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Contact Your Texas School Board Member — Preserve Scientific Integrity

AAS Action Alert 2009-02
View Online: http://aas.org/publications/exploder_detail.php?ExploderID=22

*Contact your Texas school board member and urge them to preserve the scientific integrity of state education standards.*

Marcos Huerta, John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow, huerta at aas.org

John Huchra, President
J. Craig Wheeler, Past-President

A series of science-hostile amendments have been proposed to Texas's science education standards. After narrowly removing language calling for teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, they hastily passed a series of amendments designed to water-down the teaching of science.

One amendment changed the standard from

"The student knows that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model" to "The student understands the solar nebular accretionary disk model,"

for example, striking the explanatory nature of the solar nebular model from the standard.

Another alters the standard "The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe" to read "The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal *differing theories about* the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe," adding unnecessary doubt about our cosmological understanding of the origin of the universe. (The suggested replacement by science educators is "... information about the structure, scale ...")

The amended standards then passed at the January meeting, but this was a preliminary vote, with the final vote to take place at the March 26-27 meeting.

It's imperative than scientists explain the scientific flaws of these amendments to the board. The AAS, at the request of the National Center for Science Education, urges AAS members in Texas to contact their State Board of Education member and vote to remove the McLeroy, Leo, and Cargill amendments. Below are NCSE materials on how to contact the board, and an explanation of the changes that have been made to the science standards in biology, earth, and space science, along with links to additional information on the changes.

http://ncseweb.org/

*How to Contact Members*

Identifying Your School Board Member:

1. Go to http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/
2. On the line "District Type" select "State Board of Education"
3. Type in your address and this will identify which board member represents you.

Writing Your School Board Member:

1. All board members use the same email (sboesupport at tea.state.tx.us), so make sure to put in the subject line which member you are trying to contact
2. Locate your board district on the map at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/districts.html or search by address at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/
3. Postal addresses and numbers for phone and fax are listed at http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html
4. When you email your school board member, please blind-copy (BCC) NCSE so we have an indication of the pro-science support. Send your BCC to newton at ncseweb.org.

*Analysis of Amendments*

A number of amendments to the science TEKS were passed at the January meeting. Here is a brief analysis of these amendments, and why they are problematic for science education in Texas. In general, the amendments single out topics touching on evolution (including the age and evolution of Earth and the universe as a whole) from other scientific topics included in the TEKS. They uniformly weaken the presentation of these subjects, incorrectly communicating to students that evolution and cosmology are more tentative than the scientific community considers them. Many of the amendments would open the door to the inclusion of creationist ideas. The amendments should be rejected for reasons of scientific accuracy and pedagogical appropriateness.

*McLeroy's Amendments to Biology Section 7*

What the amendment does:

- inserts the phrase "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" between existing standards 7A and 7B, relabeling 7B-7E to 7C-7F.

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- contradicts 7A, which states that the fossil record provides "evidence of common ancestry," while the new 7B states that students should "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry." This will create confusion among teachers, students, textbook authors, and test authors.
- "sufficiency or insufficiency" is similar to "strengths and weaknesses" and is objectionable for the same reasons: it provides an opening for creationist board members to pressure textbook publishers to include creationist-inspired "weaknesses" of evolution, as occurred in 2003.
- requires teachers to present the equivalent of a semester-long college course in paleontology to high school students. To teach this standard would require not only the basics of biology and basic concepts in evolutionary biology, but topics not covered until a capstone Earth and Space Sciences course. Without that background, students are likely to misinterpret discussion of "sudden appearance" as if it were a reference to special creation of living things in their current form, rather than as an evolutionary process which takes place in time-frames measured in the millions of years.
- it is unreasonable to ask high school students just beginning to learn about a topic to sit in judgment as to the sufficiency or insufficiency of scientific evidence they do not yet have the mathematical and chemical background to understand in depth
- "supporting documentation" offered by Dr. McLeroy for this amendment reveals that terms of art in evolutionary biology such as "stasis" and "sudden appearance" are interpreted as support for special creationism. This clearly shows that the motivation behind these amendments is to promote an anti-evolution, pro-creationism view.

