Thursday, September 25, 2008


Blowin' Up

Since the dust is about to fly in Texas, you might as well know why.

You can find the draft science standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (or "TEKS") at the Texas Education Agency's site.

I haven't studied them in any detail but some things stand out. For one thing, there is no mention of evolution by name before high school. Here are some of the relevant parts of the high school standards:

ยง112.43. Biology

(a) General requirements. Students shall be awarded one credit for successful completion of this course. Prerequisites: none. This course is recommended for students in Grades 9, 10, or 11.

(b) Introduction.

(1) In Biology, students conduct field and laboratory investigations, use scientific methods during investigations, and make informed decisions using critical-thinking and scientific problem solving. Students in Biology study a variety of topics that include: structures and functions of cells and viruses; growth and development of organisms; cells, tissues, and organs; nucleic acids and genetics; biological evolution; taxonomy; metabolism and energy transfers in living organisms; living systems; homeostasis; ecosystems; and plants and the environment.

(2) Science is a way of learning about the natural world. Students should know how science has built a vast body of changing and increasing knowledge described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models, and also should know that science may not answer all questions.

(3) A system is a collection of cycles, structures, and processes that interact. Students should understand a whole in terms of its components and how these components relate to each other and to the whole. All systems have basic properties that can be described in terms of space, time, energy, and matter. Change and constancy occur in systems and can be observed and measured as patterns. These patterns help to make inferences about past events, predict what will happen next and can change over time.

(4) Investigations are used to learn about the natural world. Students should understand that certain types of questions can be answered by investigations, and that methods, models, and conclusions built from these investigations change as new observations are made. Models of objects and events are tools for understanding the natural world and can show how systems work. They have limitations and based on new discoveries are constantly being modified to more closely reflect the natural world.

(5) Science uses observational evidence to make predictions of natural phenomena and to construct testable explanations. If ideas are based upon purported forces outside of nature, they cannot be tested using scientific methods. Scientific explanations are open to testing under different conditions, over time, and by independent scientific researchers. Many theories in science are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially; however, they are subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously (National Academy of Sciences, 2008, pp. 10-11).

[Similar language appears in the sections on physics, chemistry, Earth and space science, environmental systems, aquatic science and astronomy - JP.]


(7) Science concepts. The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life. The student is expected to:

(A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, physiological, behavioral and developmental;

(B) recognize that natural selection produces change in populations, not individuals;

(C) describe the elements of natural selection including inherited variation, the potential of a population to produce more offspring than can survive, and a finite supply of environmental resources resulting in differential reproductive success;

(D) recognize the significance of natural selection to adaptation, and to the diversity of species; and

(E) analyze the results of other evolutionary mechanisms including genetic drift, gene flow, mutation, and recombination.
In another religiously touchy area, Earth and Space Science, there is a pretty straightforward statement about the age of the Earth:

Interactions among several forms of energy, cosmic and Earth materials, and living organisms over billions of years formed the planet that humanity depends upon for resources and sustainability of life.
The Earth and Space Science section also touches on evolution:

(8) Earth in space and time. The student knows that fossils provide evidence for geological and biological evolution. Students are expected to:

(A) analyze prominent scientific hypotheses for the origin of life by abiotic chemical processes, such as the transport of organic chemicals to Earth by comets, low-energy clay mineral replication, primitive Earth replication experiments, and the significance of primitive extremophilic archaeans;

(B) evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their rate and diversity of evolution;

(C) explain how sedimentation, fossilization, and speciation affect the completeness of the fossil record; and

(D) evaluate the significance of the terminal Permian and Cretaceous mass extinction events, including adaptive radiations of organisms after the events.
I'm no expert on curriculum standards but these seem to be pretty strong in emphasizing evolution ... at least when you consider the state they originated in. Another seeming good feature is that they call for the students to spend at least 40% of instructional time in field and laboratory investigations. If that can be translated into real "hands on" science, it should be more inspiring than mere lectures.

But I'm not making any bets on how much of this makes it into the final product.

Via Curriculum Matters
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