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Barbara Cargill

SBOE approves new evolution standard

Shockingly, it doesn’t suck.

The Texas State Board of Education tentatively voted to remove language in high school biology standards that would have required students to challenge evolutionary science.

Currently, the curriculum requires students to “evaluate” scientific explanations for the origins of DNA and the complexity of certain cells, which some have argued could open the door to teaching creationism. Wednesday’s vote, preceded by a lengthy and contentious debate, would change how science teachers approach such topics in the classroom.

The word “evaluate” could require another two weeks of lesson time for teachers who are already on tight schedules to cover material for the state’s standardized tests, said Ron Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University professor on the 10-member committee of teachers and scientists that the board appointed in July to help streamline science standards.

The committee wrote a letter last week requesting narrower language to replace the word “evaluate,” arguing it would save valuable instruction time without creating significant instructional problems.

On Wednesday, board member Keven Ellis proposed two amendments that reflected this feedback and eliminated the word “evaluate” from biology standards — replacing it with language requiring students to “examine scientific explanations for the origin of DNA” and “compare and contrast scientific explanations” for the complexity of certain cells.

The word “examine” reflected a compromise between those on both sides of the debate who tussled between using the words “identify” and “evaluate.”

Both amendments passed unanimously. A final vote on the issue will occur Friday.

Even Republican board member Barbara Cargill, who previously championed the effort to keep the controversial language in the curriculum, was on board.

It was a necessary change, according to Wetherington.

“‘Evaluate’ means you rank these scientific explanations in terms of how adequate they are, how complete they are, how many problems exist with them, what the evidence for each of the alternatives are. It takes a long time to do compared to just describing them,” he said.

Students would not have the sufficient knowledge to go so deep, Wetherington said, explaining that they would have to know higher-level chemistry.

He does not consider creationism a relevant concern since schools are “forbidden by law from even talking about it in the classroom.”

See here for the background, and these two Trib articles for the preliminaries to the vote, which will be finalized today. It’s a rare pleasure to be able to say that the SBOE had a meeting to discuss biology standards and they managed to do it without showing its rear end to the rest of the world. The Texas Freedom Network calls for Wednesday’s vote to receive final approval today, and if it’s cool with them then it’s cool with me. Kudos, y’all.

Some things never evolve

The SBOE, for instance.

The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday voted preliminarily for science standards that would keep in language that some say opens the door to creationism.

The votes came a day after the board heard from scientists begging them to remove the language. Board members are set to hold a second public hearing and take final votes on the changes to the science standards in April.

The process began in July, when the board convened a teacher committee that recommended the deletion of several high school science standards, including four controversial biology standards they said would be too complex for students to understand. In their recommendation for deleting a clause requiring students examine explanations on the “sudden appearance” of organism groups in the fossil record, they included the note, “Not enough time for students to master concept. Cognitively inappropriate for 9th grade students.”

Republican board member Barbara Cargill led the charge Wednesday to keep three of those four standards in some form — arguing that they would actually help students better understand the science and keep teachers away from creationist ideas.

[…]

At Tuesday’s public hearing, former Texas science teacher Joni Ashbrook told the board that specific language is included in creationist arguments that a supernatural agent explains a burst of new forms in the fossil record.

But Cargill said her addition allows students to fully comprehend the ebbs and flows in the number of organism forms over time. “Something obviously happened in the environment, and they’re gone and the fossil record flatlines and we don’t see them anymore,” she said.

I did not follow this closely, so let me point you to the Texas Freedom Network, which is as always on top of it. If you’re looking for a place to channel some excess activist energy in between calls to Cruz and Cornyn’s offices, contacting your SBOE member and asking them to support the change to this language would be helpful. If you want to bone up on creationist talking points and the scientific responses to them, the delightfully old school Talk Origins FAQ secion is a good resource. The Chron has more.

HISD board votes for Mexican-American studies class

You would think this wouldn’t be a big deal.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

The Houston school board, representing the largest district in Texas, threw its support Thursday behind the creation of a Mexican-American studies course in Texas public schools.

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

“Unanimous is beautiful,” advocate Tony Diaz said after the decision.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board, argued the course was important given that Hispanic enrollment in the state’s public schools tops 51 percent.

She asked her fellow trustees and district officials whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in U.S. history. They struggled to name a fifth.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

In Austin [this] week, the State Board of Education plans to discuss developing new elective courses, including a Mexican-American history and culture class for high school students.

You can imagine what will happen when the SBOE gets involved.

On Wednesday, the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on developing state curriculum standards for new courses – including, controversially, a high-school elective class in Mexican-American history.