For more information, consult Jeremy Mohn's web site analyzing McLeroy's documentation: http://www.anevolvingcreation.net/collapse/index.htm

*Cargill's Earth Science Amendments:*

(4) Earth and Space Science

What the amendment does:

- inserts the words "differing theories" into the sentence "...observations reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe."

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- astrophysicists do not have "differing theories" other than the Big Bang model and its extensions; there is no other major theory for the evolution of the universe.
- the phrase "differing theories" makes the language weaker and less certain, changes which do not reflect the amassed evidence in favor of the Big Bang model
- opens the door for the teaching of creationist "theories"

(5) Earth and Space Science What the amendment does:

- changes the sentence "The student knows that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model" to "The student understands that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model."

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- the accretionary disk model is the appropriate explanation for a science class.
- opens the door to the teaching of creationist views of Earth's origin, rather than restricting the discussion of the solar system to natural explanations

(5)(B) Earth and Space Science What the amendment does:

- inserts "are thought to allow" into the sentence "...kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which are thought to allow protoplanet differentiation..."

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- there is no ambiguity or scientific question about the heat sources necessary for the Earth separating into different zones (mantle, outer score, inner core) during its formation

- "are thought to" implies incorrect and unnecessary doubt

(6)(D) Earth and Space Science What the amendment does:

- inserts "the evidence that the" into the phrase "evaluate the evidence that the Earth's cooling led to tectonic activity..."

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- the change is unnecessary
- implies a doubt about these processes that earth scientists do not share

A pervasive theme in Cargill's amendments is casting doubt upon long-settled scientific issues.

Steven Schafersman, a member of the Earth Science writing team, has prepared a detailed analysis of the Cargill amendments at: http://www.texscience.org/reports/ESS-Report-Final-2009Jan29.htm

*Loe's Amendments to Biology*

Terri Leo offered several amendments to High School Biology TEKS in (7)(A), (7)(B), (7)(C), (7)(D), and (7)(E). These were proposed before McLeroy's amendment above, and reflect earlier labeling of standards. 7B-7E here are 7C-7F in the TEKS under consideration now.

What the amendments do:

- All of these amendments involved inserting the phrase "analyze and evaluate" in place of verbs such as "identify," "recognize," and "describe".

- For example:
(7) (A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental. After the amendment, the standard would read:
(7)(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.

And

(7) (B) recognize that natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals. After the amendment, the standard would read:
(7)(B) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.

Why this is scientifically/pedagogically wrong:

- removes specificity needed by teachers, replacing the different verbs with the same phrase. Teachers, textbook authors, and standardized test authors recognize that different degrees of understanding are implied by verbs such as "identify," "recognize," "describe," "analyze" and "evaluate". These are educational terms of art used to determine how to allocate time and effort; removing that information harms Texas education.
- "analyze and evaluate" is not the appropriate level of detail to require of high school teachers or students with respect to the TEKS's beginning-level presentation of evolution. High school biology students must know that evolution proceeds via mechanisms other than natural selection, but it is not necessary that students understand, for instance, an ongoing dispute among biologists about the relative importance of natural selection and other mechanisms. Because that is an unresolved question, there is no scientific consensus for teachers to use in planning lessons or in grading students. Specifying "recognize" allows teachers to go into that added detail if they want, but does not require teachers to take time away from other subjects to delve into arcana better suited for a college class. Similarly, it is an empirical fact that natural selection applies to populations, not individuals. There is nothing in that statement to "analyze and evaluate".
- singles out evolution for special treatment, directly contravening an Attorney General's opinion that the Board of Education "not single out ... a single theory of one scientific field." There is no reason to apply the high-level skills "analyze and evaluate" to every item in the section on evolution and nowhere else in the biology TEKS.

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