Archive for the ‘State Board of Education’ Category

Falling Behind on Science Education

March 30, 2012

A national poll shows that 97 percent of American voters think improving the quality of science education is important to the country’s ability to compete globally. Yet most of those voters give the quality of science education in America right now only a “C” or lower and rate it behind that of most other countries. (This polls follows a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute that gave a “C” grade to science curriculum standards in Texas and many other states.)

The poll was conducted for Achieve, a bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization created by governors and corporate leaders in 1996. That organization helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability.

Achieve is working with 26 state to develop a set of “Next Generation Science Standards.” Texas isn’t one of those states. But that’s OK because the insurance and software salesmen, dentist and assorted political activists who have sat on the Texas State Board of Education  in recent years are sure they know everything students should be learning in their science classrooms. Those wonderful board members have been busy “standing up to experts,” asking why we don’t have “cat-dogs” or a “rat-cats” if evolution is really established science, and calling critical thinking “gobbledygook.”

Happy Birthday, Charles!

February 10, 2012

By Garrett Mize
TFN Youth Advocacy Coordinator

Students are standing up for science across the state this month as our Texas Freedom Network Student Chapters celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday at university campuses from Brownsville and El Paso to Houston.

Darwin Day is Sunday, February 12, and students are using the day as an occasion to highlight the importance of teaching evolution in science classes.

Next year the Texas State Board of Education will adopt science textbooks, and evolution will be a key battle in this decision. The purpose of these TFN campus events is to educate students about irresponsible efforts by politicians to dumb-down what public schools teach about evolution.

This is also an opportunity to mobilize students into advocacy around science education standards.

TFN believes Texas students deserve a 21st-century science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of tomorrow.

During debate over new public school science standards in 2009, the Texas Freedom Network and other supporters of sound science education persuaded a majority of State Board of Education members to strip out a requirement that students learn about phony “weaknesses” of evolution. Unfortunately, far-right pressure groups succeeded in opening the door to other creationist attacks on evolution in science classrooms, so the controversial debate over how to teach evolution in Texas is not yet over.

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Don ‘Incendiary’ McLeroy

October 31, 2011

The picture above of current Texas State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mt. Pleasant, pointing (sort of) at former board chair Don McCleroy, R-Bryan, is not directly related to what you’re about to read, but it will be what springs to mind when you’re done with this blog post.

A few weeks ago TFN President Kathy Miller shared a dais with McLeroy for a panel discussion on the SBOE during the Texas Tribune’s Tribune Festival. That’s where McLeroy blamed the culture wars at the SBOE on his and the far right’s willingness to put personal agendas and politics above the best interests of Texas’ schoolchildren.

Just kidding. McLeroy actually blamed TFN and what he called our “incendiary” language for sparking the culture wars at the SBOE. That’s right, he blamed TFN. Let that one sink in for a moment.

Here was McLeroy’s response when panel moderator and Tribune reporter Morgan Smith posed the question of whether the culture wars and politics distract board members from the important work before them (audio of the full conversation from the Tribune):

Back in 1994 you had the rise of prominence and political clout of conservatives on the State Board of Education. That triggered a response from a lot of people that I would call secular-minded. And they were real concerned that these religious conservatives would put forth views — they would propose their own views over all others. And what happened was that you saw these people get organized. I would say they were the one’s that initiated the culture war. “Freedom” even became their middle name.

The problem is they’re not right. The TFN got organized — Kathy’s group got organized, in 1995 Cecile Richards, got it organized — and they’re just not right about things. But everybody, of course, knows they’re not right.

Really, Dr. McLeroy? TFN is behind the culture wars at the state board? Well, let’s look at the record here. It’s McLeroy who has attacked public education, sharpened religious divisions on the state board, promoted a book that labels as “monsters” parents who teach their children about evolution, thinks science classes should teach about the supernatural, and said “education is too important not to politicize.” TFN Insider has documented much more from McLeroy, which you can find here. And here are just a few of the video clips of McLeroy pushing the culture wars:

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Public Schools a ‘Criminal Enterprise’!

October 12, 2011

Remember when Cynthia Dunbar, then a member of the Texas State Board of Education, wrote that public schools are unconstitutional, “tyrannical” and “a subtly deceptive tool of perversion”? In the three years since then, the religious right’s campaign to undermine public education in America has become only louder. The newest tool in the right’s war on public schools is a propaganda video — “IndoctriNation: Public Schools and the Decline of Christianity in America” — from a Texas-based director who home-schools his kids.

The video and its backers are at least honest about their goal to persuade Christian parents to withdraw their children from public schools. The video’s website includes this endorsement from far-right syndicated columnist Cal Thomas:

“Every Christian parent with a child in a government school should see this [movie] and be forced to confront their unwillingness to do what Scripture requires for the children on loan to them by God. A mass exodus from government schools is the only way to preserve the souls and minds of our children, whether it gets the attention of politicians or not…and it would.”

