The State Board of Education voted Thursday to drop a 20-year-old Texas requirement that science teachers address both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including evolution.
While refusing to reinstate the language, however, the Board has passed amendments that would require students to "analyze and evaluate" all the major parts of evolutionary theory, including common descent, natural selection, and mutation using empirical evidence.
Media reports have named scientists the winner in this week's vote to remove the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase, but the Discovery Institute – an intelligent design think tank – pointed out that only half the story was reported.
And the other half proved to be a plus for those who supported the current science curriculum standards.
"The Texas Board of Education took one step back and two steps forward today," commented Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute. "While we wish they would have retained the strengths and weaknesses language in the overall standards, they did something truly remarkable today. They voted to require students to analyze and evaluate some of the most important and controversial aspects of modern evolutionary theory such as the fossil record, universal common descent and even natural selection."
The Board approved a series of amendments, including one that requires high school students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record."
Revisions will not be finalized until the Board's March meeting.
Debate over the "strengths and weaknesses" requirement broke out in Texas last year as the Board of Education was scheduled to update state science standards.
New science curriculum standards are to take effect in the 2010-2011 school year and be in place for the next decade. They will also dictate how publishers handle the topic in textbooks.
Critics of the mandate argued before the board this week that the word "weaknesses" has been used to attack evolution and promote creationism.
Supporters of the current science standards, meanwhile, made a case for free speech.
"This is a battle of academic freedom," said Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, who voted to keep "strengths and weaknesses," according to San Antonio Express-News. "This is a battle over freedom of speech. It's an issue of freedom of religion."
The Discovery Institute has rejected allegations that the current language is being used as a strategy to push intelligent design in schools. The think tank has said that they are not looking to add alternate theories to science textbooks. They simply want there to be genuine critical inquiry in science and for evolutionary theory to be fully and completely presented, both the strengths and weaknesses.