The board's 10 Republicans and five Democrats will vote later this week on new textbooks and e-books in math, science and technology that could be used starting next fall by most of the state's five-plus million public school students.
Textbook and classroom curriculum battles have long raged in Texas pitting creationists — those who see God's hand in the creation of the universe — against academics who worry about religious and political ideology trumping scientific fact. At issue this time are proposed high school biology books that could be used across the state at least through 2022.
State law approved two years ago means school districts can now choose their own books and don't have to adhere to a list recommended by the board of education — but most have continued to use approved books.
The issue is important nationally since Texas is so large that many books prepared for publication in the state also are marketed elsewhere around the country.
Publishers have submitted proposed books, but this summer, committees of Texas volunteer reviewers — some nominated by socially conservative current and former board of education members — raised objections. One argued that creationism based on biblical texts should be taught in science classes, while others objected that climate change wasn't as settled a scientific matter as some of the proposed books state.
Many major publishers have since proved unwilling to make suggested major changes, however, and some board members suggested Tuesday that there were enough votes to approve the proposed books without significant editing.
"I would be surprised if there weren't the votes," said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who is the board's vice chairman.
The board will vote on the proposed books on Thursday, with final approval coming the following day.
Ratliff, a moderate conservative, said some technical or wording changes were likely to the proposed books. But when it comes to major editing of scientific content he said, "I haven't heard a board member yet say, 'Yeah, that needs to be in there.'"
Such a vote would be a break from years past, when a bloc of social conservatives on the board insisted that Texas students be taught "all sides" of evolution, and pressured textbook publishers to insert a healthy dose of skepticism over global warming.
Indeed, as recently as a September public hearing, more than 60 activists and experts on both sides of the hotly debated issue signed up to testify before the board. But on Wednesday, only 18 Texans were set to address its members — and many planned to oppose any proposed major edits.
Among the evolution skeptics testifying was Don McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan who is a former board of education chairman who lost his re-election bid to Ratliff in 2010. Even McLeroy has called for adopting the books without major modifications, though, because he says they will "strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution."
Also set to testify is Kathy Miller, president of the progressive watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network, who has repeatedly called for keeping religious beliefs out of public school classrooms.
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