Expert Feedback Reports for Texas Science Standards

Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2008 November 6

Texas is currently revising its science standards known as the Science TEKS (Science Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). This process occurs every ten years. Twelve members of of the 15-member Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) chose six expert reviewers to read the revised standards in their draft form and provide feedback to the SBOE and to the science panels who wrote them. The members of the panels were instructed to read the expert feedback--plus feedback from the public, a "gap analysis" comparing the draft standards to the Texas College Readiness Standards, and an analysis comparing the Texas standards to the Massachusetts standards, a highly-regarded set of standards--and make changes as they thought necessary.

Specific standards could be removed, added, or revised, but there was no specific obligation to change anything. Total responsibility at this point remains with the science discipline panels, whose members are science teachers, science professors, and professional scientists. The discipline panel members carefully reviewed all the expert and public feedback and the two comparisons, and made revisions by consensus. All eight high school science panels agreed to use the same language about the definition, nature, and methods of science in their course introductions. Also, all eight high school science panels removed the notorious term "weaknesses" from rule 3A, although some small differences exist and the remaining language is not identical. TCS will cover this topic in a later report, after the revised standards are formally released.

The SBOE will receive and discuss the revised science standards during their November 19-21 meeting, one day--Nov 19--will be devoted to public testimony, and the science panels will have one last attempt to revise the standards to final form during December 4-6. After that, only the SBOE can revise the science standards by majority vote during their January 2009 meeting. The standards receive final adoption in March 2009 and are to be used by teachers and textbook publishers for the next ten years.

As frequent readers of this site know, the science standards are controversial in Texas this year because the old standards contained a Creationist leftover from a 20-year old textbook Proclamation and the original 10-year old TEKS: the unscientific TEKS process skill or rule 3A, which ask that students to know the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific explanations. Seven radical religious right and Creationist members of the SBOE want to keep the "strengths and weaknesses" language in, although over a thousand Texas scientists have joined together to form a 21st Century Science Coalition and signed a statement asking the SBOE to "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses."

Anti-evolution opponents of removing the "strengths and weaknesses" language from the science TEKS claim this is an attempt "to shield biological evolution from critical scrutiny by students or teachers." This is nonsense, of course. Removing the language removes a hook that Creationists use to damage and corrupt science textbooks that contain information about evolution, because they claim that the books must mention "weaknesses" of evolution and then helpfully provide many ignorant and bogus "weaknesses" that they made up. There are no "weaknesses" of biological evolution at the level it is taught in high school. At a more advanced university and professional science level, evolutionary theory is incomplete, not weak. Only proposed hypotheses have weaknesses, and these are tested by scientists before they are corroborated and become part of the scientific theory.

Evolutionary biology is a strong scientific theory that has been accepted by scientists for about 140 years. Students should give their personal lab- and classroom-generated hypotheses "critical scrutiny," but not the well-established, reliable, and accurate evolutionary knowledge that science teachers actually teach to students. Critical thinking depends on a person having a basic amount of reliable and accurate knowledge from which to critically evaluate new phenomena and claims. If teachers are forced to teach and students forced to learn the bogus and duplicitous "weaknesses" of evolution cooked up by the Discovery Institute Creationists, they would become confused, not educated, and thus unable to critically scrutinize anything. This is the whole point of the statement by the 21st Century Science Coalition scientists.

Six of the seven mainstream Republicans and Democrats on the SBOE chose three established science professors from Texas universities for the science review panel. Six of the seven radical religious right Creationists on the SBOE appointed three anti-evolutionists and ID Creationists to the panel. These individuals are listed below with their name linked to the PDF file of their Science TEKS feedback report.

Three science professors who are scientists and science educators:

David Hillis, University of Texas-Austin
Gerald Skoog, Texas Tech University
Ronald Wetherington, Southern Methodist University

Two science professors and one pseudoscientific think-tank administrator who are anti-evolutionists and Intelligent Design Creationists:

Charles Garner, Baylor University
Stephen Meyer, Center for Science & Culture, The Discovery Institute
Ralph Seelke, University of Wisconsin-Superior

It is the intention of Texas Citizens for Science is to analyze the feedback reports of the three anti-evolutionists, and this will be done soon. The results will be published in a separate document. Citizens of Texas should be aware of the lengths to which their incompetent elected public officials will go to gin up controversy and criticism of long-established science, even by enlisting the support of out-of-state pseudoscientific zealots. TCS has been exposing anti-science activity such as this for years and will continue to do so. Only public exposure and publicity will stop the activities of some SBOE members to pervert science education--indeed, all public education.

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 November 6