Archive for the ‘social studies’ Category

Texas Science Education Battle in 2013

February 1, 2012

After several years of especially divisive “culture war” battles over what Texas public school students should learn about evolution, history and other subjects, the State Board of Education last week decided that it will adopt new science textbooks for all schools in 2013. The new adoption schedule also has the board approving textbooks for history and social studies in 2014.

The decision to adopt new science and social studies textbooks comes after the board adopted controversial curriculum standards for both in recent years — science in 2009 and social studies in 2010. Independent reports over the past year have given both sets of standards poor marks.

Yesterday, for example, a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute criticized the 2009 science standards in Texas as “riddled with errors,” “sketchy,” “redundant,” and “woefully imbalanced.” Last year a Fordham report called the American history standards adopted in 2010 a “politicized distortion” of American history filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” And last fall a report for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Social Studies Faculty Collaborative warned that the social studies standards are “ineffective,” “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards,” and “ignore the principles of sound pedagogy.”

Even so, the board will now ask publishers to submit new textbooks based on those deeply flawed standards. All of this comes after the board last summer adopted online instructional materials for some science courses. Working with our friends at the National Center for Science Education, Texas Citizens for Science and other organizations, we succeeded in keeping off of that adoption list any materials promoting creationism/”intelligent design” and related anti-science arguments.

However, the coming adoption of science and social studies textbooks highlights the importance of State Board of Education elections this year. In fact, all 15 of the state board’s seats are up for grabs in 2012. That means the primary elections this spring and the general election in November will determine whether the board’s far-right creationist bloc controls decisions about which science and social studies textbooks students will use for nearly a decade. (Check out TFN’s SBOE Election Watch page here.)

Based on the state board’s decisions last week, this how the schedule for adopting textbooks and other instructional materials looks going forward (estimated costs for purchasing new materials in parentheses):

  • 2013: Science, Grades K-12; Math, K-8; Technology applications ($625.65 million)
  • 2014: Social studies, K-12; Math, 9-12; Fine Arts ($683.18 million)
  • 2015: Languages other than English ($78.82 million)
  • 2016: Career and technical education ($103.67 million)
  • 2017: English Language Arts and Reading, K-5, Prekindergarten Systems ($536.46 million)
  • 2018: English Language Arts and Reading, 6-12; Health; Physical Education ($663.14 million)

The state board is likely to revise and adopt curriculum standards (on which textbooks and other instructional materials must be based) according to the following schedule:

  • 2012: Math curriculum standards adoption
  • 2013: Fine arts curriculum standards adoption
  • 2014: Languages other than English curriculum standards adoption
  • 2015: Career technology education curriculum standards adoption
  • 2016: English Language Arts and Reading curriculum standards adoption
  • 2017: Science and health/physical education curriculum standards adoptions (Health standards include guidelines on sex education.)
  • 2018: Social studies curriculum standards adoption

So next year the Texas Freedom Network will once again be mobilizing supporters of science education to stop creationists on the state board from dumbing down instruction on evolution in new textbooks and other materials. And you can be sure that we will be leading the fight for sound textbooks and curriculum standards each year afterward.


Taking Lessons from Texas?

January 24, 2012

Seems that it’s not just the Texas State Board of Education that wants to revise American history to fit a particular ideological agenda. Now Tennessee Tea Party activists are trying to do the same thing in their state. From the Wall Street Journal:

The late comedian George Carlin used to say America was built on a double standard: “This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free.”

We wonder how his joke would have sat with members of Tennessee’s tea party, which just presented state legislators with five priorities for action, including amending state laws governing school curriculums to change textbook selection so that “no portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers,” the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.

Hal Rounds, an attorney and a spokesman for the group, said the goal is to address “an awful lot of made-up criticism about, for instance, the founders intruding on the Indians or having slaves or being hypocrites in one way or another,” according to the Commercial Appeal.

“Made up”? Does he think some of the founders didn’t have slaves? That Indians didn’t lose their lands? It’s important that students learn the facts about American history, including the virtues and, when relevant, some of the failings of our founders. Public schools shouldn’t whitewash and revise history to meet the demands of political ideologues.

Read the whole thing here.

Down the Memory Hole?

November 11, 2011

Nov. 14 UPDATE: Prof. Erekson’s report has been reposted on the Social Studies Collaborative website. The copyright has been changed to Prof. Erekson, dropping the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board copyright. The THECB’s logo has also been dropped from the report.


Is the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board trying to “disappear” last week’s report criticizing the State Board of Education‘s politicized revision of public school history standards? The Coordinating Board sent out a press release Wednesday saying that news stories tying the report to it are “erroneous”:

“This report was not requested, reviewed or approved by the THECB or its staff. The faculty collaborative is funded by the THECB, however the agency does not have ownership for the work product derived from the collaborative. Products developed by the collaborative do not reflect opinions, analysis, or conclusions of the agency or its Board.”

The press release also repeats a disclaimer printed in the report indicating that the report’s findings and recommendations “are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Social Studies Faculty Collaborative or the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.”

