Science is “Foreign” in Texas

You already know about the new science standards proposed by the National Research Council. They’re intended as voluntary guidelines to be adopted by all states for use in their public schools. You can read about it here: A Framework for K-12 Science Education.

The science standards include evolution, and we’re already written about the negative reaction of Kansas (see Kansas Creationism: “We’re Not Crackpots”). Now it’s time to turn our attention to Texas.

In the San Marcos Mercury of San Marcos, Texas we read No rush to adopt national science standards in Texas. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

New nationally developed common science standards may be on the horizon, but it is not likely that they will make their way into Texas classrooms soon. Make that a “zero percent chance,” said Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of the State Board of Education [SBOE].

As you know, Cargill is the latest in a series of flaming creationists to be appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to be chairman of the Texas SBOE. Her immediate predecessor was Gail Lowe (another creationist), but the Texas Senate voted to reject that nomination. Before that, Perry had appointed the infamous creationist dentist, Don McLeroy, who was also rejected by the Senate.

The newspaper then tells us:

“I don’t see it happening, with the fact that we just adopted science standards, and we’ve been averse to adopting anything else coming from a national origin,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican who represents northeast Texas on the 15-member board.

If Ratliff feels that way, then the standards have no chance in Texas. It was Ratliff who defeated McLeroy in a primary election back in 2010. The article concludes with this:

Cargill said that when the time comes to revise the state’s science curriculum, the board will look at the Next Generation standards. But she said that the standards will most likely serve as a reference guide, not a rulebook. “We write our own standards here in Texas,” she said.

But that’s not all. We have some commentary from the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute‘s creationist public relations and lobbying operation, the Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids, a/k/a the cdesign proponentsists).

The Discoveroid blog has this post: Texas Says Not Now and Maybe Never to the Educrats. It’s by Joshua Youngkin, who says, with bold font added by us and his links omitted:

Historically, K-12 science education has been left to the individual states. But as we’ve earlier reported, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) would employ uniform standards to subtly impose on every state “the one right way” for every teacher to teach about evolution and climate change.

It’s difficult to know how voluntary standards can “subtly impose” anything on anyone, but let’s read on. Youngkin quotes from some newspaper that says:

[D]espite supporters’ insistence that the standards have been created “by states, for states,” there are already stirrings of the anti-federal-government backlash that greeted the common core standards.

We’ve seen straw-man arguments before, but that’s amazing. Then, after reporting Cargill’s position, Youngkin says:

Other states: take heed of Texas’s example. On K-12 science education, as with most things, local decision-making is still the best decision-making. Anything else is the substitution of foreign interest for local interest.

That’s how it ends. The Discoveroids have a relationship with the creationists on the Texas SBOE, so their position is that the voluntary standards are a “foreign interest.” Texas doesn’t need any of that durned “foreign” science like evolution. They’ve got their own science in Texas — it’s called creationism — and the Discoveroids like it.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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35 responses to “Science is “Foreign” in Texas

  1. NeonNoodle

    Educrats?

  2. NeonNoodle, that way, they can sneer at education, science and Democrats in one fell swoop.

  3. The Texas edition of the NY Times Sunday edition last weekend carried much of the same information in a very one sided report attributed to the TexasTribune.

  4. “educrat” is a portmanteau of education and bureaucrat. It’s not directly a sneer at Democrats, though NEA is one of the largest political contributors to (almost exclusively) Democratic candidates. Educrats are the people who who have set up policies that make it easier to pay a child molester $40,000 than to fire him from being a teacher. The people who have decided that we don’t need to teach students how to add fractions. The people who, when confronted with students who can’t demonstrate proficiency, lower the standards–or just spend the weekend fabricating tests en masse. Like the superintendent who couldn’t pass the math proficiency exam, and said clearly the exam must be over useless information–after all he’s successful and doesn’t need to know it, so clearly no one does.

    Texas creationists are not responsible for our nation’s sorry public schools.

  5. This whole line of reasoning is just bulls**t intended to fool the rubes. Its completely insincere. The SBOE have (and probably will again) happily bring in DI experts from out of state to help them build their standards. Meanwhile, they will vehemently reject any science standards built or recommended by Texas’ own top science experts – their own Nobel laureates and university professors.

  6. Spector567

    No but they were raised in them and they are certainly not helping to make them better.