All parents certainly have the right to choose whether to send their children to public or private schools. But the video appears to be full of the same kind of extremist, anti-public education rhetoric Dunbar employed. Here’s a clip from the video’s trailer:

From various folks featured in the clip:

“They are stealing our children. But because they are leaving the body of the child with us, we don’t even know it’s happening.”

“If I had my way, government education would be brought to a halt.”

“Trying to fix public education is like trying to teach a pig how to dance. You get dirty; the pig gets mad.”

“Turning your children over to total strangers and having those strangers work on your child’s mind. It’s a mad idea!”

“Public schools have become a criminal enterprise.”

Dunbar’s rhetoric was, in some ways, even more objectionable. She didn’t just seek to undermine public education. Dunbar actually wanted to turn public schools into venues for promoting her own particular religious and ideological views, from creationist arguments in science classes to historical revisionism about the nation’s founders and the Constitution in social studies classrooms. And some members of the State Board of Education are still pushing the same agenda, which is why the 2012 elections — when all 15 state board seats are on the ballot — will be critical to the future of public education in Texas.

Contempt for Voters

August 20, 2011

So what’s with the dishonest campaign to remove from office a State Board of Education member who had the gall to challenge — successfully — the re-election of a prominent member of the state board’s far-right faction in 2010? Just another example of the far right’s contempt for Texas voters.

We’re talking about Thomas Ratliff, a Republican from Mount Pleasant who defeated Don “Somebody’s Gotta Stand Up to Experts” McLeroy in last year’s GOP primary for the District 9 state board seat. McLeroy, a College Station dentist and self-identified “young Earth creationist,” had served as Gov. Rick Perry’s state board chairman from 2007 to 2009 and led efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution in public school science classes.

Ratliff’s victory over McLeroy infuriated other far-right board members and their supporters. But because voters clearly preferred a common-sense approach to education over McLeroy’s repeated efforts to promote his own personal beliefs in public schools, Ratliff’s critics have adopted a legal strategy to get him thrown off the board. They claim Texas law forbids Ratliff from serving on the board because he is a registered lobbyist. But that prohibition applies only to lobbyists who are paid to work on business related to the board’s operations. Ratliff has pointed out repeatedly that he does not.

In January, to settle the matter, Ratliff asked then-Chairwoman Gail Lowe — a member of the state board’s far-right faction — to seek an opinion from the Texas attorney general on his eligibility to serve on the board. Ratliff also asked the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to determine whether he was breaking the law.

Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office released an official opinion on the matter. That followed a finding from the Public Integrity Unit last March. Neither document says what the board’s far-right members wanted to hear.

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Cargill Sort of Explains Herself

July 20, 2011

Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, is having a tough go of it to begin her tenure as the Texas State Board of Education gavel-master. But lame “blame the media” and “you were never meant to hear that” excuses from her and her supporters (including former board chairman Don McLeroy) will do little to fix the damage the new board chairwoman’s own comments have caused.

We’re talking of comments from Cargill — made just days after Gov. Rick Perry appointed her as board chair — that offended her fellow board members. For instance, board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, did not appreciate Cargill’s suggestion there there are only “six true conservative Christians on the board.” Do a little math and it becomes clear Cargill had taken it upon herself to de-Christianize some of her fellow board members, including conservative Republicans like Craig.

In a Houston Chronicle story this week, Cargill tried to explain herself:

“My comments certainly were not intended to be divisive. It was for a particular audience.”

You see, Bob, sure she said it, but you were never meant to hear it. She thought she was just amongst friends — friends she thought would be receptive to suggestions that you and some of the other board members are not good Christians.

Cargill’s defenders blamed TFN and the news media in the Chronicle story. Here’s what McLeroy, whose willingness to put politics ahead of education cost him the chairmanship two years ago, had to say:

“She was just making a political distinction, not a religious distinction, and it’s much to do about nothing — except for the Texas Freedom Network and their friends who want to throw gasoline on the fire and try to ruin a fine lady.”

And Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate for Focus on the Family, said Cargill was simply referencing:

“a label and category that the media makes regular use of themselves to describe certain State Board of Education members.”

Right, let’s blame the media and TFN for pointing to a video of Cargill’s comments in full and in context. Neither TFN nor the media told or forced Cargill to say what she did. (And we marvel at the fact that she and McLeroy fail to see just how offensive those comments really were.)

But since some appear to believe that Cargill’s comments have been taken out of context, here again are videos of her entire speech:

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Barbara Cargill: In Her Own Words

July 9, 2011

UPDATE: Apparently, someone was embarrassed that we were highlighting Barbara Cargill’s comments at a Texas Eagle Forum event last week. YouTube videos of those comments have now been made private. No matter. We already have those comments and the videos. We’ll have more from Cargill’s talk — this time her troubling comments about the coming of adoption of science instructional materials — shortly.

NEWER UPDATE: The videos are again available below.

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Newly appointed Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill’s talk before Texas Eagle Forum activists on Thursday in Conroe (near Houston) offered more evidence that she and her board allies are more interested in promoting political agendas than ensuring that kids get a sound education in their public school classrooms.