The report has been removed from the Social Studies Collaborative website, but we have uploaded the report here.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Coordinating Board (whose members were appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry) had nothing to do with the report that carries the Coordinating Board’s copyright, name and logo and that was issued by a body (the Social Studies Collaborative) that the Coordinating Board established to promote the Coordinating Board’s College and Career Readiness Standards. Got that?

That still leaves this question: does the Coordinating Board dispute the report’s key findings about the State Board of Education’s miserable failure to pass history curriculum standards that truly prepare Texas kids for college? We hope the Coordinating Board will take the report seriously and not just toss it down a memory hole. Of course, we have little doubt that State Board of Education members are hoping for the “memory hole” approach.

TX SBOE Chair Is Trying to Hide the Truth

November 9, 2011

The news media is picking up on the story we broke Monday about a report for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that sharply criticizes new history curriculum standards adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE) last year. And as the controversy grows, SBOE Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, is trying desperately to hide the truth about just how badly the state board screwed up.

In a statement to public radio station KUT in Austin and the Dallas Morning News, Cargill claims that the state board “works diligently” to develop curriculum standards that prepare Texas kids for college:

“I fully support the recently adopted social studies curriculum standards. The U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Founding Fathers, citizenship, patriotism, and American Exceptionalism are at the core of these standards. The State Board of Education works diligently to ensure all Texas students are exposed to curriculum standards aimed at college-preparedness, and these TEKS reflect those efforts.”

Unfortunately, that’s simply not true, and at least one of Cargill’s board colleagues and ideological allies — former chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas — has admitted as much.


Low-lights in Social Studies

November 9, 2011

As we reported Monday, a new report prepared for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board slams the State Board of Education (SBOE) for their politicized, factually challenged re-write of social studies curriculum standards last year. The report is worth a read to see just how extensive the damage was to those standards — and to Texas students’ college readiness. But if you don’t have a time to read the whole thing, here are a few of the highlights low-lights:


New Report Slams TX School History Standards

November 7, 2011

Yet another report confirms just how badly the Texas State Board of Education botched the revision of social studies curriculum standards last year. Short version: the new standards will fail to prepare students for college-level work. It should be obvious even to impartial observers that the heavily politicized state board is wrecking public education in Texas.

We just sent out the following press release:

A new report for the board that manages higher education in Texas confirms that the State Board of Education (SBOE) recklessly put politics ahead of getting students ready for college when adopting new social studies curriculum standards for public schools last year, the president of the Texas Freedom Network said today. This new report follows a scathing review earlier this year in which the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute called the standards a “politicized distortion” of American history filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

“Our state’s elected leaders, from Gov. Perry on down, would have to be deaf not to hear the clanging alarm bells,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “It should be impossible to deny now that members of the State Board of Education are sacrificing the education of Texas kids on the altar of their own personal and political beliefs. Yet for three years in a row Gov. Perry has appointed rigid political ideologues to chair the state board, and legislators have refused to pass any bills reforming the curriculum revision process.


Can’t We Just Move On?

April 19, 2011

What started with a roar of outrage last May, ended last week with a whimper. And without a vote.


Cynthia Dunbar and the Laws of Nature

April 11, 2011

Former Texas State Board of Education member Cynthia Dunbar is still proud of the way she helped vandalize the new social studies curriculum standards for the state’s public schools last year. She’s especially happy that new standards for high school government classes require that students learn about “the laws of nature and nature’s God” in a section on the Declaration of Independence. The previous standard had instead referred to “natural law” and “natural rights.” Dunbar believes the difference is important.


Race and the Texas Social Studies Standards

March 29, 2011

A screed published Friday on a San Antonio Express-News blog provides a good example of why it’s a bad idea to turn over to political activists decisions about what our kids learn in their public schools. In his post, Bill Ames lashes out at critics of the heavily politicized new social studies curriculum standards the State Board of Education approved for Texas public schools last year. Then-board member Don McLeroy insisted that the Texas Education Agency appoint Ames to the curriculum team drafting the high school U.S. history standards in 2009. Ames’ angry words Friday reflect standard — and absurdly misguided — right-wing hysteria about “leftists” supposedly distorting what kids learn in their public schools. But they also reveal a disturbing resentment about race issues in American history.


GOPers: Revisit the Social Studies Standards

March 17, 2011

Ever since the Texas State Board of Education became a battle ground in the culture wars, the Texas Freedom Network has tried to emphasize one point: education should not be a partisan issue. That message is now resonating with state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, with even Republicans expressing their concerns over the politicized distortions the state board injected into new social studies curriculum standards.


Did He Bother to Read the Law First?

March 8, 2011

When the Texas State Board of Education approved controversial new social studies curriculum standards last year, far-right board members patted themselves on the back for requiring that students learn about the Constitution. Of course, Texas students were already required to do that. But state board members were simply trying to distract attention from the way they had manipulated the standards to promote their own personal and political biases on a host of issues (including their own distorted interpretations of the Constitution they claim to hold so dear).

Well, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, is still pushing the right-wing myth that Texas students aren’t learning about the Constitution. Flynn’s House Bill 2362 would require that high school seniors “complete a course on the United States Constitution as part of a district’s social studies curriculum.”

