Creationism legislation–Indiana update

The right wing push to subvert the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution has been put on hold in Indiana.  According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana’s creation science bill is dead .  This is good news.  Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, an Indianapolis Republican, moved the bill to the rules committee, a procedural step that all but assures it will not make it to a vote this year.  According to Bosma, “I didn’t disagree with the concept of the bill, but I hesitate to micromanage local curricula. Secondarily, I didn’t think it was prudent to buy a lawsuit the state could ill afford at this point.”  A pragmatic Republican is rare these days, since it really should be up to the school district to teach science in the best way possible (which is completely ignoring the religion of creationism).  And there will be lawsuits which the state would lose. Continue reading “Creationism legislation–Indiana update”

National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators–2012

Recently, the National Science Board (NSB) published its biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report for 2012.  This report comprises quantitative data on the U.S. and international science and engineering by objectively reviewing science and engineering progress in both the US and internationally.  The report does not make policy options and recommendations, but it is used by different governmental and non-governmental entities to formulate their own policies and recommendations. This report is required by law. Continue reading “National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators–2012”

The Discovery Institute opposes Indiana’s Creationist Bill

Kids love the theory of intelligent design.

The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that focuses on Intelligent Design, has issued a press release that “condemns passage of creationism bill by Indiana Senate as bad science and bad education.”  The irony is so thick that it’s displacing oxygen in the atmosphere, since Intelligent Design is simply a flavor of creationism that purports to be a scientific theory that proposes that evolution is controlled or directed by an intelligent designer.  They state, in the release that:

“Instead of injecting religion into biology classes, legislators should be working to promote the inclusion of more science,” said Joshua Youngkin, a law and policy analyst at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “There are plenty of scientific criticisms of Darwin’s theory today, and science students should be able to hear about them, not about religion.” Continue reading “The Discovery Institute opposes Indiana’s Creationist Bill”

Quoting intelligent design advocates–rampant cynicism

I had saved a website long ago that listed a bunch of quotes where Intelligent Design (ID) proponents deny any hidden creationist agendas, but rather claim they are only trying to promote good solid science in our public schools. Unfortunately, the blog is no longer online, so I couldn’t find it to link here, but you can read the saved pdf file and I can give full credit to Brian Poindexter.

Although it’s about 9 years old, I thought I would repost it to clear up any possible confusion about whether ID is really science or, as is clearly stated by ID proponents, it’s a cynical method to get creationism into US public schools. Continue reading “Quoting intelligent design advocates–rampant cynicism”

Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it

This is part of a long multi-part series on the Republican state legislatures in the USA pushing religious teaching into public schools in clear violation of the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause. I’ve discussed Indiana here, here and here, so this is a small update with a bit of intelligent design (of the bill) by some Democrats. Indiana Democrats are a feisty group, and the science deniers must be annoyed by them. Continue reading “Indiana creationism bill passes Senate–Intelligent Democrats creatively amend it”

Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate

The Republican dominated Indiana Senate passed, by a vote of 28-22, a bill that allows school districts to teach creationism.  The bill’s language states:

❝The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.❞

First of all, evolution doesn’t cover the origin of life, but that’s just one of those mistakes creationists always make.  I’m not sure why they’re including all the religions, possibly to show that it’s not just Christian-oriented creationist myths.  But Scientology? Continue reading “Indiana creationism bill passes the Senate”

Science education in the USA–a critical report

Recently, the Thomas P Fordham Institute, a private think-tank focused on analyzing and critiquing the US public school system, issued a report regarding the state of each US state’s science education standards across a broad spectrum of qualitative measures from the clarity of the standards to content to rigor of the science.  It is an impressive and detailed report analyzing science education state-by-state with links to science education standards and other information.  It is worth reading, even just to find out how your state is doing.

