At the legislative hearing this morning about the Texas State Board of Education, Robert Scott, the state’s education commissioner, just told lawmakers that he’s proud of the board’s “open process” for developing curriculum standards. The Texas Education Agency and state board have received thousands of written comments about the social studies standards, he said. And many people have come before the state board to express their concerns about the standards.
But Mr. Scott is having a hard time with questions about why state board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, hasn’t come to answer questions during the hearing. Mr. Scott notes that the board is a constitutionally authorized body, suggesting that board members aren’t required to appear before legislative hearings. Of course, that might be true. But wouldn’t Ms. Lowe’s presence here be important to the “open process” of which the commissioner is so proud?
We do have some (a little) sympathy for Mr. Scott here. He is, after all, a political appointee of Gov. Rick Perry. And Gov. Perry also appointed Ms. Lowe as board chair. So does anyone expect the commissioner to do anything other than defend the chairwoman, even if her absence is taken by lawmakers as (and is) insulting?
But let’s forget about these legislators for a minute. Don’t Texas parents have a right to expect Ms. Lowe to meet with their elected representatives to explain why the state board has become such a controversial, dysfunctional mess? Shouldn’t she be expected to answer questions about why the board has turned issue after issue before it into an intensely politicized “culture war” battle?
The answer to both questions, of course, is yes. So her absence today isn’t just offensive to legislators charged with overseeing (and funding) the work of state agencies (including the State Board of Education). It’s a slap in the face to parents across Texas concerned about a state board that is politicizing their children’s education and recklessly dragging their public school classrooms into the nation’s divisive culture wars.
UPDATE: Commissioner Scott just suggested that the board is changing the curriculum — and slanting it toward a more conservative perspective — because “we are a representative democracy” and electoral changes have put conservatives in charge of the state board. First, the board says we’re a “constitutional republic,” not a “representative democracy,” remember? But more seriously, shouldn’t curriculum standards be based on sound scholarship, not on the opinions of whatever political majority controls the state board? Did historical facts change when the board’s far-right faction took control after the 2006 elections?