Just when it looked like science education might be safe for a while in Texas public schools, the State Board of Education could soon be dragging the state back into the textbook wars over evolution.
At last week’s meeting in Austin, state board members began mapping out the schedule for adopting textbooks and curriculum standards over the next decade. Although they won’t make any final decisions until early next year, board members considered a schedule that would have them adopting new science textbooks in 2013. Those new textbooks would go into Texas classrooms in fall of 2014, replacing others that have been in use since 2004.
Because there was no state money for a full textbook adoption this year, in July the state board approved more limited “supplemental” instructional materials designed to address some of the new science curriculum standards adopted in 2009. Creationists had succeeded in seeding those standards with requirements they hoped would force publishers to undermine evolution in their new instructional materials. But publishers — with strong support from TFN and other pro-science education groups — refused to do so. The result was a big win for science education in Texas.
A full science textbook adoption in 2013, however, would give creationists another opportunity to pressure publishers into dumbing down instruction on evolution. In fact, the East Texas censorship group Educational Research Analysts is already laying the groundwork for that. The pro-creationist group’s October newsletter lays out typically distorted arguments about “mismatched anatomical and biochemical phylogenies” as evidence against evolution and insists that new textbooks include such arguments.
Two big factors will be especially important in the 2013 textbook adoption. For one thing, all 15 State Board of Education seats are up for election in 2012. Far-right board members are hoping to increase their numbers and retake control of the board. (You can follow our updates on state board elections here.) The second factor is the effect of a new law passed by the Texas Legislature last summer, Senate Bill 6.
Under SB 6, the state board still has authority to adopt textbooks for use by public schools, but local school districts can choose to buy textbooks and other instructional materials that don’t make it on the board’s approved list. So as we noted in our analysis of the law in September, school districts now have more flexibility to reject instructional materials that the state board has censored and politicized.
Of course, the state board could still embarrass Texas by demanding that publishers include junk science in their new textbooks. And some school districts might choose — unwisely — to buy flawed textbooks that emerge from the state board’s adoption process. Moreover, it’s hard to know for sure right now how publishers will deal with the changes brought about by SB 6 (although the responsible way publishers approached the adoption of science supplemental materials last summer is a good sign).
In any case, the schedule that appears to be taking shape would have the state board adopting science textbooks in 2013, social studies in 2014, mathematics in 2016 and language arts in 2018. The board is set to consider that proposed schedule (which would also include dates for adopting curriculum standards and instructional materials for other subjects, such as health) at its January meeting.