Archive for the ‘State Board of Education’ Category

Honk if You Love the Confederacy

June 29, 2011

Texas may be getting ready to honor the red, white and blue flag. No, not that one. No, not that one either.

The Houston Chronicle reports the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles license board is one vote shy of giving its blessing to a state license plate adorned with the Confederate flag.

Texas is often referred to as a Petri dish for bad ideas (see State Board of Education) but this time, while we’re no less embarrassed — we’re actually a little bit late to the party. Texas would be the tenth, and by far the biggest state to slap a symbol of slave ownership on a license plate (or a symbol of “states’ rights,” if you want to accept the arguments of some SBOE members and others who downplay the role of slavery in causing the Civil War).

The license board took a vote on the plate earlier this month, but the result was a tie. The potential tie-breaking vote will come from the person appointed to fill a vacancy created on the board when one of its members died. Guess who gets to make the appointment? C’mon, guess. Yep, Gov. Rick Perry, who has flirted with secessionists.

The Chronicle mentions the appointment will likely happen in the fall. We’ll find out then if Texas once again joins the Confederacy.


It Rings a Familiar Bell

June 18, 2011

The ideologically motivated battles over science and history that we’ve witnessed over the last few years at the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) can be exemplified by a 10-second sound bite by a certain former governor of Alaska and the resulting revisionist attacks on the Wikipedia page for this man: Paul Revere.

If ever you’re hanging out with friends from out of state and they ask you about the culture wars in Texas, point them to the Sarah Palin-Paul Revere dust up of a few days ago. Though it didn’t happen in Texas or involved anyone associated with the SBOE, it’s a perfect example of how far-right revisionists on the board have operated, how they abhor facts and how they’re willing to flippantly manipulate history for political ends.


Censorship Group Targets Science Materials

June 3, 2011

It’s increasingly clear that the Texas State Board of Education this summer will be ground zero — once again — in the religious right’s war on science. The newest indication of the pending battle comes from the website of Educational Research Analysts, one of the nation’s oldest textbook censorship organizations. The website shows that the East Texas-based group will target the scheduled adoption of science instructional materials by the Texas state board in July.

The religious-right outfit in Longview was founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler, who began pressuring publishers to censor their textbooks in the 1960s. The Gablers later turned their operation over to Neal Frey, who continues to run the shop. Here’s what the group’s website says about the upcoming science adoption:


No Mo’ Lowe?

May 26, 2011

It looks likely that Gail Lowe, who presided over the Texas State Board of Education‘s social studies curriculum debacle last year, has only days left in her tenure as board chair. From the Houston Chronicle:

Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments of John Bradley as head of the Forensic Science Commission and Gaile Lowe as State Board of Education chair are officially toast, Senate Nominations Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville said.

“They’re sine die with the rest of us — except they won’t have to come back for a special session,” Deuell said Wednesday after submitting his last round of Perry appointees for Senate consideration.

That’s two strikes for Gov. Perry, whose last two appointments to chair the state board have been so politically extreme that the Senate has refused to confirm them. The governor appointed Lowe in 2009 to replace his previous appointee, Don McLeroy, R-College Station. McLeroy failed to win Senate confirmation as board chair after he led efforts to dumb down the public school science curriculum with anti-evolution dogma.

Supporters of Lowe and McLeroy claim that the two have been victims of Senate politics. That’s nonsense, of course. Truth is, both have been victims of their own obsession with pushing personal and political agendas in public school classrooms.

Barring an unlikely, last-minute Senate reprieve for Lowe, Gov. Perry must appoint a new chair. Will that be a third strike? Or will he finally appoint someone who puts the education of Texas schoolchildren ahead of politics? It’s possible that we won’t know the answer to that until July, when the state board is scheduled to meet next.

Texas SBOE Redistricting Map Now Law

May 19, 2011

Yesterday Texas Gov. Rick Perry allowed a new redistricting map for the State Board of Education to become law without his signature — and far-right activists are enraged. The Legislature is trying to “destroy the conservatives” on the state board, one right-wing blogger has bizarrely shrieked. Board conservatives are being “targeted for extinction,” right-wing gadfly Donna Garner ranted in one of her numerous mass-distribution emails about the issue over the past month.