To proponents, the proposal seems to fill an obvious need. Fifty-one percent of Texas’ public-school students are Hispanic. And in the past, the state has created curriculum guidelines for a host of elective classes, including subjects such as floral arrangement, musical theater, landscape design and turf-grass management.

“If we can inspire a child by teaching about Mexican-Americans’ struggles and difficulties, why wouldn’t we do that?” asks Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, the state board member who proposed the course.

Opponents – likely in the majority on the Republican-dominated state board – answer that question in many ways.

Some argue that school districts don’t need an official state curriculum to offer the class, and say that the Texas Education Agency is too busy now creating guidelines for other classes required by House Bill 5’s sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, wrote via email. “Several districts in Texas already do.”

Other opponents of Cortez’s proposal believe it’s simply wrong to offer a state-endorsed ethnic-studies course. They say that it undercuts Texan and American identity.

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.

He noted that many HISD students speak Urdu: “Why not Indian-American Studies? That may sound silly. But I’m raising a serious point. In Texas public schools, we teach American history and Texas history. We don’t teach Irish-American history and Italian-American history.”

Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, said the state already includes a considerable amount of Mexican-American history in the curriculum. A former social-studies teacher, she argues that a Mexican-American studies class would do students a disservice if it displaces other social-studies offerings.

“World geography or world history would be more to a student’s advantage,” she says. “They need more global courses that are broader than Mexican-American.”

I mean, come on. Do we really need to explain why in Texas a more in depth examination of Mexican-American history might be a worthwhile addition to the curriculum? I might have had a bit more patience for the SBOE’s excuses here if it weren’t for the fact that they had previously voted to remove a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, as part of an overall effort to make the social studies curriculum more acceptable to the tender sensibilities of aggrieved right wing interests. It was bad enough that even conservative scholars and Republican legislators were critical of the changes. All this is doing is trying to undo some of that damage. Stace has more.

Standing up for science

Sure hope it did some good.

A past Texas State Board of Education chairman and outspoken creationist urged his former colleagues on Tuesday to approve high school biology textbooks he said would “strike a final blow to the teaching of evolution.”

Appearing at a board hearing on new instructional materials, Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who lost his seat on the SBOE in the 2010 Republican primary, told board members that the science textbooks currently under consideration contained many “hidden gems just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students” that proved there was no evidence for evolution.

McLeroy’s testimony diverged from other witnesses skeptical of evolution, who criticized the proposed textbooks for inadequate coverage of alternatives to the scientific theory and asked the board not to approve them until publishers made changes.

[…]

The 15-member SBOE won’t vote on the 14 science textbooks currently under consideration until November. Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said the board would also discuss revising the state’s textbook approval process, which science education advocates have criticized for allegedly lacking transparency and including unqualified reviewers.

Cargill herself has drawn accusations of improper involvement in the review process from the Texas Freedom Network, a group that monitors religious influence in public schools, after reports that she encouraged creationists on the panels. Cargill said she only attended the meetings to thank volunteers for their work reviewing the texts.

State panels have been reviewing sample instructional materials since April. The panels, which are assembled by SBOE members, have included several prominent creationists and evolution skeptics, as well as others without a background in education or science. Their preliminary proposed changes obtained by the Texas Freedom Network pushed for the inclusion of more arguments critical of evolution.

[…]

Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, three SBOE members — Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville; Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio; and Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso — expressed their disappointment with the process at a rally organized by the Texas Freedom Network. They said that publishers were being pressured into including non-science based arguments against evolution and called for only “content-relevant educators” to be included on review panels.

Cargill said during the hearing that she had asked publishers to voluntarily disclose for public review any changes they made to textbooks prior to their adoption. She also emphasized that any reports made by review teams were preliminary — and that in November, the board would take up suggestions about how to improve the process.

“I’m very appreciative of the reviewers themselves,” she said. “But we’ve got some work to do.”

Just as Rick Perry works to keep Texas sick, so does Don McLeroy work to keep Texas ignorant. TFN Insider liveblogged the hearing, and also provided some extra background. What happens from here I don’t know, but as always it would be a good idea to stay engaged, and to keep an eye on the November hearing. Finally, kudos to new SBOE members Cortez, Perez, and Dominguez for their involvement. Perez and Dominguez gave us some moments of uncertainty last year, but so far they’ve exceeded my expectations on the board. Eileen Smith and the Stand Up for Science Tumblr have more.

CSCOPE still in scope

Every once in awhile, whether they intend to or not, the SBOE does something worthwhile.

Thomas Ratliff

The State Board of Education concluded its July meeting without providing further guidance as to whether Texas school districts continued to use lessons from CSCOPE, the controversial state-developed curriculum system.

