adoption of biology books, Texas
Board backs adoption of biology books
By TERRENCE STUTZ - The Dallas Morning News, November 7, 2003 - original
Final OK of state high school texts expected today despite protests
AUSTIN State Board of Education members on Thursday tentatively adopted new high school biology books that fully discuss evolution, rejecting the pleas of social conservatives and other critics of Charles Darwin and his theory of how life on Earth evolved.

Despite an intense campaign by opponents of evolution including thousands of e-mails, faxes and phone calls to board members the board of education approved the 11 new books by a lopsided 11-4 vote.

Board members are expected to give final approval on Friday, clearing the way for purchase of the textbooks in the 2004-05 school year. School districts will be able to choose which of the books they want to use.

National audience

The board deliberations were closely watched across the nation because of Texas' considerable influence on the $4 billion-a-year textbook market. As one of the largest purchasers, Texas typically determines the content of textbooks marketed in other states.

Before the final vote, the four board members aligned with social conservatives sought unsuccessfully to have separate ballots on each of the textbooks, arguing that only two were worthy of approval because they detailed the flaws of evolutionary theory. The other books were too one-sided in their treatment of evolution, the members said.

But the board majority blocked the maneuver and then voted to cut off debate.

"We have had many opportunities in the last year to look at these books and study them. We have patiently listened to everybody's side, and now is the time to vote," said board Chairwoman Geraldine Miller of Dallas, who estimated she received 3,000 to 4,000 e-mails, faxes and phone calls from critics of the books.

In making the motion to approve the biology books, Mavis Knight of Dallas said each met all the criteria for approval by the board. "What would be the point in discussing each book individually if each book has already met the criteria?" she asked, suggesting opponents were trying to drag out the debate.

David Bradley of Beaumont, who opposed adoption of nine of the books, responded that there was no reason for the board to even meet if it was just going to rubber-stamp the education commissioner's recommendation for adoption of all the materials.

Afterward, Mr. Bradley insisted that most of the books were in violation of state rules that require textbook publishers to include both the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories.

'Too dogmatic'

Board member Don McLeroy of Bryan, another critic of the books, said most were "too dogmatic" in their treatment of evolution.

"There are serious difficulties with evolution that are not presented in these books," he said. "It is wrong to teach opinion as fact."

He also denied that religion had anything to do with the debate as had been charged by opponents, who contended that creationist groups were trying to censor the books. "This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with good science," he asserted.

Under current law, the board may reject a textbook only if it has factual errors, does not cover the curriculum or is manufactured poorly. Critics of the biology books had said they contained numerous factual errors about evolution.

The board vote was a setback for a national think tank that has promoted an alternative theory for the origin of life on Earth called "intelligent design."

The group, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, did not try to get its theory included in the books but did lead a vigorous effort to get changes in the books challenging Darwin's theory of how animal and plant species on Earth evolved over millions of years.

A spokesman for the group said Thursday that the institute would have no comment on the board's decision until after Friday's final vote.

Meanwhile, groups supporting the teaching of evolution in schools applauded the board's action Thursday, saying it sends a positive signal about Texas education to the rest of the country.

"We commend the board for doing the right thing for Texas kids, for doing the right thing for science education," said Samantha Smoot of the Texas Freedom Network.

"The voices of the scientific community have been loud and unified and very clear that there is no question about whether evolution occurred."

University of Texas at Austin biology professor David Hillis said the board action "sent a strong message that Texas does have high standards in science."

In response to pressure from the Discovery Institute and other groups, some publishers changed their biology books. For example, two publishers dropped diagrams of the so-called "Haeckel's embryos" after the institute criticized the long-used illustrations as overstating similarities of the embryos of humans and other animal species.

"There was a disturbing pattern of changes in a few of the books," Ms. Smoot said. "But the publishers have been under a tremendous amount of political pressure. My hope is that they will be encouraged to stick by their guns even more strongly next time."

The state will pay about $30 million for the new biology books and an additional $163 million for other textbooks that will be distributed in the fall of 2004. Before then, the Texas Education Agency will oversee publisher corrections to various factual and other errors that have been identified in the books.

Besides Mr. McLeroy and Mr. Bradley, other board members voting against the books were Terri Leo of Spring and Gail Lowe of Lampasas. Both Ms. Miller and Ms. Knight voted for the books.