Texas Schools Face the Evolution Debate

State board of education revises a policy that indirectly permitted instruction of intelligent design.

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Texas's State Board of Education voted Friday to alter the state's science curriculum and drop a standard that critics say undermined proper teaching of evolution in the classroom for the past 20 years, the Associated Press reports.

The standard, which mandated instruction about the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, indirectly allowed instructors to teach evolutionary theory alongside intelligent design, a belief that an intelligent being created life on Earth. The new standard approved by state educators encourages students to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, a compromise that still disappoints some pro-evolution scholars. The board also adopted a series of slight curricular changes that critics say unnecessarily encourage debate about key pieces of evolutionary theory, like natural selection and common ancestry.

These new standards will be in place for the next decade and will influence Texas's classroom instruction, its standardized test material, and the topics covered in the state's science textbooks. Because Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers in the nation, its approved curriculum can influence the content of textbooks that are sold to other states and school districts across the country.

"We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but [we] don't agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy," says Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network watchdog group. "The [curriculum] document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms."

In spite of the fact that federal courts have repeatedly ruled against teaching intelligent design and creationism in public schools, the debate about whether and how students should learn evolutionary theory remains heated. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life compiled information about the debate in several states in "Fighting Over Darwin, State by State," a report published in February.

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