Good grief. News flash: Republicans have huge majorities in both the Texas House and Senate. In fact, Republicans have more than 100 votes in the House — a two-thirds majority that allows them to do almost whatever they want. They even passed a draconian budget that could cause tens of thousands of teachers to lose their jobs in school districts across the state. Yet we’re supposed to believe that those same Republicans are trying to “destroy” conservatives on the State Board of Education?

What’s really going on here?


Creationists Appointed to Science Review Panels

May 13, 2011

The Texas Education Agency just released the full list of members serving on the science review panels that will evaluate instructional materials submitted for approval by the State Board of Education (SBOE). As TFN predicted earlier this spring, the review panel for biology includes a number of individuals with a history of promoting intelligent design/creationism or advocating the teaching of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in science classes.

Last month the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education identified proposed materials from one vendor, New Mexico-based International Databases, that promote intelligent design/creationism as real science. Now evolution deniers on the review teams will likely use their positions as a podium to promote the same flawed arguments.

Read TFN’s press release here.

A preliminary analysis by TFN of the biology review panel identified at least three anti-evolution activists: (more…)

More on International Databases

May 10, 2011

We’re learning a little bit more about International Databases, the previously unknown outfit from New Mexico that a few weeks ago submitted science instructional materials to the Texas Education Agency that are clearly laced with the junk science of intelligent design/creationism.


Publisher Proposes Creationist Materials

April 25, 2011

A 2009 decision by the Texas State Board of Education has enabled creationists to once again try to mess with science in public school classrooms in Texas.

Read the Press Release from the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education

The Texas Education Agency has released proposed supplemental web-based materials for science courses from publishers who want their product in your child’s classroom as early as the 2011-2012 school year.

But there’s a problem with at least one of those publishers that represents a potential leap backward for science education in Texas.


Blast from the SBOE Past

April 21, 2011

Former state board member (and chairman) Don McLeroy contacted our office this morning to dispute the accuracy of information in this post. Specifically, Dr. McLeroy claims that the substitute English/language arts TEKS document given to board members only hours before the final vote was not – as we (and the Associated Press) maintained – a “new” document. Dr. McLeroy claims that it incorporated elements of earlier versions that the board had previously considered during the marathon two-year review process.

We appreciate Dr. McLeroy’s courtesy and concern for accuracy. However, even granting the argument that the board had at various times seen all the elements in the final standards document, we believe it is fair to characterize this last-minute substitute document as a “new” version – or even a “never-before-seen” version, as the AP article states. A 100+ page document that cobbles together bits from more than one source – even if the sources themselves had been reviewed earlier – is a substantially new set of standards.

And semantics aside, our larger point stands: forcing board members to vote on something this important after only a few hours of review is simply not a reasonable way to write curriculum standards. That’s precisely why we support Rep. Strama’s bill to require a modest amount of time for consideration before the board makes these once-a-decade curriculum decisions.


More than once this legislative session, the far-right supporters of the status quo at the Texas State Board of Education have argued that it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it. They usually say the SBOE process is top-notch and the envy of other states.

How soon we forget.


Take Action: SBOE Reform

April 20, 2011

Three days out of a once-a-decade process isn’t much. State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, agrees. We at TFN also agree. And so did almost everyone else at last night’s hearing before the Texas House Committee on Public Education, which took testimony on Rep. Strama’s HB 3257.

The legislation would require that any amendments to public school curriculum standards be made available for public review at least three business days prior to the SBOE voting on them. It also mandates that the final version of the complete standards be posted for at least 24 hours before the board votes on final adoption.

This is how TFN President Kathy Miller explained the organization’s support for the bill:

It represents transparent and open government, and it will go a long way in alleviating concerns that parents have about the procedures at the State Board of Education.


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.


