that evolution cannot explain. Evolution proponents say the four standards promote creationism and intelligent design:

“I don’t advocate for any kind of creationism to be taught in the school. That does not belong in the TEKS. I’m simply concerned about the fair representation of the evidence for evolution,” said Ray Bohlin, one of two committee members who opposed removing the four standards. Bohlin works for Probe Ministries in Plano and holds a doctorate in cell and molecular biology.

But Ron Wetherington, an anthropology professor at Southern Methodist University, said the standards should be removed because they are irrelevant and redundant. He added that his reasons for wanting to remove the standards in question are because of duplications, grammatical problems, and non-sequiturs.

The recommendations have not been finalized, but when they are the result could be another ideological battle on the SBOE, which is the body that will decide how to streamline the curriculum. The compacted standards will be put in place next school year.

The four standards were adopted in 2009 and were the target of intense media coverage. The measures were supposed to be a melding between the backers of the teaching of evolution and those who were critical of the theory.

Dianna Wray of the Houston Press reports that board member Barbara Cargill lobbied vigorously to get a person appointed to the biology panel, according to Texas Freedom Network emails. Her choice, Charles Garner, a chemistry professor and an anti-evolution supporter, was added to the biology committee.

This appointment occurred when in July, Cargill instructed Texas Education Agency’s Monica Martinez to put Garner on the panel. Cargill said his background did not match up with the requirements needed to be a part of the panel and explained that there was room for only a specific number of members based on financial and balance factors. In the end, Garner was selected.

Josh Rosenau, a programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit aimed at sharing evidence on controversial issues such as climate change and evolution, says this about the standards:

“The way that they’re written includes some things that could be misinterpreted,” he said. “In a small community, it’s hard to be the parent who stands up and says, ‘I don’t want my kid taught religion in schools.’”

A state Board of Education decision is expected in November, writes John Austin for Community Newspaper Holdings (CNHI).