Texas Group Says Textbook Publishers Pressured to Adjust Evolution, Climate Change Lessons

Publishers producing high school biology textbooks that could be used in classrooms across Texas are being pressured to water down lessons on evolution and climate change, a progressive watchdog group said Monday.

The State Board of Education is considering new science books which, if adopted, could be used by some Texas public school students, as well as schools in other states, for a decade. The board will hold a public hearing on the books next week.

Board members rely on citizen review committees that can raise objections to the new books before the approval process begins. Books that fail to receive full endorsements from review boards may be harder for publishers to sell to school districts -- and might even be rejected outright by the Board of Education. 

Using a public records request submitted to the state education agency, the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit that monitors the board of education, released the reviewers' objections to the textbooks.

Many objections were ideological in nature, raising doubts about the theory of evolution and questioning whether global warming is based on science.

One review of textbooks from publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scientific Minds reads: "As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that `creation science' based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption."  

The Texas Education Agency declined to comment on the records it released.

Texas Freedom Network says that of the 12 reviewers who traveled to Austin to participate in group reviews, at least five had previously publicly stated creationist beliefs.

Network President Kathy Miller said board members who believe in intelligent design helped ensure like-minded reviewers made it on the citizen committees, including a dietician, engineers and retired business professionals.  The state board is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats. 

"What our kids learn in their public schools should be based on mainstream, established science, not the personal views of ideologues, especially those who are grossly unqualified to evaluate a biology textbook in the first place," Miller said in a statement on Monday.

Texas has more than 1,000 school districts, making it such a large book-buying market that publishers often make suggested changes in science and other textbooks to win approval from the board. So changes made in classroom materials to appease Texas sometimes affect materials sold in other states.

In 2009, an intense fight over how evolution is taught put a national spotlight on the State Board of Education. Its members ultimately decided that Texas schools would no longer have to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and teachers would instead be encouraged to consider "all sides" of scientific theories. Other ideological fights erupted in years past over social studies curriculums.

A law approved by the Texas Legislature in 2011 allows school districts to purchase any instructional materials they choose -- thus weakening the influence of board approval. Many districts, however, won't consider materials that haven't been approved by the board because of fears they may not meet all state curriculum standards.

Miller said, despite the change in how books can be purchased: "Once again, culture warriors on the state board are putting Texas at risk of becoming a national laughingstock on science education."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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