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State board deals preliminary victory to pro-evolution advocates
By Molly Bloom | Thursday, January 22, 2009, 03:05 PM
The State Board of Education this afternoon rejected efforts to continue to require Texas children to learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories such as evolution.
Two motions to leave that language, or similar phrasing, in place failed. It was a defeat for a group of conservative board members who have been pushing to keep the phrase, which has been part of the Texas science curriculum for all public school students since 1988.
The board is considering a draft document crafted by a committee of teachers and other education experts who had recommended replacing the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase with a requirement to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations.” Some who supported removing the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase from state science standards have argued that the phrase can promote the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.
Today’s votes were by a committee of the board. Members will vote again on Friday on the state science standards. The board will hold a final vote at its March meeting.
Texas science standards determine what material must be covered in textbooks, discussed in classrooms and covered on standardized tests.
Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, moved to reinsert the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase this afternoon.
“I think the safest and best route to go, then, is to keep the exact language as it currently exists, which has been tried and true for two decades.” she said. “It has in no way risen to the level of a government agency of any kind (being involved in) inappropriate religious activity.”
Her initial motion was defeated by a 7-7 vote, with board member Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, absent from the room. Dunbar’s subsequent motion — require students to evaluate scientific theories “by examining scientific evidence supportive or not supportive of those explanations” instead of by evaluating “strengths and weaknesses” — was also defeated.
Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, who voted against both of Dunbar’s amendments, said the longevity of he “strength and weaknesses” language did not mean that it was appropriate.
“The ‘strengths and weaknesses’ phrase has taken on a different meaning from what it might have meant perhaps 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” Knight said.
Several board members said Dunbar’s motions echoed the board’s decision last year to reject recommendations from a teachers’ working group regarding state language arts standards.
Missing quote marks in this graf: “We appointed individuals, educators — good solid people — to review the (standards) in science. They made a recommendation, and again we are taking this away from what the educators have indicated to us is the best wording,” said Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, who voted against both of Dunbar’s motions.
Replacing the requirement that students be taught “strengths and weakness” with a requirement that they learn to “analyze and evaluate scientific explanations “allows discussion,” Craig said. “It allows free thinking. It puts it in scientific terms.”
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