Geotimes
Web Extra Thursday, March 4, 2004 Updated March 5, 12:00 p.m. EST

Earth science education in Texas

The Texas State Board of Education voted last Friday to redesignate earth science courses from an elective status to a core credit option to satisfy a science requirement in the state's high schools. This is the first "reading" of the recommendation, and having passed, will be up for a second reading at the board's next meeting in May and, if it passes, a final reading in July, says Suzanne Marchman of the Texas Education Agency.

Geoscientists have been working for several years to restore earth sciences to the core courses available to students in Texas. Last year, the Texas Education Agency created the Earth Science Task Force to examine the role of earth science in Texas education, which Ed Roy, a geologist at Trinity University in San Antonio and chair of the task force, wrote about in the February 2004 and September 2002 Geotimes. The task force submitted a number of recommendations to the board, which they consider "essential to the future of earth science in the state's high school curriculum."

At this meeting, the board only considered in full the first recommendation: redesignating two courses — Geology, Meteorology and Oceanography and Advanced Placement Environmental Science — as an option for core credit to satisfy the third science requirement for Texas students in the high school Recommended and Distinguished Achievement plans who take both Biology and Integrated Physics and Chemistry.

After extensive testimony by scientists on the task force and from around the state, the board first voted last Thursday, but a tied vote tabled the topic. On Friday, the commissioner brought up the recommendation again, and it passed 9 to 5 with one non-vote, Marchman says.

"We are absolutely delighted that we won this vote," Roy says, "but we realize there is a lot of work yet to be done." He says a number of issues have been raised by board members and other organizations, including costs and what would be included in the curricula for these courses. Over the next few months, responding to those issues will be the task force's top priority. "Just because we won the battle doesn't mean the war is won," he says. The task force wants to answer any remaining questions to get a positive vote at the reading in May.

"I applaud the board for taking the time to truly understand the impact of this recommendation on all students," says Kenn Heydrick, of the Pflugerville Independent School District and a member of the task force. "This recommendation gives students an option to explore their interests in the earth sciences. In our diverse state, a well-rounded science program should be our goal."

In another boost for science, at its last meeting in November, the Texas board voted to accept all biology textbooks up for adoption for the 2004-2005 school year, including those that covered evolution extensively.

Megan Sever

Links:

"Assessing Earth Science in Texas," Geotimes, February 2004
"Earth Science in Texas: A Progress Report," Geotimes, September 2002
"Evolution to stay in Texas texts," Web Extra, Geotimes, November 2003

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