“It’s not up to the state board,” chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said after the meeting. “I don’t know who it is up to, but it’s not up to us.”

Though she added that legislators are the ones who need to clarify whether districts can still use CSCOPE lesson plans, which are now in public domain, Cargill said the board will discuss CSCOPE at its Sept. 18 meeting.

Meanwhile, the Texas Attorney General’s office, along with Education Chairman Dan Patrick, has requested an official state audit of the program.

“After months of research, once again with the tireless help of the grassroots, it appears that CSCOPE may have spent millions of dollars outside of normal government rules and regulations,” said Patrick in a post on his Facebook page Friday.

Patrick also said in that post that he disagreed with the conclusion that, since CSCOPE material is now in the public domain, districts could continued to use it. He said he would check into it further.

After the Friday meeting, board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, issued a release praising Cargill for placing CSCOPE on the September agenda.

“This artificial controversy has gone on too long without someone at the state level taking charge and performing a review of these lessons and separating myth from reality and education from politics,” he said.

Ratliff and Patrick have been slugging it out over CSCOPE for some time now. I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost there. I didn’t follow this closely during the session, but from what I can see Ratliff is in the right. If the SBOE does review this in September, it will be a good thing. However, Dan Patrick will not give up.

An extended drama over a controversial curriculum tool used by Texas public schools took a new turn Wednesday as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst entered the fray with a letter to the State Board of Education and a key state senator pushed to add the issue to the special session agenda.

“We were all told that our CSCOPE problems were behind us,” Dewhurst said in the letter. “Over the past few weeks I have learned this could not be further from the truth.”

The statement could be interpreted as swipe at Patrick, one of Dewhurst’s 2014 Republican primary opponents. Near the end of the recently concluded regular session, Patrick declared the “end of an era” for the CSCOPE lessons, which grassroots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda. At the time, Patrick, R-Houston, announced that the coalition of state-run education service centers that develops the lessons had agreed to stop producing them.

[…]

In his letter to the state board, Dewhurst joined those expressing their dismay, saying he was “deeply troubled” that the state’s public schools may continue to use the lessons. The board is already set to address confusion over CSCOPE at a Sept. 18 meeting, but in the letter, Dewhurst urged the board to hold a hearing sooner so that it could help districts find ways to avoid using the lessons or to “at least provide transparency for parents and local voters to know what their local districts are using to educate their children.”

Patrick responded late Wednesday afternoon with a press release asking Gov. Rick Perry to add legislation banning the use of CSCOPE lessons to the special session agenda. In the release, Patrick said he also thought the issue had been resolved.

Josh Havens, a spokesman for Perry, said in a statement that it was “premature to talk about adding to the call” until the Legislature finished its current business.

Did we mention that there might be a third special session because the conference committee remains at loggerheads over how to pay for transportation funding? So adding yet another wingnut issue to the endless legislative summer is not out of the question. Burka has more.

SBOE passes anti-voucher resolution

Good for them.

The Texas State Board of Education voted 10-5 on Friday to urge the Legislature to reject proposals that would result in public funds being allocated for private educational institutions.

The resolution, authored by Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, Jr., D-Brownsville, asks the legislature to “reject all vouchers, taxpayer savings grants, tax credits, or any other mechanisms that have the effect of reducing funding to public schools.” It mirrored an amendment the House recently passed to the state budget by a wide margin banning the use of public dollars for private schools.

[…]

Though the resolution eventually passed, it initially endured stiff opposition from a number of board members – including some who said the issue was outside of the board’s purview.

Member Tom Maynard, R-Georgetown, while stressing that he was a “huge supporter” of public schools, said that the board should leave the issue to the legislature.

“I get the voucher question all the time. And my position is, this isn’t a matter for the SBoE,” he said. “This resolution puts us in a position of commenting on things that are not within our constitutional authority.”

Maynard moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which provoked a debate about the role of the State Board in evaluating education policy. Member Marisa B. Perez, D-San Antonio, argued that the issue was central to the Board’s responsibilities.

“Saying that it doesn’t fall under our guise is not an acceptable answer to the teachers who are asking for our support,” she said. “Siphoning money from our public schools and turning them over to our private schools is definitely something we should address.”

The question about going outside the board’s duties is a valid one. The SBOE doesn’t have budgetary authority, but they do play a role in school finance as the trustees of the Permanent School Fund. I don’t have a problem with them passing a non-binding resolution, but I admit I’d feel differently if they had voted in favor of vouchers. I wonder if they were motivated in part to take this action by getting their noses out of joint over their potential loss of charter school oversight.

Only one of the board members explicitly endorsed the proposals condemned in the resolution – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas.

