This morning the Texas State Board of Education unanimously approved the first reading of new science standards for the state. There seems to be a great deal of confusion in the media about what the Board actually accomplished, and so we are putting out this backgrounder summarizing the Board’s key actions relating to evolution. In a nutshell: The Board refused to reinstate language calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories; but the Board added new language requiring students to “analyze and evaluate” all the major parts of evolutionary theory, including common descent, natural selection, and mutation. The additions to the proposed science standards were adopted yesterday in committee, and the revised science standards were passed unanimously this morning on the first reading. (The final vote on the standards will take place in March.)
Here is a more detailed description of what happened:
Strengths and Weaknesses Not Reinstated
On Thursday, Board members narrowly defeated in committee a motion to reinstate language from the state’s existing science standards calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. The motion failed on a tie vote (7-7). As a result, the Board left intact less specific language requiring students to “analyze and evaluate” scientific explanations. Notably, several opponents on the Board of the stronger “strengths and weaknesses” language insisted that the new “analyze and evaluate” language would provide for just as much critical inquiry as the “strengths and weaknesses” language.
Multiple Amendments Approved Changing Standards on Evolution
Board members adopted a series of amendments in committee to require students to “analyze and evaluate” the evidence for evolution. (Note: The following preliminary text is based on the live audio of yesterday’s hearing. New text is in bold.)
First, a series of amendments were made to the standards for the new Earth and Space Science course, most notably one to a standard on common ancestry:
“evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence.”
Next, a series of amendments were made to the standards on evolution for high school biology requiring that students “analyze and evaluate” key concepts in modern evolutionary theory:
” (7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is a scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life. The student is expected to:
(A) analyze and evaluate how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental;
(B) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;
(C) analyze and evaluate how the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources result in differential reproductive success;
(D) analyze and evaluate the relationship of natural selection to adaptation, and to the development of diversity in and among species; and
(E) analyze and evaluate the effects of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.”
Finally, the Board approved in committee the insertion of a new evolution standard for high school biology on common ancestry:
“Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.“
Taken together, these amendments make clear that students will be required to “analyze and evaluate” all the major topics of evolutionary theory. This is a significant improvement over the previous draft of the new standards, and ensures that students will need to apply their critical thinking skills to the theory of evolution just like any other scientific explanation.
Contrary to the claims of some evolution-only lobbyists, these revised standards on evolution do not promote “creationism.” They promote good science education.