Review of Biology Texts Reveals Coverage of Evolution Improved

By Robert Rothman — August 01, 1990 2 min read

The coverage of evolution in high-school biology texts has been enhanced dramatically in the past five years, according to a review by two groups advocating instruction in that topic.

In a report presented last month to a textbook-adoption committee of the Texas Board of Education, People for the American Way and the National Center for Science Education Inc. said that all nine books submitted for statewide adoption there present “in-depth coverage of evolution across a wide range of topics in biology.”

By contrast, the report notes, a 1985 review by People for the American Way found that biology textbooks tended to dilute coverage of evolution or omit it altogether.

“For now, the ‘dumbing down’ of evolution has stopped; these texts have been ‘smartened up,”’ the report states.

But despite the improvement in evolution coverage, the report notes, the presentation of the nature of science is “still generally inadequate.”

For example, it states, several books blurred the distinction between hypotheses and theories, and most presented science as a series of facts, rather than as “an organized method to observe and explain the natural world.”

“That’s one of the reasons this ridiculousness continues,” said Michael Hudson, vice president of People for the American Way, of the battle over teaching evolution. “Kids and adults don’t understand how science works.”

‘Other Valid Theories’

Mr. Hudson attributed the improvement in evolution coverage, in part, to actions by state boards of education in Texas and California, the two largest textbook markets. Last year, after bitter debates, the Texas board for the first time required publishers to include the topic, and the California board approved a science curriculum framework that includes evolution as a key theme.

Supporters of creationism, however, noted that the Texas guidelines also call for coverage of “other valid scientific theories, if any.” They urged the panel last month to reject the books and to ask publishers to include evidence that disputes evolution.

But Mr. Hudson said the publishers did not include such “elusive theories,” because they were bolstered by support from science-education and civil-liberties groups. Such groups, he noted, flooded publishers with letters and petitions urging them to include discussions of evolution.

“They got the message there is a demand out there,” he said.

The Texas board’s science-textbook selection committee is expected to make its recommendations to the full board this month. Following a public hearing, the board is scheduled to vote on the books in November.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1990 edition of Education Week as Review of Biology Texts Reveals Coverage of Evolution Improved