Texas Board To Vote on Requiring Coverage of Evolution in Textbooks

By Robert Rothman — February 22, 1989 3 min read

The Texas Board of Education, a key battleground in the debate over evolution’s place in the science curriculum, is considering guidelines that would for the first time require publishers to include coverage of the topic in biology textbooks.

The rules, expected to be voted on next month, would affect textbooks adopted in the 1991-92 school year. They would replace guidelines for the previous adoption cycle, which critics claim have resulted in a ''watered down” treatment of evolution.

If adopted, the rules would mark the second victory in recent months for science teachers and civil libertarians pressing for clearer policies favoring instruction in the controversial area.

Last month, the California Board of Education adopted a policy urging science teachers to reject “dogma” and restrict their teaching to theories based on “observable facts and testable hypotheses.”

Taken together, the actions by the two largest purchasers of textbooks would send publishers a “green light” to boost their treatment of evolution, according to Michael Hudson, director of the Texas branch of People for the American Way, a civil-liberties organization.

A ‘Green Light’

“There is no question,” he said, “that the two biggest states’ consistently moving to change in this direction sends an unequivocal message to publishers that things have changed.”

“They don’t have to water down the topic at the risk of losing sales,” Mr. Hudson said.

Moreover, added Gerald Skoog, professor of science education at Texas Tech University, the action would also send a signal to Texas teachers that education officials back them in teaching evolution.

“Not only in Texas, but elsewhere, teaching has been weakened by a lack of support,” said Mr. Skoog, a former president of the National Science Teachers Association. “Now a teacher will at least have the support that the Texas Education Agency requires this.”

But backers of creationism, calling the proposed requirement “bigoted,” have vowed to press the board to reject the proposal.

“We want either evolution out, or fair and equal treatment,” said David Muralt, president of the state chapter of Citizens for Excellence in Education, a fundamentalist Christian group. “It’s not education to present one bigoted point of view.”

Textbook Proclamation

The evolution requirement is included in a proposed “proclamation” that the Texas Education Agency will send to publishers to solicit bids for biology textbooks.

The document lists numerous topics, instructional strategies, and materials that must be included in the texts if they are to be adopted. Critics have argued that the proliferation of such lists has harmed textbook quality, since publishers must accommodate the requirements of many states.

In the 1970’s, Texas’s proclamations required publishers to treat evolution as “one of several explanations for the origins of humankind.’' That rule was declared unconstitutional, and the board repealed it in 1983.

Nevertheless, the board that year rejected an appeal by scientists and civil-liberties groups to require inclusion of evolution.

“In effect,” said Mr. Hudson, “publishers were told they did not have to mention evolution or Darwin.”

The new guidelines are the first to be considered since the state board returned to elected status last fall. The elected board in existence at the time of the 1983 action was later replaced by an appointed board as part of the state’s reform efforts.

‘A Big Change’?

The proposed guidelines are aimed at aligning textbook requirements with the content taught in classrooms, according to Joey Lozano, a spokesman for the tea

He noted that the board adopted similar language last year in its4proclamation for geology textbooks.

“This won’t be a big change,” he said. “It only formalizes what already was the practice for years.”

But according to research conducted by Mr. Skoog, the existing rules have been insufficient to ensure adequate teaching on evolution.

While only about 11 percent of Texas teachers he surveyed taught creationism as a scientific theory, Mr. Skoog said, 14 percent of biology teachers did not cover human evolution, and only 11 percent spent more than an hour on the topic.

“Creationism is not being emphasized,” he said, “but evolution is not treated in a comprehensive manner in Texas.”

In addition, Mr. Skoog pointed out, his research on textbook content found that, while there “definitely have been improvements” in the coverage of evolution over the past decade, the coverage “doesn’t compare” with coverage devoted to the topic in textbooks of the 1960’s.

“There are textbooks that still do not include human evolution,” he noted, “and some do not give a comprehensive treatment.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 1989 edition of Education Week as Texas Board To Vote on Requiring Coverage of Evolution in Textbooks