On Darwin’s birthday, two Texas legislators wrote about the stakes in the tussle between creationists on the one side, and educators, scientists and economic development on the other, in the Houston Chronicle.
Somebody gets it! Will Gov. Rick Perry and SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy get the message? McLeroy was reappointed as chairman a week ago — but the appointment must be approved by the State Senate. Is a fight possible?
[Can a newspaper copyright the words of public servants doing their jobs?]
Feb. 12, 2009, 12:14AM
As scientists and educators across Texas and the nation mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin with calls for a renewed commitment to science education, the State Board of Education continues to engage in narrow theological debate about the validity of evolution. If Texas schoolchildren are to succeed in the 21st Century economy, the SBOE must focus less on internal philosophical differences and more on improving science instruction.
Last month, the board once again got bogged down in a bitter dispute over this issue. Members tentatively approved new science curriculum standards that protect teaching of evolution in one area, while creationists succeeded in watering it down elsewhere. Sadly, it was just the latest battle in the “culture war” being fought by a board that decides what more than 4.7 million Texas children learn in their public schools.
Families should be the primary educators on matters of faith, not our public schools. Regardless of board members’ personal beliefs on creationism and evolution, science classrooms are not the place for resolving such disagreements about faith. Those classrooms should focus on science.
Despite one’s personal stance on evolution, its teaching is critical to the study of all the biological sciences.
Scientists from our state’s universities have expressed this to the board, and have warned that watering down science education would undermine biotechnology, medical and other industries that are crucial to our state’s future.
Last session, the Legislature committed to investing $3 billion over the next 10 years in making Texas the global leader in cancer research and finding cures. This historic investment is certain to bring economic and academic opportunities to our state.
Sadly, even as our state takes one step forward, the SBOE moves us two steps back by continuing to support a diminished standard for science education. Texas’ credibility and its investment in research and technology are placed at risk by these ongoing, unproductive debates.
This is a critical issue and a critical time. Study after study has demonstrated that states which do well in science education have the brightest long-term economic future. According to Gov. Rick Perry’s Select Commission on Higher Education and Global Competitiveness, despite improved scores in math and reading, Texas’ students continue to lag alarmingly behind other states in science proficiency.
The National Assessment of Education Progress revealed that only 23 percent of Texas 8th graders achieved proficiency in science, compared with 41 percent of students in the top-performing states — the states with which we compete for jobs.
Yet the board continues to undermine high-quality science instruction, allowing our students to slip further behind.
To ensure that the SBOE works as it should, we have filed legislation to place the board under periodic review by the Sunset Advisory Commission and hold them accountable for their performance, just as we do the Texas Education Agency and other state agencies.
The decisions of the SBOE not only impact millions of young lives on a daily basis, but impact the economic progress of our state as well.
For these reasons and many others, the public has a right to full disclosure and oversight.
The board has escaped such scrutiny for far too long. The disregard for educators, instructional experts and scientists can’t continue. It’s time to take a closer look at the operations and policies of the State Board of Education.
Our state, and especially our kids, deserve better.
Ellis represents the Houston area and parts of Fort Bend County; Rose represents Blanco, Caldwell and Hays counties.