  7. In fact I will go further and say that no state – not Texas, not Louisiana, not Kansas – has the problem of lacking sufficient in-house expertise to build good standards. All of them have good universities filled with knowledgeable professors of chemistry, physics, biology, and so on, as well as schools of education filled with professors knowledable in primary and secondary pedagogy. Time and time again, however, these creationist BOEs reject the curricula recommended by their own world-renowned best scientists and educators, in favor of curricula recommended by cherry-picked groups of creationists with minimal or no professional science education credentials.

  8. Pete Moulton

    @Gabriel Hanna: “Texas creationists are not responsible for our nation’s sorry public schools.”

    I’d consider them a main contributing factor, given that the Texas market controls the textbook standards that publishers generally follow. I’ve heard rumors (possibly here, in fact) that in future the standards will be controlled by the California market, but as far as I know that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe SC has some updated information for us.

  9. Gabriel:

    It’s [the term educrat] not directly a sneer at Democrats, though NEA is one of the largest political contributors to (almost exclusively) Democratic candidates.

    Funny, NEA is not a major contributor to this at all. Major contributors mentioned include: NSF, NIH, NASA, Volvo Corp via a NAS grant, Ettinger Corp., and the Eugene McDermott foundation.
    So rest easy Gabriel, there are no educrats here to complain about. Unless you think NASA is educratic.

  10. Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

    I bet if the NGSS included the Discovery Institute’s “teach the controversy” or so-called “arguments against evolution” a la 2005 Kansas, the DI would suddenly forget about the importance of local control.

    Texas also rejected the Common Core standards for math and reading, so their rejection of the NGSS isn’t that surprising.

  11. @eric:Funny, NEA is not a major contributor to this at all.

    Never said it was. Kindly read the things I have written, and not things you made up.

    @Pete Moulton:I’d consider them a main contributing factor, given that the Texas market controls the textbook standards that publishers generally follow.

    And you’d be wrong. As much as creationists would like to gut evolution, it’s not just evolution that American students are not learning. American high school seniors are 32% proficient in math and 31% proficient in reading. That’s a national problem and it’s not confined to areas where creationism is popular.

    http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG11-03_GloballyChallenged.pdf

    that in future the standards will be controlled by the California market,

    California is ranked #41 out of 50 states in reading and math proficiency. Lower than Texas at #22.

  12. Pete Moulton says:

    I’ve heard rumors (possibly here, in fact) that in future the standards will be controlled by the California market, but as far as I know that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe SC has some updated information for us.

    I have no information, but I suspect the days when one or two big states set the standard are pretty much gone. The technology exists to tailor textbooks for each market. If a publisher has no academic pretensions, I can imagine a core of uncontroversial material, with optional appendices on evolution, Noah’s Ark, the Loch Ness monster, etc. It’ll be Burger King science — have it your way.

  13. @SC:It’ll be Burger King science — have it your way.

    Better that, than Federal standards for stupidity for all, as we see coming out of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

  14. @Pete Moulton:I’d consider them a main contributing factor, given that the Texas market controls the textbook standards that publishers generally follow.

    @Gabriel Hanna: And you’d be wrong. As much as creationists would like to gut evolution, it’s not just evolution that American students are not learning.

    That, however, is only part of the story. Here is a state ranking of schools for science education using SERI criteria. While there are some exceptions, the states in which creationism support is strong do in fact tend to be the weakest in science education.

    I’m not sure Pete is right in saying Texas creationists are responsible for poor national science education. But creationists in general? That’s not much of a stretch.

    I would also wager that the yellow on that map correlates pretty well with more per capita taxes raised for public education, and the blue with less. What you do say, Gabriel? Care to bet against that?

  15. Gabriel,
    Obviously you are not a fan of NEA. I’ll read up on them because of your observations. Thanks.:)
    That said, “creationism is the greatest threat to science education in America today” according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Thats not anything but an accurate observation.
    I’ll learn about your organization with problems, and I’d request you read up on creationism. It is a big time problem in American education and evangelicals are making it worse. I won’t debate this if you disagree.
    Thanks :)
    Will

  16. Looking from the outside in. I’d say that the creationists are a symptom of a greater problem.

    The politicalization of your school system at large.

  17. Jim Thomerson

    We have, to a large extent, local control of education. My father served a couple of terms on the local school board, who made hiring and firing decisions, for example. Don’t all the nations who do a better job of educating in STEM areas have centralized education control?

  18. Eric has posted marvelous data which I think does show there is a correlation between creationist legislation and poor educational performance.

    Correlation, yes. Causation? Not sure. It could go the other way: perhaps poor education makes creationism popular.

    But I think we must take seriously that creationism does not simply damage knowledge of biology, natural history, etc. I think it damages all science, even “operational science” (urk) and indeed, the whole idea of arguing by the use of evidence– evidence-based epistemology.