News flash for Rep. Flynn: such a course is already part of the required curriculum in Texas high schools. It’s called U.S. Government.

And if that’s not enough, students also learn about the Constitution in their (required) U.S. history classes. Flynn can read the requirement for those courses in the same chapter of the Education Code he’s now trying to amend.

Is it too much to ask that lawmakers like Rep. Flynn stop wasting everybody’s time with this kind of political grandstanding? After all, the Legislature has real problems to solve — like keeping our kids’ public schools open and their teachers employed.

Spreading Anti-Muslim Hysteria

March 7, 2011

When it comes to public school textbooks, what happens in Texas clearly doesn’t stay in Texas. Last September the Texas State Board of Education passed a resolution attacking Islam and falsely claiming that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian and pro-Muslim. Now right-wing groups are threatening education officials in Florida while making essentially the same absurd claims in that state.


Report Authors Rip Far-Right Critics in Texas

February 27, 2011

The authors of a think tank’s report that slammed the new and heavily politicized social studies curriculum standards in Texas clearly aren’t going to suffer silently as right-wing critics hurl lies and distortions at their work. Those critics have been absurdly suggesting that, among other things, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a left-wing organization that deliberately used its new report to embarrass Texas. But the Fordham Institute is  a conservative organization whose scholars simply think it was wrong for the Texas State Board of Education‘s far-right members to use the new U.S. history standards to promote their own personal and political agendas in public schools.

In a new essay for the History News Network, historians Sheldon and Jeremy Stern address a variety of criticisms of their report about U.S. history standards in states across the country. In a footnote at the end of their piece, the Sterns are especially dismissive of the ridiculously dishonest criticisms from Liberty Institute, the far-right Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family:

Claims that we have “lied” focus particularly on our criticism of Texas’s handling of slavery, which is barely discussed in the standards prior to the Civil War, and is then deftly subordinated in importance to “states’ rights” as the cause of the conflict. Texas’s Liberty Institute responded by doing a search for the word “slavery” in the document and triumphantly declaring that the standards do mention it… though, ironically, the quotes they produced demonstrate the very historical flaws we described (flaws also pointedly noted by Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s first secretary of education, and hardly a liberal shill). Likewise, angrily rejecting our criticism that the history of separation of church and state was dismissed and distorted in the standards, the Liberty Institute jubilantly declared, after another word search, that the phrase does indeed appear in the standards—yet the passage which they produced to refute our claim is again the very passage to which we referred in the first place! Yes, it does mention the concept of separation, but only to insinuate that it is a historical myth (a position Texas’s State Board of Education members took openly in their public hearings on the standards). And so it goes.

Here’s more from the Sterns about the Texas standards:


The Growing Chorus

February 22, 2011

On Monday the editorial board at the San Antonio Express-News became the latest group to take a swing at the embattled SBOE, citing the Fordham Institute study that gave our new social studies standards a “D.” The Express-News doesn’t say anything much different than what the Austin American-Statesman and the Dallas Morning News said when editorial boards for those major dailies published opinion pieces on the matter last week.

And that’s the point. We now have three of the states biggest major daily newspapers calling for the board to initiate a rewrite of flawed social studies standards — or, failing that, for the Legislature to intervene.

And legislators are taking note of the growing chorus coming from all sides of the political spectrum. It seems the only ones not taking note are some SBOE members past and present who continue to stand by the standards, including (possible future former) Chairwoman Gail Lowe.

Here’s a sampling from the Express-News editorial:

Two of the board’s most ideologically extreme members are now gone — one decided not to seek another term and the other was defeated in last year’s GOP primary. The state’s budget woes will in all likelihood delay the purchase of new textbooks that reflect the SBOE’s disastrous work last year.

The board’s new composition and the textbook delay give reformers an opportunity to revisit the social studies TEKS and add a measure of objectivity and scholarship. For the sake of Texas students, they should seize that opportunity.

Who will be next? Here’s hoping that editorial board members at the Houston Chronicle, El Paso Times and other state dailies — all of whom I’m sure have a child, or know someone who does, at a Texas public school — are reading this and feel compelled to join the party.

Listen Up, Houston

February 19, 2011

Our friends at the James A. Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University have asked us to extend an invitation to TFN members and supporters in the Houston-area to attend this event on Thursday:

Educating for a “Christian America”?
Bible Courses, Social Studies Standards
and the Texas Controversy

Mark A. Chancey, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies,
Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences,
Southern Methodist University

James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Thursday, February 24, 2011
6:30 pm
Kelly International Conference Facility
James A. Baker III Hall
Rice University

The event is free and open to the public, but they do ask that you register to reserve your seat beforehand (which you can do by clicking here).

Not only is the topic timely and relevant, we can attest firsthand that you won’t find a finer scholar or better speaker than Dr. Chancey, who has collaborated  with the Texas Freedom Network on two groundbreaking studies evaluating public school Bible courses.

If you have a free evening on Thursday, you owe it to yourself to head over to the campus of Rice University and check it out. (And if you can’t make it, it looks like the Baker Institute will be live-streaming the presentation here.)