Live Blog of the Texas State Board of Education Meeting, 2011 July 22

Final Adoption of Supplemental Science Instructional Materials


Good morning. The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) official meeting is called to order at 9:03 a.m. by Board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill. There is no student performance this month. After the traditional invocation (Bible verse read and prayer led this month by Gail Lowe) the two pledges, business started immediately.

9:10 a.m. – Of greatest importance today from a scientific viewpoint will be a new vote to allow Holt McDougal to defend its biology materials from the criticisms against their evolution content by a single member of the biology review panel. Yesterday, when the Holt materials came up for a decision, the Board was correctly told by staff that six pages of alleged errors by a biology review panel member listed several errors. Under normal circumstances these errors would be routinely corrected, but since all the identified “errors” dealt with evolution and all were written by one person (who turned out to be David Shormann, an aggressive and dogmatic Young Earth Creationist), some Board members wanted to examine the legitimacy of the identified errors. It was pointed out by one of the ultra-right Republicans that all the members of the review panel signed off on the list and should be accepted. This was true: yesterday TEA staff reported that all three members of the panel signed the error report, but besides two were biology teachers. Unfortunately in Texas, many biology teachers don’t know very much about evolution and are easily misled by an aggressive Creationist who claims to hold superior knowledge. This is what happened here.

9:25 – The Board takes up the issue of Holt McDougal. Thomas Ratliff brings up the issue that Holt needs to be reconsidered. Anita Givens tells the Board that unexpectedly the three-person review panel did not sign the error report, but the error reports of all the other materials submitted were signed by their respective panel members. Michael Soto makes an amendment to strike the identified eight errors from the report. A huge debate now starts. Terri Leo and David Bradley attempt to defend the original Creationist error report.

Pat Hardy states that she has been told that scientists have objected to the error report. They claim that Shormann’s alleged identified errors are not real errors. She said that other publishers had similar topics and similar wording and Holt was being singled out to make changes not demanded of others, and this was not fair. Bob Craig makes the point that if the Board accepts the original error report, the Board will be responsible for forcing a publisher to make changes that are in themselves in error if in fact they are as claimed by several scientists present in the hearing room and also by five science teachers who signed a statement written by TFN and NCSE the night before.

Michael Soto speaks in favor of his motion. He said that the Board members are not biologists and do not have the expertise to evaluate the alleged errors. He further stated that the alleged errors were identified in a style that was snide, unprofessional, and impractical and he thought this was unscientific and unscholarly and indicated to him that the alleged errors were probably incorrectly identified. He also said that he examined biology books in an education library and that four of the eight topics were treated similarly to the original Holt language.

George Clayton says that the vote yesterday to deny the publisher the opportunity to address the alleged errors was unfortunate and he regrets it. He does not want now to be responsible for inserting new errors in biology materials.

10:05 – Barbara Cargill calls for a 15-minute recess.

10:20 – The Board resumes discussion. Michael Soto is encouraged to withdraw his motion to strike the alleged eight errors from the error report so that the biology materials can be adopted with the provision that Commissioner Robert Scott examine the eight passages and rewrite them in a way that is scientifically-accurate and satisfactory to the publisher. Commissioner Scott indicated his willingness to do so. Mr. Soto then withdrew his motion. Bob Craig moves to adopt the Holt McDougal biology supplemental materials with the described provision. The vote is taken and the vote board indicates that the motion passes 15-0 even though Mary Helen Berlanga is not present. This generates minor amusement from some in the room. Someone apparently voted for Mary Helen, but the error is attributed to the technology. Chairwoman Cargill confirms that the recorded vote, 14-0, is the official one.

Finally, the Board votes to adopt all the supplementary science instructional materials. This vote is the official vote since today the Board is sitting as the offical SBOE. The preliminary votes yesterday were votes of the Committee of the Whole Board.

The final result is a major victory for science education. Except for the Holt McDougal materials, all the biology supplemental instructional materials submitted for review by the TEA and SBOE were adopted by the State Board with no political or religiously-inspired changes that damage science education by weakening evolution content in ways that would have misled and confused students. No information about Creationism or Intelligent Design was included, of course, but that would be illegal in any case and even the religious right Board members know this. Of course, legitimate factual errors will be changed but that is normal.

The alleged but bogus errors in the Holt biology materials that concern evolution–identified by a Creationist appointed to the biology review panel by a fellow Creationist member of the State Board–were not accepted in the official error report. Instead, Commissioner Scott will now use his own experts and probably some on TEA staff to review the eight alleged errors and work with the publisher to re-word the passages that concern evolution. I fully expect some changes that won’t affect the scientific accuracy of the text. Of course, the original language was perfectly okay but the alternative we closely avoided was to have the Holt materials rejected or forced to make the unscientific changes to have the materials adopted–which is the alternative Holt would have chosen as explicity stated by the Holt representative. Of the three possible alternatives we achieved the best outcome. I spoke to Commissioner Robert Scott after the meeting ended adn he told me he will keep everyone informed of the outcome of his negotiations with the publisher.

This concludes the live blog today but I will come back and fill in some additional content later. As an active participant in the process (I am a professional science education adovocate–an advocate is a lobbyist who is not paid) as well as a writer, I often had to move away from my notebook computer to talk to Board members and the press and I had to skip recording some sections. But I remembered what happened and will fill this in soon.