- Associated Press - Sunday, July 24, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas State Board of Education delivered a blow to social conservatives Friday, giving final approval to supplemental high school science materials after a brief flare-up over some lessons teaching the principles of evolution.

The lessons in question included a lab comparison on chimpanzee and human skulls, the fossil record and cell complexity.

A board-appointed reviewer had called the lessons errors and recommended changes, but a group of scientists objected on Friday, threatening to reignite a fierce debate over teaching evolution in Texas public schools.

The board’s social conservatives compromised when it appeared they would lose a vote to reject the reviewer’s changes in favor of the original lessons.

Instead of a showdown vote on evolution, the panel agreed to approve the material and have Education Commissioner Robert Scott continue working on the lessons in question with publisher Holt McDougal.

“Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education,” said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, a group that supports mainstream scientists in the teaching of evolution and has repeatedly sparred with board conservatives over education standards.

“We saw the far right’s stranglehold over the state board is finally loosening,” Miss Miller said.

The conservative wing in 2009 had pushed through controversial standards that called for schools to scrutinize “all sides” of scientific theory.

Several of the conservative board members disputed the notion of defeat on Friday.

Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, a Republican, said she was pleased with the compromise because Mr. Scott will continue working with Holt McDougal to find language that is factually correct and fits the standards adopted in 2009.

“I feel very comfortable turning it over to him,” Miss Cargill said.

The 15-member board is dominated by Republicans but the ultraconservative wing lost a key vote in 2010 when former chairman Don McLeroy was defeated by Thomas Ratliff, a Republican.

Mr. Ratliff said he would have voted to support the findings of the scientists and throw out the changes recommended by the board reviewer.

“There’s no question had some seats not changed, it would have been different,” he said.

Last week’s meeting had been expected to reignite the fiery debate over evolution that put the board in the national spotlight two years ago.

Story Continues →