[pullquote]Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.[/pullquote]

The good news

  • California is one of two states (the other being DC)  to get an A on the science report card.  As a resident of the Golden State, I’m proud of this news, though I am somewhat concerned that the state of the economy and budget crisis is not going to help in the future.  It’s also amazing what DC has done given that it is tiny jurisdiction, and that it received a C in 2005.  But since I’m a California, here’s what the report says about my state:

❝The California science standards are truly excellent.  The standards themselves are  reasonably succinct yet quite comprehensive.  This is especially true in high school  chemistry, where topics are covered that are rarely seen in other K-12 standards  documents.  The continuity from grade to grade is superb, thanks in part to the  introductory commentary, and context that the state provides, which relate grade- pecific learning to standards that have been covered in earlier grades, and those that will be covered later.❞

  • Four other states, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Carolina (which surprises me), and Indiana (despite an ongoing unconstitutional attempt to push creationism on its students) received an A-.
  • Seven other states received B’s.  However, if we are to accept a B as an acceptable result for science education in the US, the one area of study that is critical to American economic and technical leadership, then US science education will fall further behind the booming economies in Europe and Asia.
The bad news
  • Given the above information, 38 states had a C or below grade.  In fact, the average “grade” for science education in the US is a C.  Average.  Mediocre.
  • Ten states had F grades, which must indicate that they occasionally use the word “science” in a spelling test.  Some of these states had F’s in the 2005 report, so they’re not even trying to improve.  Even Wisconsin, which has a top-rated university system, received an F for their students.  Maybe the University of Wisconsin’s science programs only accept out-of-staters and international students.
  • Many of the lower performing states don’t even lay out a basic curricula for science.
  • The variability in standards and implementation is inconsistent across the country.  Why should a California child be better trained than one from Alabama?  Of course, the result of that science education is that California has a world-class university system (3 of the top 100 universities in the world are UC-Berkley, UCLA, and UC-San Diego) and is the world leader in computer technology.  Alabama, of course, has good football teams.
The authors of the study gave a few reasons for the low quality of science education in the US.  They listed four reasons that should give us all a reason to worry about the falling science knowledge in this country:
  • An undermining of evolution. Many of us have been writing about the regular demand by conservative Republican state legislatures to foist creationism on their students.  In the famous words of  Theodosius Dobzhansky, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Evolution is one of the four principles of biology (also including cell theory, genetics, and homeostasis), so without a deep and thorough understanding of evolution, medical research will fall apart.  How are we to save lives and treat diseases if students can’t even understand the essentials of biology?

❝Of course, most anti-evolution efforts are aimed more directly at the standards themselves.  And these tactics are.  far more subtle than they once were.  Missouri, for example, has asterisked all “controversial” evolution content in the.  standards and relegated it to a voluntary curriculum that.  will not be assessed.  (Sadly, this marks a step back from that state’s coverage of evolution in 2005.) Tennessee includes evolution only in an elective high school course (not the basic high school biology course).  And Maryland includes evolution content in its standards but explicitly excludes crucial points from its state assessment.  

Other states have undermined the teaching of evolution by singling it out as somehow not quite as “scientific” as other concepts of similar breadth.  A common technique—used to a greater or lesser extent by Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and West Virginia—is to direct students to study its “strengths and weaknesses.” 

Far too often, important evolution content is included, but minimally.  Some states mention evolution just once in their standards and never revisit it.  Others—including.  Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Nebraska— unnecessarily delay it until high school.

Even some of the nation’s best standards subtly undermine.  the teaching of evolution.  In California, for example, students are told to “understand science, not necessarily [to] accept everything taught.” In New York, students learn that “according to many scientists, biological evolution occurs through natural selection.” (This is not according to “many” but, in fact, all true scientists.)

