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Image: Ken Mercer
Harry Cabluck  /  AP
Member Ken Mercer, from San Antonio, reads amendments during a meeting of the State Board of Education in Austin on Thursday.
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updated 3/27/2009 8:14:24 PM ET 2009-03-28T00:14:24

State education leaders forged a compromise Friday on the teaching of evolution in Texas, adopting a new science curriculum that no longer requires educators to teach the weaknesses of all scientific theories.

The State Board of Education voted 13-2 to put in place a plan that would instead require teachers to encourage students to scrutinize “all sides” of scientific theories, a move criticized by evolution proponents.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, which will be in place for the next decade, governs what teachers are required to cover in the classroom, the topics students are tested on and the material published in textbooks.

The backers of evolutionary theory, who wanted the State Board of Education to drop the 20-year-old requirement that both “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories be taught, said the new plan uses confusing language that allows creationist arguments to slip into Texas classrooms.

“Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks,” said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

But board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the new standards were “more clear in the language and using words that aren’t seen as code words” that helped convince the board to “agree that this is how we’ll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence.”

Supporters of the changes also applauded the efforts to encourage critical thinking in science classrooms.

The state of Texas, one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country. Publishers compete to have their books approved by the state board, which has authority to review all books and recommend approval to local school districts.

With new biology textbooks up for adoption in 2011, the new curriculum determines what will be required of publishers who want to be approved to sell books in Texas.

“What this is about in Texas is textbooks, because what is in the TEKS is going to be used to tell the textbook publishers what to put in their books the next time textbooks are approved,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Federal courts have ruled against teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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