    The reason is that creationism is not really a scientific theory; it is, rather, a popular movement based on using cunning rhetoric to mock and belittle the scientific method and its practitioners. I think we all agree that evolution can not be seriously attacked with critical arguments based on accurate facts (with maybe a couple of exceptions), and creationism cannot be promoted, if people understand and apply the scientific method and have accurate facts.

    So all creationism must involve redefining the scientific method itself, using cunning rhetoric, populist appeal, anti-intellectualism, religious tribalism, and armchair philosophy.

    We all know countless examples of this– endless accusations of scientific bias; the equation of facts with opinions; the equation of theories with guesses, imagination, dreams, or demonic possession; the specious distinction between “origin science” and “operational science”; Ken Ham’s “Were You There?” argument that the past is unknowable; accusations of circular logic applied to all possible observations and theoretical predictions; encouraging envy and resentment of scientific authority, while at the same time quote mining authorities; and worst of all, the presuppository theology of Rushdoony and Lisle and Ham, according to which, any use of reason or science is said to presuppose the literal truth of every word in the Bible, including the talking donkey of Balaam son of Beor.

    These rhetorical tricks, pop-philosophies, and resentments and hostility towards science do not just undermine evolution– or the Big Bang– they can be used, and in fact they are used, against all scientific theories, including global warming, genetics, biochemistry, cancer science, HIV, vaccination, gravity, electromagnetism, and yes, geocentrism. I have seen creationist rhetorical tricks used to undermine every kind of “operational science”, I repeat, including electricity, gravity, and the belief that biological processes can be revealed by biochemistry.

    Moreover, it undermines all evidence-based epistemology, not just science. If you believe it is a good argument against heliocentrism to say “scientists are biased”, then you are a short hop away from WorldNetDaily, from believing Obama was born in Soviet Russia, that the Holocaust never happened, and that the Jews and/or atheists are in a global conspiracy that will undermine human civilization.

    So we should consider the possibility that this is dangerous. Not to be alarmist, but we should consider the possibility that pseudoscience contributes to fascism or authoritarianism.

  19. Jim Thomerson asks: “Don’t all the nations who do a better job of educating in STEM areas have centralized education control?”

    Probably, but that’s not a persuasive argument. In general, decentralization is better because centralized power always attracts the power-hungry. Such a system in the US may originally be staffed with angels, but in a generation or so it’s likely to be the opposite. I’m happy with state control, and even happier with local control — at least conceptually. The real problem is that so many idiots are on school boards. That’s a completely different problem than centralization vs. decentralization.

  20. Ceteris Paribus

    @Spector: As has been observed by Barbara Forrest and others working to uphold public school science education, the boards of education need not explicitly dictate a creationist curriculum. The creationists merely need to maintain a perpetual public fandango over evolution vs creationism to cause many otherwise excellent science teachers to gloss over and give short shrift to evolution, and quietly move on to the next topic.

    For creationists, their political strategy of Sturm und Drang will beat a strategy of civil discourse and rational debate, every time.

  21. @Eric:What you do say, Gabriel? Care to bet against that?

    Don’t throw me in that briar patch, Brer eric!

    It’s not fair to bet when you know the outcome. But if you insist, what are the stakes?

  22. Spector567

    @The Curmudgeon With respect that is what is happening now. A thousand petty and often incompetent dictators each scrambling for their little bit of fame so they can get elected again in a few years based on their political ideology. While at the same time they are given power, and control well beyond their professional abilities or experience and more often than not cannot be held accountable for their actions.

    As opposed to a few competent people backed up by a team of professionals being watched by the nation and the media at large.

    Don’t get me wrong I understand your point about power and control but in an effort to guard the hen house from the wolf’s you have let in the foxes and they are running amok.

  23. @eric: So I got per student spending for each state and DC, from here:

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/of-all-states-new-york-schools-spend-most-money-per-pupil/

    And I plotted that against your SERI data and the PISA data I cited, and got the R^2 from Excel. A “good” R^2 is of course dependent on context.

    To establish that context, I plotted the reading against the math proficiency from the PISA data, and they yielded R^2 = 0.7067. Next I plotted the SERI data against the math proficiency and against the reading proficiency. These yielded R^2 = 0.4514 and R^2 = 0.5363, respectively. This gives us an idea of how reading proficiency and math proficiency affect SERI scores.It makes sense that being able to read well and do math well would correlate with doing well on a science test.

