NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/07/29
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Survey questions about evolution and the Big Bang are restored to Science and Engineering Indicators -- but questions linger about the future. Plus Texas newspapers celebrate the state board of education's recent vote -- and NCSE's own report on that vote.
EVOLUTION AT THE NSB REDUX Survey questions about the American public's beliefs about evolution and the Big Bang will be restored to the 2012 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators -- but concerns linger about their exact wording in the future. As NCSE reported in 2010, although survey results about evolution and the Big Bang have regularly appeared in the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators, its biennial compilation of global data about science, engineering, and technology, since 1985, they were absent from the 2010 edition. Controversy ensued, with Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at the University of Michigan, charging that the removal of the section was a clumsy attempt to downplay a national embarrassment. Now, according to a report in Science (July 22, 2011), "The board now says that deleting that text was a mistake and that the 2012 edition of Indicators, which comes out in January next year, will contain an analysis of the survey results relating to those questions." José-Marie Griffiths, the new chair of the committee responsible for Indicators, told Science, "In retrospect, we shouldn't have omitted that text from the 2010 Indicators." But the 2012 Indicators will compare "knowledge indices measured with and without the evolution and big bang questions," and the survey for the 2014 Indicators will test versions of the questions prefaced with "According to evolutionary theory" and "According to astronomers." Miller objected to the revisions, telling Science, "The idea that a scale should be abandoned because Americans are not scoring high enough flies in the face of the most basic principles of scientific measurement. ... We don't make statements like, 'According to some economists, we had a recession' or 'According to the weatherman, we had a tsunami.'" NCSE's Joshua Rosenau added, "Whatever the cultural context or reasons for it, rejection of evolution has profound consequences for a person's ability to fully integrate new and existing science into their own lives, to participate in their own medical care and in the 21st century economy ... If NSF's surveys downplay that fundamental concept, they will be measuring science literacy in name only." For NCSE's story on evolution at the NSB in 2010, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2010/04/what-happened-to-evolution-at-nsb-005412 For the article in Science (subscription required), visit: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6041/394.full APPLAUSE FOR THE TEXAS VICTORY In the wake of the Texas state board of education's July 22, 2011, vote to approve scientifically accurate supplementary materials and to reject creationist-inflected materials, newspapers around the state are rejoicing. The Austin American-Statesman (July 25, 2011) was relieved by the absence of "the Bible-thumping rhetoric that has become a board trademark." "We might miss the fireworks," the editorial concluded, "but we'll gladly trade the show for balanced policymaking that will enable Texas students to compete in an increasingly complicated and increasingly global economy." The Beaumont Enterprise (July 25, 2011) wrote, "Once again, public school students and taxpayers in Texas dodged a bullet," adding, "The recurring battles over evolution ... are something Texans can avoid. The State Board of Education should remember the final word in its title and promote classroom standards that give our children the best chance to compete and win in the 21st century." The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (July 26, 2011), urged Texans to remember July 22, 2011, as "the day the State Board of Education decided not to impede the teaching of a theory that predates the Civil War. Thus, on that day, science education leapt forward and a slight but tectonic shift in the board may have occurred. We're talking, of course, about evolution and the endless attempts by its religiously motivated disbelievers to monkey with it." And the San Antonio Express-News (July 27, 2011), headlining its editorial "This time, SBOE gets science right," expressed its pleasure that "the board largely stuck to scientific matters in its adoption of supplemental science instructional materials," while deploring the board's decision in 2009 to sabotage the state science standards in such a way as to "ensure that students in Texas public schools will receive an inferior science education." What's next in Texas? The fight over evolution may resume when the adoption process for textbooks resumes in a few years -- but Senate Bill 6, recently signed into law by Governor Rick Perry, largely erodes the state board of education's authority over textbooks. For the editorials, visit: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/a-no-fuss-education-meeting-were-on-board-1654375.html http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/opinions/editorials/article/EDITORIAL-State-battles-over-science-texts-1543426.php http://www.caller.com/news/2011/jul/26/new-age-of-reason-on-education-board/ http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/article/This-time-SBOE-gets-science-right-1600863.php For the text of Texas's SB 6 as enrolled, visit: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/821/billtext/html/SB00006F.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas VICTORY FOR EVOLUTION IN TEXAS Pop the champagne corks. The Texas state board of education unanimously came down on the side of evolution. In a 14-0 vote on July 22, 2011, the board approved scientifically accurate supplementary material from established mainstream publishers -- and did not approve the creationist-inflected supplementary material from International Databases. "This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers," said NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, who testified before the board on July 21, 2011. In his testimony, Rosenau urged the board to approve the supplements -- recommended by a review panel largely composed of scientists and science educators -- without amendments, and to reject the submission from International Databases. The board did just that, asking for only minimal changes to the approved supplements. Rosenau was not alone in testifying in support of the mainstream supplementary material at the July 21, 2011, hearings; NCSE members and allies -- including Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman and Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller -- showed up in force. At least four times as many people testified in favor of the mainstream supplementary material as testified against it. A contentious issue was the supplementary material from Holt McDougal. A creationist member of the review panel released a list of supposed errors in the Holt McDougal material involving evolution and common descent. But in the hearing, the Texas Education Agency pointed out that the full membership of the review panel had not agreed with the complaint; it represented only that member's opinion. Ultimately, the board approved the Holt McDougal material, while directing Commissioner of Education Robert Scott to review the list of supposed errors and to develop amended language for Holt McDougal to incorporate. NCSE and Texas education groups are confident that Scott's revisions will reflect the current state of evolutionary biology, and not any creationist alternatives. Eugenie C. Scott, NCSE's executive director, celebrated the board's decision. "These supplements reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is the core of modern biology, and is a central and vital concept in any biology class," she commented. "That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board. I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education." For the Associated Press's report (via the Austin American-Statesman), visit: http://www.statesman.com/news/nation/texas-ed-board-compromises-on-evolution-materials-1634523.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join