Sweeping Away the SBOE’s Authority

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State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has just filed legislation that would strip the Texas State Board of Education of all authority assigned to it by statute. Among the board’s powers that would go away: setting curriculum standards and adopting textbooks. That authority would be transferred to the Texas Education Agency.

The only authority the board would keep under Senate Bill 440 is power granted under the state Constitution, primarily managing the Permanent School Fund. Removing that authority and eliminating the board altogether would require passage of a constitutional amendment, followed by approval from Texas voters.

We noted last month that state lawmakers had begun looking at ways to rein in the deeply politicized board. We wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislation targeting the board.

All of this comes as the state board flies farther into the outer political fringes under the control of a far-right bloc headed by Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station. McLeroy, a creationist, has called for redefining science to include supernatural explanations. Board member  and fellow creationist Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, has written a book calling public education a “tool of perversion,” “unconstitutional” and “tyrannical.” Last spring the board’s far-right faction threw out three years of work on new language arts curriculum standards by teachers and curriculum experts. The faction instead pushed through a replacement version of the standards patched together the night before the final board vote.

Currently, creationists on the board are trying to dumb down the public school science curriculum and force publishers to insert phony attacks on evolution in new science textbooks up for adoption in 2011. (Click here to learn about TFN’s Stand Up for Science campaign.)

What the Texas Legislature ultimately will do is, of course, hard to know at this stage. Clearly, however, lawmakers are becoming increasingly embarrassed and agitated by how ideological extremism and political shenanigans on the board are influencing what Texas children learn in their public schools.

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20 Responses to “Sweeping Away the SBOE’s Authority”

  1. Stan Yoder Says:

    While I would applaud actions that remove official attempts at imposing far-right religious and ideological beliefs on Texas school children (i.e., SBOE,) I wonder what safeguards might keep TEA from the same stuff? TEA is not a stranger to shenanigans, either. Witness Carol Comer’s firing. Somebody talk me down.

  2. africangenesis Says:

    Stan, I can’t talk you down. The legislature would be making a mistake again if they pass this legislation. They should not TRANSFER the power, they should ELIMINATE it. Then the power would go back to the local level where it should have been left all along.

  3. Dick Schutz Says:

    I think you’re on point, Stan. State departments of education can become even more subject to religious and ideological bias than State boards of education. And the shenanigans there are more difficult to identify and to deal with. The TX SBOE is currently an embarrassment to the State–and to the Nation for that matter. But better to rely on the checks and balances built into the present structure than to try to shortcut a solution. The eyes of Texas are upon you. If those eyes aren’t enough, the eyes of the U. S. will be there for backup.

  4. James F Says:

    I, too, would like to know more about the respective current powers of the SBOE and the TEA. One thing’s for sure, the SBOE is prone to being infiltrated by unqualified fundamentalist ideologues, but who determines who is on the TEA?

  5. jdg Says:

    I agree too. Take away the sboe power. But just like TEA, who will check them? What we need is a litmus test!! You believe in god??? can’t hold any office. You’re too much of a danger to introduce your personal beliefs into legislation. Same for other politicial offices, even the US president.

  6. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Stan Yoder said —
    — TEA is not a stranger to shenanigans, either. Witness Carol Comer’s firing. —

    Dumping Christine (not Carol) Comer was not shenanigans. Among her other misdeeds, she violated the TEA’s neutrality policy by broadcasting an official TEA email announcement of a lecture about a theory that the Intelligent Design movement is a conspiracy to turn the USA into a theocracy. However, IMO dumping her was a mistake because it turned her into a Darwinist heroine and martyr. The TEA should have retained her but kept her on a short leash — with a choke collar.

    africangenesis said —
    — They should not TRANSFER the power, they should ELIMINATE it. Then the power would go back to the local level where it should have been left all along. —

    I’m with you, africangenesis. Iowa has no state science standards of its own. And in most states the textbooks are selected and purchased at the local level, not at the state level like in Texas. But I feel that so long as control of public education is centralized at the state level, the state board of education should be directly accountable to the public through elections.

    As I noted before, demagogic Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius tried to grab power from the state board of education and did not succeed — see
    http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2006/oct/14/ed_board_chairman_sebelius_elitist/

    jdg said —
    — What we need is a litmus test!! You believe in god??? can’t hold any office. —

    The US Constitution prohibits religious tests for holding office — see Article VI.