Consider, for example, this comment about people she has appointed to help revise math curriculum standards this summer:

“I have many nominees from District 8 who are there to represent us and our conservative voices.”

Represent “conservative voices”? In writing math curriculum standards? We were unaware that the Pythagorean theorem or equations like “2+2=4” have conservative and liberal perspectives.

Then again, Cargill is the same board member who screened applicants to serve on social studies curriculum teams by asking whether they consider themselves “conservative.”

And what about criticism that some board members have repeatedly tried to politicize curriculum standards and textbook adoptions? The new chairwoman — who replaces two immediate predecessors who failed to win Senate confirmation at least in part because their tenures were so politically divisive — had this to say to the Texas Eagle Forum folks:

“We must be doing the right thing if so many people are becoming angry.”

Gosh, that’s an interesting standard for justifying poor conduct. Would you let students get away with that one, Madam Chairwoman?

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Barbara Cargill: Some Things Never Change

July 8, 2011

UPDATE: Apparently, someone was embarrassed that we were highlighting Barbara Cargill’s comments at a Texas Eagle Forum event last week. YouTube videos of those comments have now been made private. No matter. We already have those comments and the videos. We’ll have more from Cargill’s talk — this time her troubling comments about the coming of adoption of science instructional materials — shortly.

NEWER UPDATE: The video linked in the post is available again.

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Well, this sure didn’t take long. Last Tuesday the San Antonio Express-News quoted newly appointed Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill as saying that she would “facilitate the meetings with a lot of character and a listening ear because we all represent our various districts, so we certainly want to hear from every board member on the issues.” Then just two days later she questioned the faith and politics of fellow board members whose views are different from her own.

Speaking Thursday night at a Texas Eagle Forum event in Conroe, this is how Cargill, R-The Woodlands, described the faction of board members with whom she votes in lockstep:

“Right now there are six true conservative Christians on the board.”

Say what? That certainly must be news to four other Republicans on the board (Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown; Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock; and Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant), who are pretty darn conservative as well as Christians (and that’s not even considering the board’s Democrats who are also Christians).

Cargill is already following in the footsteps of former board chair Don McLeroy, who on more than one occasion essentially described the divisions on the state board as between “Christian conservatives” and everyone else. Like when McLeroy said this:

“Conservatives on our board are the only ones—the Christian conservatives—that are able to sit there and to think for themselves and say, well, wait. Is this really good policy?”

Cue the complaints that we’re somehow attacking Cargill’s faith. Of course, we’re not. We’re simply marveling that she and her allies on the board seem so clueless about how offensive it sounds when they question the faith (never mind the politics) of their own colleagues.

We’ll have more remarkable comments from Cargill’s talk in the coming days.

2011 Lege Wrap Up: No Mo’ Lowe

July 7, 2011

The frustration of Texas legislators with the State Board of Education‘s continuing efforts to drag public schools into the culture wars was so high that the confirmation of Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, to another term as board chair this year never made it to the Senate floor. In fact, the Senate Nominations Committee didn’t even bother to hold a public hearing.

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Governor Names Cargill as SBOE Chair

July 1, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry announces his choice for SBOE chair — Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

TFN just released the following statement:

GOV. PERRY PUTS POLITICS AHEAD OF EDUCATION BY APPOINTING CARGILL AS SBOE CHAIR

Governor’s Third Appointment of Board ‘Culture Warrior’ Ensures Continuing Political Battles

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 1, 2011

The Texas Freedom Network is releasing the following statement from TFN Communications Director Dan Quinn regarding Gov. Rick Perry’s appointment of Barbara Cargill as chair of the State Board of Education. Cargill is the third member of the state board’s faction of social conservatives who Gov. Perry has chosen to chair the board. The governor’s two previous appointees, Don McLeroy and Gail Lowe, failed to gain Senate confirmation because of their repeated efforts to drag Texas public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars. Quinn said:

“Strike three for Gov. Perry. Once again, he is putting politics ahead of the education of Texas students by installing an ideologue in the chairman’s seat. Just like the governor’s two previous appointees as chair, Ms. Cargill has worked since her election to the board to promote her own personal beliefs rather than facts and sound scholarship in our kids’ classrooms. In fact, she even succeeded in censoring the scientific consensus on the age of the universe from the state’s science standards. And she helped politicize new social studies standards by appointing an unqualified conservative evangelical minister as a so-called ‘expert’ adviser simply because his personal ideology matched her own. Because the Senate can’t act on this nomination until 2013, the governor has single-handedly ensured that the state board will continue to be a divisive and embarrassing battleground in the nation’s culture wars for the next two years.”

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Late on a Friday just before a holiday weekend… So not only is it too late for the Senate to confirm Ms. Cargill; this announcement is also likely to escape much vetting in the media. Hmmm. It’s almost like the governor doesn’t want people to scrutinize his choice.

We’ll obviously have much more to say about this next week — especially Ms. Cargill’s science credentials (here’s a tease: did you know she runs a religious “science camp” for kids in The Woodlands?). But until then, check out the history of Cargill’s run ins with TFN Insider over the years.

And have a great Independence Day everyone.