Leading members of the Texas scientific community, in collaboration with AAAS, have urged the Texas State Board of Education to reject amendments to the state’s draft science standards that would undermine sound science teaching. And in a commentary published in the San Antonio Express-News online edition, AAAS officials warned that approval of the anti-science amendments could undermine Texas’s reputation as a world engine of scientific discovery and innovation.
The board is to take a final vote on the standards on Friday 27 March.
In a 23 March letter to Chairman Don McLeroy and the other members of the Texas board, the scientists said certain amendments, introduced and approved during the January 2009 board meeting, “would mislead students should they make it into the final standards.” Among the concerns, the scientists say, is an amendment to the biology standards that attacks one of evolution’s key principles: that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.
The amendment says students should “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry.” But scientists say there is no real argument about common ancestry, one of the foundational concepts of evolution.
“The scientific consensus is that evolution is the backbone of modern biology and many other fields of science, underlying advances in areas such as agriculture and medicine,” the scientists write. They note that the board “did the students of Texas a great service” when it earlier rejected insertion of language in the science standards that spoke of the “weaknesses” of evolution.
Critics fear that the amendment, using the terms “sufficiency and insufficiency,” is little different from the earlier effort to raise questions about evolution. Downplaying evolution’s place in science “only serves to confuse students,” the scientists say in their letter to the board.
The letter also notes that pending revisions to the Earth and Space Science standards “introduce unwarranted uncertainty to long-settled scientific issues” such as the processes of planet formation.
“We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas,” the scientists write.
The letter was signed by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS, and David E. Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas and 2009 president of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST). They were joined by 23 others, including Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Robert F. Curl, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Rice University.
The op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News online edition was written by AAAS President Peter Agre, the 2003 Nobel laureate in chemistry, and Leshner, who also serves as executive publisher of the journal Science. They write that the amendments seek to wedge religious ideas into Texas’ public school classrooms; because of Texas’ influence in the U.S. textbook market, the authors say, approving the amendments would jeopardize science education not only for Texas students, but for students nationwide.
“Science and faith pose no conflict for most believers, including the 12,000 Christian religious leaders—500 of them in Texas—who signed the Clergy Letter Project in support of teaching evolution,” Agre and Leshner write. “But at a time when the nation’s future hinges on research advances, the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas has noted, science classrooms are no place for religious debate. We agree—along with the National Center for Science Education, the Texas Citizens for Science, and the 21st-Century Science Coalition with its 1,400 supporters.
“Leveraging science and technology to create new jobs will require properly educating all potential innovators,” they concluded. “It’s time for the Texas State Board of Education to reject misleading amendments to science education standards, once and for all.”