Austin - The State Board of Education tentatively decided to amend school science curriculum standards Thursday, dropping a 20-year-old requirement that critics say is used to undermine the theory of evolution.
The change in curriculum drops the mandate that science teachers address both "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theory. It would be in place for the next decade.
A panel of science teachers had recommended that the language be dropped.
Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, has argued that the word weaknesses "has become a code word in the culture wars to attack evolution and promote creationism."
Federal courts have ruled against forcing the teaching of creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design.
Education board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, offered failed amendments to keep "strengths and weaknesses" or similar wording in place. Dunbar argued that changing the requirement could be potentially damaging.
"The language as it exists has gone without a challenge for more than two decades," she said.
But, the 15-member board overruled her.
"The language has not worked," said board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas. "It has taken on a different meaning and I am opposed."
Critics of dropping the weaknesses mandate blame "left-wing ideology," for trying to stifle free speech.
"It's outrageous that our highest elected education officials voted to silence teachers and students in science class," said Jonathan Saenz, a lobbyist for the Free Market Foundation. "Despite being overwhelmed by e-mails and phone calls to keep strengths and weaknesses, the divided State Board of Education ignored constituents and sided with a small group of activists.
"This decision shows that science has evolved into a political popularity contest. The truth has been expelled from the science classroom."
The standards adopted also will dictate how publishers handle the topic in textbooks. The vote, which capped two days of heated debate, was part of a series of votes on the standards that is expected to be finalized in March.
A more specific challenge to evolution was approved, in an amendment by Republican board member Don McLeroy, a College Station dentist. The amendment involved challenging the ancestry of different species.
"Keeping 'strengths and weaknesses' out of the standards is a huge victory for Texas students," Miller said. "But it's astonishing that a dentist would presume to know more about evolution than the professional scientists and teachers who wrote the draft standards. What he did is a ridiculous way to craft education policy and simply complicates the standards."