Texas may not be the next Kansas after all. The state's Higher Education Coordinating Board voted Thursday to deny a biblically based institution the right to offer online graduate degrees in science education.
We applaud the board for setting this precedent in what will surely be a long series of battles involving science education in Texas. After the wars over the teaching of both evolution and intelligent design that have splintered Kansas for the past nine years, Texans can breathe at least a momentary sigh of relief.
The Dallas-based Institute for Creation Research, which sought coordinating board approval for an online master's degree in science, lacked many of the standards required of other universities to award degrees. Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said that the institute, by insisting on a literal interpretation of Bible's creation story, would fail to prepare students adequately for the field of science education.
The decision follows both Paredes' recommendation and a unanimous vote Wednesday by a coordinating board panel to deny the institute's petition. The proposed degree became an issue because a coordinating board advisory committee last year recommended approving the course of study. Paredes has said the advisory committee's review process was flawed.
Dedicated learning in its many forms is generally wonderful. But course work must be labeled correctly. The state is right to require that a graduate degree in creation studies, which the Institute of Creation Research offers, be called what it is - a degree in religion, not science.
State education officials should continue to keep religion separate from science as they debate and make final changes to the state's science curriculum this summer. Just as a graduate degree in science education shouldn't have a religious base, creationism should remain separate from elementary, middle and high school science education.
Once the State Board of Education approves a public school science curriculum, it will begin selecting new science textbooks. Texas has immense power in the textbook arena because it is the second-largest state, after California, to choose its books on a statewide basis. Textbook publishers tend to sell a Texas version of their books, depending on what the state deems acceptable. Many other states, in turn, adopt the Texas books for their students.
Texas officials must use their power over course curriculum and textbooks in responsible ways to ensure that Texas students receive the best science education possible. Failure to do that diminishes the ability of Texas students to compete nationally.
Paredes and the coordinating board took a correct and principled stand in denying the creationist institute's science course.