The usually voluble Gov. Rick Perry has made essentially no public comment about how the far-right wing of the Texas State Board Education engineered a now nationally infamous rewrite of social studies curriculum standards in May. We believe the governor’s silence represents a fundamental failure of accountability to Texas parents.
Since 2007 Gov. Perry has appointed two members of the board’s far-right faction to chair the board. The first, Don McLeroy, R-College Station, was such a disaster as chair — particularly during similarly ill-considered and highly politicized rewrites of language arts standards in 2008 and science standards in 2009 — that the Senate failed to confirm his renomination for a second term as chair last year. (The Senate’s rejection of a gubernatorial nomination is a very rare occurrence.)
Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, the governor’s appointee to replace McLeroy as chair, joined her far-right colleagues this spring in vandalizing nearly a year’s worth of work by teachers and scholars in drafting new social studies standards. She then led the board in rejecting appeals by other elected officials, educators, parents, editorial boards and even Rod Paige — President George W. Bush’s education secretary — to submit the board’s heavily revised standards to a panel of expert teachers and scholars for further review. (Gov. Perry’s Democratic opponent in November, former Houston mayor Bill White, also urged the board to submit the proposed changes to expert review.)
Many of the standards changes forced through by the state board’s far-right wing were not accompanied by an educational or other rationale; most were introduced with little or no time for other board members to review before the vote. As we have noted in the past, some decisions were based on little more than Google and Wikipedia searches by board members from their desks.
The governor’s silence on the state board’s actions is, of course, quite consistent with his overall re-election campaign strategy: avoid answering questions from the news media or other independent voices about his actions during 10 years in office, the longest tenure for any governor in Texas history. In addition, Gov. Perry has refused to meet with the editorial boards of major newspapers, refused so far to debate his general election opponents and largely avoided almost any substantive interaction with people not already in his camp. Whether or not the governor and his campaign staff think that’s a good re-election strategy is not for us to judge. Voters will render their judgment in November.
But the governor’s silence on critical issues like the State Board of Education is important to everyone interested in whether our public schools prepare Texas children to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century. Simply put: Texas parents and our schoolchildren deserve better, both from a dysfunctional and highly politicized state board and from a governor who appoints the head of that board.