The Experts Speak

April 18, 2011

Last week two Texas legislative committees on higher education took testimony on HB 3263 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and SB 1348 by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The bills would created higher education review teams, made up of highly-qualified scholars from Texas universities who would review curriculum changes and advise the Texas State Board of Education on the curriculum’s accuracy and make certain it is in line with accepted scholarship. It’s the kind of sensible measure that would ensure qualified individuals get a seat at the table when the SBOE makes revisions to what students learn in the classroom and will read about in textbooks.

As you recall, part of the reason why even conservative groups have given SBOE-amended curriculum standards such low marks is because the board has the ability to declare just about anybody an “expert” (see Barton, David).

At the hearings last week, the committee heard from a long list of real experts, and surprise! Scholars from a wide range of disciplines are strongly in favor of this common-sense legislation. Below are letters sent to the legislative committees by professors from some of the state’s top universities, along with a little bit about the individuals who wrote them.


Inventing ‘Facts’ Fails in Hearing on SBOE

April 14, 2011

When fanatics don’t have facts to back up their arguments, they invent them. We saw that during the Texas Senate Higher Education Committee’s hearing Wednesday on SB 1348. That bill and companion HB 3263 call for the appointment of teams of highly qualified scholars from Texas colleges and universities to review proposed public school curriculum standards for accuracy and to ensure that they prepare students for college.

This common-sense legislation appealed to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee. “It’s hard for me to vote against a bill that makes sense,” Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock said at one point.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller testified in support of the bill, explaining how the State Board of Education has politicized curriculum standards and appointed unqualified “expert” advisers simply because of their ideological views. The board has even refused to ask scholars at the state’s world-class universities to review the heavily revised standards before final adoption. Even a conservative think tank like the Fordham Institute has expressed its disgust with the state board’s blatantly politicized and inaccurate curriculum standards.

The facts-inventing began when Jonathan Saenz, the lobbyist for Liberty Institute (Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family) testified in opposition to the bill. We’ll point out just three of the whoppers he told committee members. (You can watch the video — Saenz’s testimony begins at about the 1:20:00 mark here.)


The Final 48 Hours

April 13, 2011

It’s astonishing how much mischief can be done in just 48 hours. Today Texas legislators have a chance to help put a stop to some of it, at least when it comes to the State Board of Education. More about that below.

Teachers and scholars spent nearly a year — more than two years in one case — working together to draft curriculum standards for three major subject areas taught in Texas public schools. Then in the course of a few short meetings, politicians on the State Board of Education vandalized those carefully drafted standards for language arts (2008), science (2009) and social studies (2010). State board members made wholesale revisions to those drafts — about three hundred changes in the case of the social studies standards alone.

Many of those changes came in just the last 48 hours before final board votes on adopting standards that will be in place for nearly a decade. Even worse, board members made those (essentially) last-minute changes without the formal review or advice of teachers and scholars.


Did Slavery Cause the Civil War?

April 2, 2011

Who would even ask such a ridiculous question in the 21st century? Apparently lots of people. From a recent story in the Washington Post entitled “Five myths about why the South seceded”:

One hundred fifty years after the Civil War began, we’re still fighting it — or at least fighting over its history. I’ve polled thousands of high school history teachers and spoken about the war to audiences across the country, and there is little agreement even about why the South seceded. Was it over slavery? States’ rights? Tariffs and taxes?

Now why on earth would people believe that “states’ rights” was a more significant causal factor than slavery? Um, maybe because they went to school in Texas. According to the new social studies standards adopted by the State Board of Education last year, Texas 8th graders will be expected to:

explain the issues surrounding causes of the Civil War, including sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery…

And lest you think that the order of this list is not intended to connote importance, this was was actually an amendment made by politicians on the board to the original draft standards prepared by teachers and scholars. Conservatives on the SBOE proactively voted to insert this phrase during the May 20, 2010 meeting, and the discussion before the vote made perfectly clear that they believed sectionalism and states’ rights superseded slavery in terms of importance. In other words, the order of this list is no accident.