Triumph In Texas: State School Board Approves Sound-Science Materials

We have a victory in Texas! On Friday, the State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve sound-science materials for public school biology courses.

By a 14-0 vote, the board chose to approve supplemental materials from mainstream publishers, not creationism-based recommendations from Religious Right-backed vendors.

Americans United submitted written testimony urging the board to disregard entreaties from the Discovery Institute and International Databases. Both of these groups proposed materials that questioned evolution from a religious perspective.

Texas has often been a trouble spot for scientists and civil liberties activists. In 2009, the state school board adopted a science curriculum that left open the door for approval of creationist materials.

And earlier this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Barbara Cargill (R-Woodlands) to serve as chair of the board. Cargill, a former teacher, believes that the debate over science education is a “spiritual battle.” She is a strong proponent of teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution” – code language for religiously grounded attacks on accepted science.

We were worried that under Cargill’s leadership, the board would spend $60 million in taxpayer funds on creationist materials. Instead, AU and our allies wanted to board to approve supplements recommended by scientists and science educators.

We got what we wanted, and that’s thanks in part to the large number of sound-science supporters who showed up at last week’s public hearing. According to our allies at the National Center for Science Education, four times as many people testified in favor of sound science than those who wanted supplements undercutting evolution.

Of course, Religious Right groups have twisted this into a win. Our friends at the Texas Freedom Network reported that the the local affiliate of Focus on the Family tweeted this out after the board’s vote:

“Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”

But that is a clear distortion of the facts. According to TFN, nine science supplements were approved that all contained accurate treatment of evolution. None featured Religious Right propaganda or creationist concepts.

A creationist member of the review panel did, however, include a list of errors he believed one of these supplements included, which the board has asked the Education Commissioner Robert Scott to review. Texas science and education groups are confident that Scott’s consideration of these “errors” will not result in any creationist changes. This hardly spells victory for the Religious Right.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on things to make sure Religious Right activists don’t sneak something in through the back door.

The Texas State Board of Education did the right thing for students by listening to scientists, not pressure groups with a religious agenda.