Earlier this week, The Thomas Fordham Institute released a national report on science education standards. Texas got a ‘C,’ putting it with a majority of states which the report deemed “mediocre to awful,” as Scientific American noted.
“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor,” State Board of Education chairwoman Barbara Cargill said in a story by Gary Scharrer of the Houston Chronicle, (though her numbers still translate to a ‘C,’ i.e., 71.4 percent). “We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”
That had Dan Quinn at the Texas Freedom Network apoplectic:
While giving the standards decent marks in some areas, Fordham describes other sections with words like ‘sketchy,’ ‘redundant,’ ‘riddled with errors,’ and ‘woefully imbalanced.’ Would you describe such standards as ‘excellent’?
The big issue in Texas (and elsewhere) when it comes to science education is evolution. Former SBOE chairman Don McLeRoy, who in 2009 lost his chairmanship (followed, in 2010, by his seat) because of his position on the topic, liked what he read in the report enough to take a victory lap on the op-Ed page of Thursday’s Austin American-Statesman:
The big story concerning the release of the Fordham Institute’s “State of the State Science Standards 2012” is not the overall grade that Texas received but that the controversial high school evolution standards were described as “exemplary…”
Their report claims the greatest problem in standards across the country is the undermining of evolution. Also, it liberally criticizes Texas’ coverage of evolution before high school.
However, concerning the high school biology standards that were the focus of the controversy three years ago, the report states: “There are no concessions to ‘controversies’ or ‘alternative theories.’ In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution.”
Back in 2009, the controversy over evolution focused only on the high school course. The State Board of Education did not change, delete or add any evolution standards in the earlier grades. Those standards were adopted exactly as the review committees had written them. If they are weak, then all involved, including the board, share responsibility.
But even before McLeRoy’s op-Ed, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science (who is running for a seat on the State Board), said, in effect, “don’t take too much credit” in a statement reacting to Fordham’s report. Schafersman complains that the high school curriculum still eliminated “references to a “14 billion year” old universe and the “evolution” of organisms in the fossil record.” In Schafersman’s view:
Texas deserves a C, but it should have an A, and it would have earned an A if the ideologically-driven and activist Republican members of the Texas State Board of Education had not voted to edit, manipulate, censor, distort, and corrupt the science standards presented to them by panels of scientists, science curriculum experts, and science teachers in 2009.
Yes, except for the State Board textual additions, which are hard to overlook, the high school Biology standards are good, but not exemplary. In addition to the requirements that misrepresent evolution which Fordham ignored, the Texas Biology standards do not include a requirement to cover human evolution.
In any case, Texas is certainly not alone. As the National Center for Science Education noted, the Fordham Report said that “only four states — Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island — openly embrace human evolution in their current science standards.”
Scientific American also reported that at least 26 states have signed on to an effort to write new, common “Next Generation Science Standards.” Texas is not yet one of them.