Sunday, May 25, 2008

Controversial Education Standards

We've heard from places all across the country and the internet about controversies surrounding school science curriculum. Specifically, that of biology. There is a conflict going on in this country regarding evolution being taught in schools. This is not to say that there is an argument among scientists as to whether evolution occurs. Evolution is observable on a fairly consistent basis, and in more places all the time. The only question at hand is the causes and the processes by which evolution occurs. There is certainly room enough there for disagreement. However, we have seen calls for Creationism to be taught in our schools and, more recently, Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design effectively amounts to personal disbelief; an argument that the world is simply too complicated for people to believe that it arose by "random chance." Evolution is about anything but random chance, but that's not what I'm here about today.

On Friday, the Dallas Morning News ran an article about the Texas State Board of Education, and their approval of a new set of standards for the English curriculum in the state of Texas. A collection of teachers and experts have spent the last two and a half years putting together a set of standards on how English should be taught. This plan was passed over by the board in favor of a tentative approval of a curriculum proposal from the group StandardWorks, which was brought in to facilitate the approval process. That tentative approval came with a 9-6 vote in favor, but a rewrite was undertaken by the three members of the board who are apparently the social conservative bloc. They seem to have merged various aspects of both plans into some sort of hybrid document, in an attempt to bring around the remaining six board members. In theory, this is perfectly fine. But here is where the problem comes in:

"I'm appalled by the process that we've taken part in," said board member Bob Craig, a Republican from Lubbock. There's been "no opportunity to review it, no teacher group is involved, not even the (Texas Education Agency) staff was involved or had seen it."

Apparently, this new set of standards was slipped under the hotel doors of the board members less than an hour before they met to vote on the proposal. They were given insufficient time to review it, and then when they arrived at the board meeting, Don McLeroy, chairman of the SBoE proceeded to rush them through the changes, not allowing time to find the pages that said changes were made on. When complaints were made about the speed with which this was being covered, "... you're being dilatory in dragging this out," McLeroy said. This new package was then sent for a vote; it passed, 9-6. The stated goal of the rewrite was not achieved, and at least to me, raises questions as to what the results might be from this hodge-podge of standards. It could of course be just fine. But at the same time, doing an overnight redraft, without sufficient time to review, mistakes can be made.

Up next, science curriculum standards. Chairman Don McLeroy is a stated skeptic on the issue of evolution, and he's not the only one on the board. There is a good deal of interest in pushing textbooks that present "minority views" on evolution. Specifically, that it doesn't happen. If that's the view to be found in textbooks in Texas, I worry for the future of students in Texas. Advancements these days in almost every portion of the biology field requires knowledge of evolution, because it is based on evolution. It will be important to keep an eye on that meeting, and watch for this same kind of actions. If board members are again asked to vote on something that they effectively have not been allowed to review, Texas is in trouble.


Also referenced:
KXAN News - Austin, TX
Dallas Morning News

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