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Publishers Adapt to Meet State’s Evolution Criterion

Associated Press

California junior high schools will have more instructional material on evolution next year than ever before, says the educator leading the move to expand evolution teaching in California schools.

Bob Douglas, chairman of the state’s science textbooks committee, said the six publishers whose books were unanimously rejected two months ago by the California Board of Education for inadequate sections on evolution have all proposed extensive additions to their textbooks.

He said the proposed new books include not only more and better instruction on evolution, but also a wide range of related subjects, such as embryology and modern blood, protein and DNA research, which reinforce the scientific principles of evolution.

In the earlier drafts rejected by the state, “there was one book that didn’t even mention (evolution),” and all the books had inadequate coverage of evolution theory, he said.

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He said that some of the textbook publishers were more reluctant than others to revise their junior high school books--which are sold nationally--but that “they are all cooperating” in revising their books to meet California’s new standards.

Douglas also told the 16-member state Curriculum Commission during a textbooks hearing here Oct. 31 that the six publishers seeking state approval for their new junior high school science textbooks had asked the state to accelerate its deadline for revising and approving the books.

He said instead of the state’s original deadline of next February for a final decision on the evolution materials, his committee and the textbook publishers are now aiming to submit final drafts of revised textbooks to the state Board of Education at its Dec. 12-13 meeting.

“That will give them two more months that they need to schedule press runs and the like,” Douglas told the Curriculum Commission.

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In September, the politically conservative state Board of Education sent shock waves through the textbook publishing industry nationwide by voting unanimously to reject every seventh- and eighth-grade science book offered to them this year by major publishers on grounds they had all “watered down” their segments on evolution in response to pressure from religious fundamentalists who support the biblical creation theory.

That vote ratified recommendations by Douglas’ committee and state School Supt. Bill Honig, and the publishers were all asked to rewrite their books.

Douglas described the decision to reject the books in part as a reaction to the influence of conservatives in Texas.

“There has been since the early 1970s a backing away from controversial subjects--a response to a vocal minority,” he said. “The obvious example is the state of Texas. Their Board of Education has taken very conservative positions over the last 10 years, and because they were a major market, they wielded great power.”

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Now that California is spending a lot more money than it was five or six years ago, the state is a bigger force in the textbook market once again, “and we’re also sending clearer signals to the publishers as to what we believe needs to be in our science textbooks,” he said.

He added that although California educators had been telling the publishers, “You cover it--you don’t do what Texas did in California,” it wasn’t a surprise when the draft books received earlier this year didn’t contain the evolution sections his panel wanted.

“The fact of the matter is, they wanted to see if we were really serious about it,” he said.

Eight textbooks by six publishers were involved. The publishers are Holt, Rinehart & Winston; Scott, Foresman & Co.; D. C. Heath & Co.; MacMillan Publishing Co.; Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., and Prentice-Hall Inc.

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The board decision directly affects an estimated $60 million to $120 million in textbooks for California schools next year. But since the textbooks are marketed nationally for several years, the revisions sought by California are expected to affect classrooms throughout the nation.

Douglas said that his five-member committee is reviewing revisions by the publishers and offering suggestions and that he hopes to have final drafts from all six publishers by Nov. 13.

Douglas said the drafts under review are not available yet to the public because they are working drafts not protected by copyright.

But in an interview, Douglas said he and his committee were pleased with the revisions and attitude of the publishers, and described some of their changes in general terms.

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“What we found in the books was a rather brief and concise definition of what evolution was,” he said of the rejected books.

“The books all talked about the fossil record, which is the oldest information we have in the scientific community regarding evolution. But we know a lot more now than we knew in the 1880s, when Darwin was sailing the globe,” he said.

He said the books all failed, to one extent or another, to relate evolution to other biological studies that demonstrate similar relationships of organisms, from simple to more complex.

“They should have contained . . . information from studies of comparative anatomy, from embryology, from modern study of molecular biology, studies of protein similarities, DNA, cellular proteins, information gathered from blood studies,” he said. “When you get these parallel strands of information, they all tend to support the theory of evolution. All of that information wasn’t in the books.”

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He said all of the revised textbooks, to one extent or another, cover all of those areas.

“Some (publishers) are enthusiastic about it, and see it as an opportunity, rather than being forced to do something,” he said. “Some are more conservative and are more reluctant than others to put particular items in their books.

“All are being cooperative. We are going to reach agreement on the books. The attitudes have been positive,” he said.

For example, the one textbook, which Douglas declined to identify, that didn’t even use the word evolution “will have examples of evolution in it. There will be definitions of what evolution is. There will be definitions of what natural selection is.”

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“There will be an explanation of what we know in modern genetics that relates to genetic mutation, and how that relates to natural selection. These are all substantial changes,” he said.

Douglas and representatives of the publishers declined comment on specifics until the revised texts are completed, but Douglas gave the Curriculum Commission a thumbnail sketch of each publisher’s books.

He described the Scott, Foresman revisions as “in compliance on evolution,” the MacMillan revisions as “an overall good effort,” and Prentice-Hall as “moving in the right direction.”

He said that his committee “still has some concern” about the Holt and Heath books, and that the Merrill book is “in compliance conceptually,” but without examples of evolution urged by his committee.

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