    Now when you plot SERI scores against per student spending, you get R^2 = 0.248, which is on the edge of worthlessness. When you plot math proficiency and and reading proficiency against per student spending you get R^2 = 0.036 and R^2 = 0.0584 respectively, which may as well be 0.

    What we learn is that per student spending is a poor predictor of SERI performance and no predictor at all of PISA performance.

    Now, see, I knew this long before we started this discussion. For every Massachusetts and Minnesota that pay a lot and get high performance, there’s a Utah and and a South Dakota that pay a little and get high performance, as well as a California, Hawaii, and District of Columbia that pay a lot and get low performance. (DC is #2 in spending, dead last in math and reading.) Furthermore, when you compare PISA scores among OECD member nations and per student spending, the correlation is actually negative.

  24. @Spector567:As opposed to a few competent people backed up by a team of professionals being watched by the nation and the media at large.

    Oh, of course, we’ll put top men in charge. That way when they screw up they can screw up everyone at once.

    But the UK is not doing significantly better than the US in math and much worse in reading, according to OECD. But you do spend less; the US spends the 2nd most per student of any nation.

  25. @Gabriel Hanna True they could screw up everyone, one way or another. However, isn’t screwing up one way better than screwing up a thousand different ways in a thousand different spots. Plus, the odds are that the professionally hired and run group that has the experience and access to professionals would screw up less often and would be able to initiate changes/fixes across the board as opposed to relying on the trickle down community by community.

    Don’t get me wrong central control has it’s problems. In reality the best solution is probably somewhere in the middle.

    Also you are right the UK isn’t the best example. However, they are only 1 of the 20 countries/systems that are doing better than the US. Maybe one of them has a better solution.

    All I know is that personally I find it shocking that American elected school board officials run on party lines with party platforms. Math and science are not political subjects yet somehow they are treated that way.

    As to your student spending model. I agree that it’s worthless but for different reasons. Pay rates and cost of goods vary by geography. You’d have to compare the teaching wage to that of the median pay. You’d also have to break down spending sources for each area to see how much went to upkeep and sports vs academic pursuits. In it’s a much more complicated and complex model.
    Overall I think you are right that spending is not the primary factor but it is a factor. Good Teachers produce good students and good people won’t join the profession for free.

  26. @Spector:However, isn’t screwing up one way better than screwing up a thousand different ways in a thousand different spots.

    And succeeding in a thousand different ways, in a thousand different spots. Good ideas that actually work can get copied. In education, however, there are very few ideas that have actually been shown to work.

    Maybe one of them has a better solution.

    They track students early. Low performing students get tracked while young into vocational programs. In America this is politically unacceptable. We believe in second chances, late bloomers, and people who don’t fit in. We try to give everyone the same chance. Most of the countries who outperform us do not bother to try. I do not say which of these outlooks is right; just which Americans prefer.

    All I know is that personally I find it shocking that American elected school board officials run on party lines with party platforms.

    Yes, we believe in local control over central control, and always have. The UK and the US have similar educational performance regardless.

    I think you are right that spending is not the primary factor but it is a factor.

    Yes, it IS a factor but not in the way you think. The US has very different demographics from some of the top performing nations, such as Finland or Japan. It is a much more diverse nation. And different states have different demographics as well. So a comparison between say, Wisconsin and Texas, which is much more diverse than Wisconsin, is not meaningful unless you control for demographics. When you do, you find that every demographic group in Texas outperforms every demographic group in Wisconsin. And that is done for white students in the PISA I linked to. Texas moves up to #3 in math and and #5 in reading. Texas schools are actually quite good nationally, and they are better schools for minorities than Wisconsin schools are.

    Increasing spending is positively correlated with improvement, when performance is adjusted for demographics. The different demographics from state to state and country to country cannot be adjusted in the real world without committing horrible crimes against humanity, and these demographic differences are large enough that they swamp the effect of the increased spending you wish to measure.

  27. Gabriel Hanna writes:

    “When you do, you find that every demographic group in Texas outperforms every demographic group in Wisconsin.”

    Wait, then how can you arrive at a lower overall score for Texas than for Wisconsin? If every component of Texas were higher than every component of Wisconsin, then Texas would have to outperform Wisconsin, unless the proportions of components are different. Is your explanation that Texas has a much higher percentage of Latinos than Wisconsin?

  28. @Diogenes: Is your explanation that Texas has a much higher percentage of Latinos than Wisconsin?

