Texas has new science standards, approved on Friday by a vote of 13 to 2. Students will no longer discuss both the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories—including evolution—in science class, making the standards "better than the old ones, but those old standards really did suck," says Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education. However, the new standards aren't that much better—they allow "all sides" of scientific theories to be taught—and "are deeply compromised at every level from the decent standards offered by the writing committees," he says.
The old standard for high school biology read:
"The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."
A committee of scientific and education experts changed the requirement to read:
"The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing."
And the final version approved by the board reads:
"in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific experiments so as to encourage critical thinking by students."
The board then added a number of confusing amendments that "crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks," says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network. "We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don't agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy."
One amendment, for example, requires students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record," while another requires students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanation concerning the complexity of the cell." ("Sudden appearance" and "irreducible complexity" are favorite creationist and "intelligent-design" concepts.)
Keep in mind, as well, that an "academic freedom" bill introduced into the Texas House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago could require the Texas Board of Education to put the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase back into the science standards. If the bill passes, students would be "expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information," and no student or school could "be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses." —Heather Wax