  7. CH Says:

    It’s true that Article VI prohibits a religious test for holding office. So, I propose a two-fer amendment: (a) amend Art. VI so as to bar the religious from office, and (b) amend the 2nd Amendment so as to clarify that there is no personal right to own or possess firearms.

    Just kidding… sort of.

  8. Brian Rutledge Says:

    Can anyone imagine local school boards in the size of a state like Texas making decisions on standards. What a hodgepodge that would be. Some isolated school boared would be almost free to come up with any set of standards they desire which could be frought with legal issues and be even more of an embarassment to our state.I dont know the answer, but taking away the SBOE’s power seems a necessity.Surely the TEA couldn’t be worse. Could they?It’s ashamed the teachers cant decide.
    Brian Rutledge M.D.

  9. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Brian Rutledge said —
    –Can anyone imagine local school boards in the size of a state like Texas making decisions on standards.–

    They wouldn’t need to make decisions on standards — they would only need to select some good standard textbooks. State science standards are becoming a joke. They contain philosophies of science, which don’t belong in state science standards. The new Florida state science standards have that outrageous cockamamie statement that “evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology” and redefine “scientific theories” as being “well supported” and “widely-accepted” by definition. That’s ridiculous — there are strong scientific theories and weak scientific theories.

  10. Ben Says:

    Larry, if you have any evidence that evolution ISN’T the fundamental concept underlying all of biology–any evidence at all–please write to one of the respected scientific journals and let them know. I’m sure they’d be happy to share your breakthrough with the world. You could be famous!

  11. africangenesis Says:

    Ben, Technically, evolution overlays all of biology, it is biochemistry that underlies it.

  12. Ben Says:

    AG, the editor of Science says that evolution underlies all of biology:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/22/AR2005122201906_pf.html

    So does San Diego State University:

    http://www.bio.sdsu.edu/eb/

    So does the University of Leeds:

    http://www.amsta.leeds.ac.uk/school/postgraduate/statistics.pdf

    I’m sure I could find a bunch more. The first one alone is good enough for me.

  13. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Ben said —
    –Larry, if you have any evidence that evolution ISN’T the fundamental concept underlying all of biology–any evidence at all–please write to one of the respected scientific journals and let them know. —

    How can evolution possibly be “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology” when so many people have studied biology without studying evolution at all? It’s absurd.

  14. Ben Says:

    Larry, it was explained pretty well here…

    http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=512

    …but you didn’t buy it. Sorry, nothing more I can do for you.

  15. africangenesis Says:

    Ben, the flascience article is hyperbolic rhetoric, consider “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”, which the rest of the article basically elaborates on. The type of “sense” that is being referred to is the “how” of life. Evolution is definitely that, but biology makes sense without it, since so much of biology is description, physiology, ecology, behavior, metabolism, biochemistry, etc. all of which are worthwhile and make sense. Without evolution the similarities and patterns that make up the phylogeny, don’t have an explanation, but they still can be profitably studied.

  16. Ben Says:

    Thanks, AG, but I’ll go with the biologists on this one.

  17. africangenesis Says:

    Ben, I think you will find that biologists think their specialty makes “sense” even if it isn’t about evolution, and for most biologists recognize biochemistry as being more relevant to everyday life.

  18. Ben Says:

    All I’m talking about right now is the use of “underlies all of biology” versus “overlays all of biology.” I’ll side with the professional biologists versus some contentious stranger on the Internet.

  19. Larry Fafarman Says:

    africangenesis said (January 15, 2009 at 1:22 am ) —
    — Without evolution the similarities and patterns that make up the phylogeny, don’t have an explanation, but they still can be profitably studied.–

    A lot of biology is not even concerned with the study of those similarities and patterns. Theodosius Dobzhansky’s 1973 statement that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” has parasitized the brains of Darwinists.

    The outrageous cockamamie statement that evolution is “central to biology” has the following purposes:

    (1) In the words of Kansas Univ. professor Paul Mirecki, it is a “nice slap in the big fat face of the fundies.”

    (2) It helps counteract biologists’ inferiority complex that results from the kind of attitude expressed by Lord Rutherford: “all science is either physics or stamp collecting.” Biologists like to make false boasts that biology has something that other branches of science lack, a grand central unifying overarching underlying “theory of everything,” evolution.

  20. jdg Says:

    # Ben Says:
    January 14, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    Larry, it was explained pretty well here…

    http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=512

    …but you didn’t buy it. Sorry, nothing more I can do for you.

    That’s right Ben, larry is a creationist. But what we can do is all pich in to buy him some thorazine.

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