Finally, conspicuously missing from the vast majority of states’ standards is mention of human evolution—implying that elements of biological evolution don’t pertain to human life.  This marks a subtle but important victory for creationists: even states with thorough and appropriate coverage of evolution (e.g., Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington) shy away from linking the controversial term with ourselves.  Only four states—Florida, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Rhode Island—openly embrace human evolution in their current science standards.  (Pennsylvania, which.  referenced human evolution in its previous standards, has omitted it from the more recent version.)❞

  • Propensity to be vague.  Some standards are so unclear and ill-defined that teachers actually have little guidance as to what to teach their students.  California, for example, lists out what students should “know” about electricity upon completion of a physics course.  Within that list, a good science teacher (like the one I had when I was in high school, who developed my interest in sciences) will create a lesson plan that is both invigorating and builds knowledge.  Maybe the intent of some school boards are vague guidelines to inspire independent teaching, but in a subject as critical as the sciences, strict standards are necessary–and good science teachers will use those strict standards to build exciting, challenging and inspiring curricula.
  • Poor integration of scientific inquiry.  Science isn’t all about memorizing muscles, organism names, or how to create the Kreb’s cycle given CO2, H2O and NH3 (my single question in a Biochemistry final exam many years ago).  It’s about the scientific method, the critical and analytical process that essentially leads an individual from observations to a scientific theory.  It’s how science works, it is what distinguishes it from all other forms of thinking.  Apparently, most states don’t guide the teacher on how to provide this type of teaching to their students, a major deficiency.
  • Where did the numbers go?  If evolution is one of the foundations of biology, then mathematics is the foundation of all sciences.  Students need algebra, at a minimum.  But calculus and statistics needs to be integrated into the teaching, as it is critical to analyzing data and understanding how the data makes sense.  Even if someone is going to forsake the sciences for business in college, algebra and calculus are also critical to accounting and finance.
The poor state of science education has effect on everything from the economy to bad medical choices.  Science is the foundation of engineering, biomedical research, and many other fields.  Without science, Intel cannot figure out how to make faster processors.  Without science, we don’t have better vaccines and cancer treatments.  Without science, we have people who think that homeopathy works, or that the world is only 6000 years old, or that acupuncture works.  The whole anti-vaccination lunacy requires a complete misunderstanding of science and research.
At least California is doing it right.

Source:  The State of State Science Standards in the US, a 2012 Report

Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism?

I am not a fan of Charter Schools for reasons that aren’t relevant to postings about skepticism and science.  One of my issues with them is that the appear to be not very well regulated.  In fact, the basic definition of charter school is that they receive public monies and less regulation as long as they produce results (usually higher standardized test scores).  The definition of a charter school, according to the National Education Association (NEA), is:

Charter schools are publicly funded elementary or secondary schools that have been freed from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results, which are set forth in each charter school’s charter.

NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.

This does not give them carte blanche to violate the constitution of the United States, specifically the Establishment Clause.  A charter school in Michigan, the Byron Center Charter School, had this statement on their website (as recently as last week):

Religion
Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion, it can however, teach both creation and evolution as a theory, and use the Bible as a historical reference.

Let’s break down that sentence.  Yes, the school cannot promote a certain religion.  Several Supreme Court rulings say they can’t, so it’s good to know they understand the US Constitution.  No, they cannot teach both creation and evolution as a theory, since only evolution is a theory and creation is fairytale based on not one single bit of science.  And to use the Bible as a historical reference?  Well, there are some historical references in it, but they are infrequent, and frankly wrapped into fairytales and myths.  So, that sentence could be cut down to “Byron Center Charter School cannot promote a certain religion.”

Apparently, they have changed their website this week to remove the offensive, unconstitutional statement.  But just because they removed it from their website does not mean that they’re not teaching creationism in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  I hope that the State of Michigan determines if they’ve been in violation of the law then shut them down.

As the NEA states, “Charter schools should be monitored on a continuing basis and should be subject to modification or closure if children or the public interest is at risk.”  The public interest has been put at risk.

Source:  Michigan Charter School Teaching Creationism? | Dispatches from the Culture Wars.