Conservative think tank gives Texas science standards ‘C’ grade
Texas public school students may be learning material “well below” their assigned grade level when it comes to science, a conservative think tank reports. In a nationwide study analyzing science standards across states, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave Texas a “C” grade, arguing the state’s curriculum is rife with weaknesses that cannot be overlooked. Among them is a tendency across disciplines to “pay lip service” to critical content with vague statements.
Notably, the review points out the study of evolution– a contentious topic for the Texas State Board of Education in recent years– is “all but ignored” from Kindergarten through fifth grade. And middle school standards aren’t much better when it comes to evolution, the report finds. A distortion, typically used by Creationists to argue against Darwinian macroevolution, shows up in the seventh-grade standards. Additionally, the word “evolution” is never actually used in any of the middle school curriculum and the definition of “natural selection” is omitted. While high school standards fared better when it came to evolution, the Institute concludes that with an insufficient foundation prior to high school, Texas students will likely be ill equipped to handle science in the coming years.
With a State Board of Education notorious for its largely anti-evolution stance– having been previously led by Young Earth creationist, Don McLeroy– the criticism is nothing novel for the state. In 2009, the board’s conservative bloc sought unsuccessfully to reinsert the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution into course material, a term many see as used to deliberately dilute the teaching of evolution.
McLeroy told the Texas Independent he is “very pleased” with the study and believes it only serves to validate the role he and the conservative bloc played in crafting the standards.
“The work of religious conservatives has been vindicated,” he said, pointing to the report’s positive review of high school evolution standards. When asked about the poor evaluation of middle school standards, McLeroy said blame could fall on the writing teams and review committees and/or the whole board who could have stepped up to improve them. “In the end, what we wrote was legitimate, sound science and the study proves it.”
Broken down into content and rigor (five out of seven) and clarity and specificity (one out of three), the standards received a total score of six out of 10. Physical science standards offered glaring gaps and omissions, high school physics lessons were oftentimes redundant and “riddled with errors,” while Texas life standards were characterized as “woefully imbalanced.” In general, standards were found to be “confusing,” “frustratingly vague,” and prone to leaving “too much to the imagination.”
University of Texas at Austin evolutionary biology Professor David Hillis, who served on the SBOE science standards review committee three years ago, said the “C” grade was a fair assessment.
“The SBOE removed, added and changed a lot of our recommendations and we ended up with weaker standards,” said Hillis. “They could have been much stronger and been given an A or B grade, but instead we are left with science standards that are ambiguous and confusing for both students and teachers.”
Earlier last year in a rare show of approval, scholars and science groups lauded the SBOE’s decision to forgo Intelligent Design/Creationist backed supplemental materials, the Texas Independent previously reported. While the March 2010 Republican primary ousted the most vocal creationist, former board chair McLeroy, and the last general election ushered in more moderate candidates– breathing renewed hope to science advocates in the ability of SBOE members to side with evolution– all 15 seats are up for grabs during the next election, due to redistricting.
The Fordham Institute is also responsible for assigning Texas’ controversial social studies standards a “D” grade last year, for its factual misrepresentations and “politicized distortion of history.” Because those standards were pushed by the board’s conservative bloc, the highly critical study’s origin came as a surprise to many, as it was commissioned by a conservative education research group staffed with former Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration officials.
Overall, results nationwide were found to be “deeply troubling,” as most states received a D or F grade for their science standards; just six states earned As.
(Image of Darwin: Wikimedia Commons)
How sad and pathetic that science education in our state is so impoverished. We need a science curriculum that can make our children and state competitive in the future…an A+ curriculum. It it time to teach our children science, generally, and the scientific theory of evolution in particular, fully and unabashedly, for the benefit of our children and society. “Creationism”, “intelligent-design” and other pseudo-science superstitious nonsense has no place in public education.
I am not surprised that Don McLeroy is pleased with this result as his whole chairmanship of the SBoE was intended to reduce the educational standards of Texan children especially in the area of life-sciences. It is a sad state of affairs when an educationalist is satisfied with a C grade rather than aiming higher.
Texas needs a well educated population if it aims to compete for jobs in the global market and rapid breakthroughs in bio-sciences are happening due to our increased understanding of genetics & evolution.
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