The State Board of Education in Texas will hold a debate concerning acceptable online science materials today, with the possibility of talks turning toward the inclusion of intelligent design theories in those classroom materials.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that the debate comes as the struggling state looks to save money. Instead of spending $347 million on new textbooks that are up to date with standards approved in 2009, the board will look to approve online updates to existing textbooks that will only cost about $60 million.
Back in 2009, the former board chairman, Don McLeroy, led the charge to set science curriculum standards that would challenge the evolutionary theory in the classroom, eventually resulting in the requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” During that time there were seven conservative members of the 15-member board that fought in favor of the changes, but now that number is down to six. Last year, McLeroy lost his re-election bid to fellow Republican Thomas Ratliff, who is considered a more moderate conservative.
Many believe that this week's debate will be far more tame than it was just a few years back. According to The Dallas Morning News, Education Commissioner Robert Scott recommended nine different options for high school biology this time around, none of which include teachings on intelligent design or creationism. He turned down the lone submission that had such content in it.
Josh Rosenau, the policy director at the National Center for Science Education, isn't that surprised. "None of the mainstream publishers were going to go that far," he said, as reported by the American-Statesman.
The board's new chairperson, Barbara Cargill (R), isn't satisfied with the textbooks the way they are, however. The American-Statesman reports that Cargill and those who stand with her on the issue hope to “rectify and correct” some of the ways publishers have portrayed evolution and natural selection.
An example, she says, is the way one of the submissions puts photos of human and gorilla embryos side by side, so that comparisons reflecting common descent can be made.
Even though the board will decide on the recommended materials this week, state legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday will allow school districts to use state money on other, non-approved materials as they please, as long as they meet state curriculum standards.
That means that schools aren't restricted to only the state-approved list of books anymore. School districts may also use the money on different tools such as software or even e-readers.
Cargill recently came under pressure by fellow board member Bob Craig when she said that “right now there are six true, conservative Christians on the board” in a video made earlier in July that was posted on YouTube.
Craig took offense to her comments, according to KCBD in Lubbock, Texas. "The comment was basically that we are not Christians, and I am very much a Christian,” he said.
"The board is too political on many occasions," Craig said. "I think the comment was divisive. We don't need to go that direction, what we need to do is work together to make education better in Texas."
Craig spoke with Cargill directly and said that she did apologize.