By swapping out a few words in high school biology curriculum standards, the State Board of Education has limited the teaching of scientific phenomena that challenge the theory of evolution, a move that liberals hailed as a victory.
The panel on Friday approved a pared down version of the high school biology curriculum standards after committees of teachers and scholars worked for months to streamline the state’s voluminous science curriculum for all grades. The standards that covered evolution became the most hotly debated issue during the process.
“It was clear from testifiers that many who had varied concerns found the compromise language chosen by the board to be acceptable, addressing both the need to streamline content while still encouraging critical thinking by students,” said board chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston.
Currently, high school students must learn about scientific phenomena that can’t readily be explained by evolution, like cell complexity, origin of DNA and life, and abrupt appearances in fossil records, which left-leaning critics have said invites teachings of creationism and intelligent design.
On Friday, the board approved new wording on two standards that have come under particular scrutiny:
• Compare and contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including their complexity, and compare and contrast scientific explanations for cellular complexity.
• Identify components of DNA, describe how information for specifying the traits of an organism is carried in the DNA, and examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA.
The streamlined standards will go into effect in the 2018-19 school year.
In January, the board-appointed streamlining committee recommended elimination of anti-evolution curriculum standards, but the board in February proposed to restore much of the language. The committee then asked the board to soften the language the board wanted to restore — instead of “evaluating” cell complexity and origin of DNA, students should “identify” or “compare and contrast, ” the committee suggested — which received pushback from evolution skeptics.
On Wednesday, with the blessing of some of the committee members, the board voted unanimously to allow students to compare and contrast cell complexity and examine the origin of DNA instead of “evaluate” or “identify.”
Ron Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor and member of the streamlining committee who doesn’t think creationism and intelligent design should be taught in the classroom, said the new standards were a success.
“For the first time in decades, the science standards contain no controversial student expectations and represent mainstream science. Also for the first time, the board reached out to teachers for ongoing comment on their amendments and paid attention to the experts in the classroom,” he said.