In a move that surprised many observers, the Texas State Board of Education voted unanimously July 22 to accept science materials for public school biology courses that do not promote creationism.
Voting 14-0, the board chose to approve supplemental classroom materials that include information about evolution. It rejected materials put forth by religiously motivated organizations that seek to undermine evolution.
Texas is not buying new science books this year but did allocate $60 million to purchase supplemental materials, some of which are delivered online. Americans United and other groups feared that Religious Right allies on the board would attempt to use the process to win support for instructional literature promoting creationism.
Sarah Weis, president of AU’s Austin Chapter, 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 and raised common Religious Right objections to it.
“Placing materials that include numerous factual errors and unsound science in Texas classrooms not only undermines science education, creates constitutional problems, and threatens the religious liberty of students and their families, but such materials deprive the students of our state from receiving a proper science education,” Weis’ statement read.
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. Earlier this year, 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” and says she favors teaching the “strengths and weaknesses of evolution.”
Pro-evolution groups organized people on the ground, and it paid off. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reported that four times as many people testified in favor of sound science than those who wanted supplements undercutting evolution.
“That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board,” observed Eugenie Scott, NCSE’s executive director. “I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education.”
After the vote, Religious Right groups tried to spin the results. A local affiliate of Focus on the Family tweeted a message to its supporters reading, “Victory! SBOE unanimously votes to require changes to errors in science materials, related to evolution, before adoption.”
The “victory” referred to an alleged list of errors that a creationist member of the board identified in one supplement. The board voted to refer the matter to Education Commissioner Robert Scott for review.
Scott is not expected to make any changes.