The Report Card: SCIENCE

SchoolReportCardGRADE: C

The debate around the role of creationism in American high school science classrooms continues to evolve. Although the courts have rebuffed creationist attempts to re-brand their religious message as “intelligent design,” creationists continued their assault on science in the classroom with urges to “teach the controversy.”

Texas, the nation’s second largest purchaser of high school textbooks and therefore a tremendous influence on secondary science education nation-wide, had a particularly rocky year. On the positive side, the Texas Board of Education voted to remove a 20-year-old standard that required science teachers to “assess the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories” (most especially Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection). Not only was this ambiguous directive un-workable in a classroom setting, it was a bald attempt by creationists to undermine the transmission of clear, well-accepted, un-biased scientific knowledge to students.

Typically such exemplary work by the state of Texas should merit higher marks than a C, and it would, had Texas not stumbled two steps back as it took its step forward. As the Board voted to repeal the old standard, several members introduced amendments designed to undermine science education—including traditional creationist tactics such as a mandate that students consider multiple view points concerning widely accepted scientific theories like evolution and the big-bang and the removal of language that referenced the scientific consensus that the universe is 14 billion years old. Indeed, Texas might be facing a failing grade if not for signs of intelligent life in the state legislature: some legislators have apparently had enough of the Board’s refusal to set a science curriculum modeled on traditional scientific approaches and facts, and are considering stripping the Board of its authority.

Though the nation’s high schools slipped by with a low-pass this year, we are cautiously optimistic that with hard work they can reach their true potential. President Obama has issued a call for an end to the war on science waged by the previous administration, and with a little luck and a lot of advocacy state-level education boards and administrators will follow suit.

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