Friday, November 21, 2008

The New Texas Science Standards

Capitol Annex has gotten a hold of the November Draft of the new Texas science standards. As Eugenie Scott noted in her interview, the new standards are not as good as the ones written in September by the science community. Their analysis of the deleted paragraphs is very thorough, if a tad reactionary and there is not much to add here. In his despondency, though, the writer, Vince Leibowitz, gets several things wrong. The new standard for the nature of science states this:

Science is a way of describing and making testable predictions about the natural world. Scientific hypotheses are tentative and testable statements that must be capable of being supported or not supported by observational evidence. Hypotheses of durable explanatory power that have been tested over a wide variety of conditions become theories. Scientific theories must be based on natural and physical phenomena and be capable of being tested by multiple, independent researchers. Students should know that scientific theories, unlike hypotheses, are well-established and highly reliable, but that they may still be subject to change as new information and new technologies are developed. This vast body of changing and increasing knowledge is described by physical, mathematical, and conceptual models. Students should know that some questions are outside the realm of science because they deal with phenomena that are not scientifically testable.

(emphasis in original)

To this, he comments:

In other words, Jesus turned water in to wine, and God created the earth in six days and you can’t test that because it is not scientifically testable. Great.

The catch is that the last phrase about questions outside the realm of science was in the September standards and was part of the deleted paragraph. It seems to me that this new paragraph is no friend of creationism or ID, neither of which are testable. In some senses, this provides the "out" for science teachers—they can claim that ID is not testable and dispense with it forthwith. This can be done even before you get to the "strengths and weaknesses" language which, unfortunately, did get added. He also notes:

Scientific decision-making is a way of answering questions about the natural world. Students should understand that the nature of science is to seek patterns in nature through deliberate, objective collection and analysis of empirical data. Students should be able to distinguish between scientific decision-making methods (scientific methods) and ethical/social decisions that involve science (the application of scientific information).

“A way” of answering questions, but not “the way.” In other words, “The Bible,” is “the way,” but they can’t put that in “the standards,” so they leave the door open to make teaching the theory of evolution totally optional.

The original standards also clearly state, in section 2 that:

"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."

This does not represent a change in the standards, merely a condensation. I did not go through the rest of the standards to compare them in detail but it seems that if we want to criticize the education community, we need to get basic things right.

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