    This isn’t my “explanation”. It’s very basic math, known as Simpson’s paradox, and it’s only surprising to people who aren’t familiar with weighted averages.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simpson%27s_paradox

    Suppose you wanted to compare prices at 2 grocery stores by finding the price per pound of a bag of groceries. At one store you buy 4 pounds of beef and 1 pound of beans. At the other you buy 4 pounds of beans and 1 pound of beef. Your average price would be dominated by the relative amounts of beef and beans, not by the prices of beef and beans. In fact it would be positively mendacious to compare prices in this way.

    Wisconsin is 6% Hispanic, 6% black, 86% white. Texas is 34% Hispanic, 12% black, and 86% white. (Remember that Hispanic can be any race before you argue that it doesn’t add up to 100%). Data is from Wikipedia.

  29. Here’s a 1996 study and literature review of the effect of increased resources on student performance in the US. They found that there is some evidence to conclude that the correlation is positive, but not enough evidence to determine what the size of the effect is, as it is evidently too small. Because the study’s authors did not wish to reach that conclusion, they don’t put it as straightforwardly as that:

    http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/mepage/econ151b/Card%20and%20Krueger.pdf

    Thirty years after the Coleman report, it is unfortunate and frustrating that more is not known about schooling. While most of the literature on test scores points to little, if any, effect of school resources, some observational studies and one actual experiment have found a connection. Decisions about educational resources and reform have to be made in an environment of much uncertainty.

  30. @Gabriel Hanna
    Just a quick bit of clarification. You have no de-streaming even in highschool? If that’s true that explain a lot of the complaint I head before.

  31. In general the high school you go to is based on where you live. We don’t have anything like the German system.

    Internally schools may assign students to tracks based on their achievement, and these tracks are basically college-prep and not college-prep. But if the demographics of the tracks get unbalanced then schools are open to serious lawsuits, because this is considered to violate the Constitutional rights of students.

    Many schools have abandoned the system. My school was too small and isolated to have ever implemented it; we had some advanced classes and shop and home-ec, but other than that it was all generic liberal-arts.

  32. Let me expand on one of my points for our foreign friends. Regardless of what the cause may be, different demographics in the US perform differently. So if students are tracked by achievement, the advanced classes will be disproportionately white and Asian. This is de facto segregation, a serious infringement of students’ Constitutional rights, and totally unacceptable under American laws. School districts can get in a lot of trouble if this happens.

    De facto segregation is why we have “busing-in” controversies, where students of demographics overrepresented at one school are sent to a school where that demographic is underrepresented. In some school districts this was mandated by court order, in others districts took it upon themselves to implement it. The controversies engendered have gone all the way up to the Supreme Court. The demographic makeup of a school, and the courses offered at that school, are matters of Constitutional jurisprudence. It’s very, very serious. Schools in America operate under multiple constraints, not merely pedagogical.

  33. Spector567

    In Canada parents and students assigne themselves into the different streams. Teachers often do make recamendations but it’s up to the parent to choose.

    Thus there is no question of segragation because it’s up to the individual. To the best of my knowledge bussing is only done for overall population reasons.

  34. @Spector567:Thus there is no question of segragation because it’s up to the individual.

    Under American law, it doesn’t matter why the demographics get unbalanced. If they ARE unbalanced, that is de facto segregation, sum of individual choices or not, and a violation of students’ civil rights. No school district wants to go to the Supreme Court, or lose a lawsuit.

    Its close cousin is “disparate impact”. Any policy or requirement in, for example, hiring that results in unbalanced demographics, while not illegal, leaves a business open to a civil rights lawsuit. And the business would have to prove that the policy or requirement is “business necessity”. This is usually done by commissioning studies and hiring lawyers, an expensive proposition for those who might wish to consider such policies.

    So, for example, if you are hiring firefighters and you require that they be able to carry 100 lbs up a flight of stairs, that will have a disparate impact on hiring women. If you require a cut score on an exam to be considered for promotion, and the demographics of those who pass are unbalanced, that has a disparate impact. If you offer credit based on a credit score, there is a disparate impact. American readers know to which lawsuits I refer.

  35. For example, in college your major is totally up to you. But the sciences are still disproportionately male. That is a civil rights matter, and so the Obama Administration has announced that it will be promulgating guidelines for how university science programs can be brought into compliance with Title IX. Compliance reviews began in 2006 under the Bush Administration.

    http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/06/20/usa-whitehouse-titleix-idINL1E8HKJNC20120620

    Some background here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/15/science/15tier.html?pagewanted=all

    So yeah, it’s a big deal. It doesn’t matter if it’s voluntary, individual choice. The demographics are unbalanced, and the onus is on university science programs to prove that they are not violating civil rights.