Education News in Brief

Teaching Evolution at Issue in Two States

By Sean Cavanagh — January 27, 2009 1 min read

Questions about the teaching of evolution in science classrooms have surfaced in Louisiana and Texas, two states where the topic has produced high-profile controversies in the past.

Louisiana’s state board of elementary and secondary education approved guidelines last week for school districts’ use of supplementary classroom materials during lessons on evolution, global warming, and human cloning.

The board’s action followed legislation signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, last year that allows local systems to use supplementary materials that “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review” scientific theories.

The guidelines appear to leave decisions about supplementary materials largely to the districts. However, they allow citizens to challenge any resources before the state department of education, which could recommend whether the state board prohibit them, said Rene Greer, a spokeswoman for the department. The state board has the final say, she said.

While the guidelines say supplementary materials cannot “promote any religious doctrine,” they don’t go nearly far enough, said Patsye Peebles, a member of the Louisiana Coalition for Science, an advocacy group that opposed the guidelines.

The guidelines could encourage the teaching of nonscientific beliefs, such as creationism and intelligent design, and could prompt lawsuits, she said.

But state board member Dale Bayard, in an interview, argued the guidelines are “on healthy ground” legally and would lead to more in-depth discussions of evolution in classrooms.

The Texas state board of education, meanwhile, held an exhaustive debate over the revision of its science standards. The existing standards, adopted in 1998, say students should be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, language that scientists say encourages inaccurate criticism of evolution.

A new version of the standards would strip that language. On Jan. 22, the board tentatively rejected a proposal to keep the “strengths and weaknesses” terminology in the document. But the board tentatively voted to approve an amendment that calls for students to examine the evidence for common ancestry, according to the Texas Education Agency. Opponents say that language is nonscientific.

A second vote on the standards was scheduled for Jan. 23, and a final vote is expected in March, the TEA says.

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2009 edition of Education Week