“I believe in the American right to educate my children in the manner that I want,” she said. In addition to Miller and Mercer, other board members that voted against the resolution were chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, and David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Yes, of course my SBOE member supported vouchers, even though she once said she wouldn’t. Don’t blame me, I voted for Traci Jensen. Hair Balls has more.

Endorsement watch: Three for SBOE

The Chron finally crosses one redistricting-affected category off its list by issuing three endorsements in State Board of Education primaries.

Patty Quintana-Nilsson

State Board of Education, Position 6, Democratic primary: This race has drawn a particularly strong slate of Democrats. (We are impressed by Traci Jensen’s knowledge of the arcane workings of the SBOE.) But Patty Quintana-Nilsson, a Spring Branch ISD technical-education teacher, receives our endorsement because of her practical, real-world commitment to improving education for all Texas students, not just those bound for four-year colleges. “There’s a big disconnect between what we have to do in class and what our students need,” she notes.

Linda Ellis

State Board of Education, Position 8, Republican primary: Our choice – Linda Ellis, a fiscal conservative – is challenging incumbent Barbara Cargill, a member of the SBOE’s religious-conservative voting bloc and currently chair of the SBOE. Ellis, a reading consultant who helps turn around low-performing schools, decries Texas’ overreliance on testing and the board’s lack of respect for teachers. “The education of our children,” she says, “is more important than politics.”

Dexter Smith

State Board of Education, Position 8, Democratic primary: Dexter Smith, an energetic, thoughtful Friendswood elementary-school teacher, knows first-hand how curriculum plays in the classroom. Science education, he says, should be based on the scientific method. As a father, he believes that parents should be the primary guides of their children’s sex education; but he also believes that too many parents fail to do so, so it’s important for schools to fill that gap.

My interview with Patty Quintana-Nilsson is here, with Traci Jensen is here, and with David Scott is here. I didn’t interview anyone in SBOE 8 because I didn’t realize until only recently that there was a contested Democratic primary. I’ll be sure to schedule one for the general election. If you’re wondering why they didn’t endorse in the contentious GOP primary in SBOE 7, the reason is presumably that SBOE 7 no longer contains part of Harris County in it – you can see the map here. It does contain Liberty, Chambers, Galveston, Brazoria, and most of Fort Bend counties, and you’d think there would be a few Chron readers in those places, but that’s how they roll. Given how many Harris races have not been and may not be done, it’s hard to argue.

The unhelpful SBOE overview

The premise of this story is good and useful. Unfortunately, the execution falls short.

Rita Ashley

Conservatives and moderates get a rare opportunity this year to try to stack the State Board of Education with members who will help shape public education in the way each side considers best for Texas school children.

All 15 seats are up for re-election this year due to once-a-decade redistricting to reflect population changes.

[…]

Four social conservative board members face GOP primary challenges, and four social conservative candidates are running in four separate districts now represented by moderate Republicans.

Locally, social conservative board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, is retiring and likely will be replaced by another social conservative – Donna Bahorich, of Houston, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary for Leo’s District 6 seat. Three Democrats are running for their party’s nomination, but will run uphill in the Republican district.

Board Chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, also a social conservative, is being challenged in the GOP primary by educator Linda Ellis, also from the Woodlands.

Longtime social conservative leader David Bradley, R-Beaumont, faces a serious primary challenge from Rita Ashley, also of Beaumont. Ashley has served as the House Public Education committee clerk.

And that’s pretty much all you get. Maybe I expect too much of these stories, especially when they cover multiple races and candidates. It sure seems to me, however, that a couple of primary battles between hardline conservatives who have been very much on the front lines of the culture wars and more traditional Republicans who actually value public education and want to get stuff done seems to me to be a worthwhile thing to explore in some depth. A quote or two from incumbents Cargill and Bradley, and challengers Ellis and Ashley, would have been nice. Noting that Ashley worked for Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Rob Eissler, claims Williams and Rep. Allen Ritter as supporters, and has the ParentPAC endorsement would have been nice, too. Listen to what Linda Ellis has to say if you want some contrast:

Linda Ellis

I’ve dedicated my life to the students and schools of Texas.

Throughout my 28 years as a Texas educator, while working in the schools and classrooms alongside teachers, I’ve always focused on two things: what’s best for students and helping teachers implement best practices in their classrooms.

That’s why, over the past decade, I’ve watched in horror as ideologues took over the State Board of Education and used it as a platform to politically divide our citizens while at the same time ramming their personal beliefs down the throats of Texas students.

With blatant disrespect for educational experts and ignoring local voices, these ideologues have systematically dismantled our state’s once great public school system and turned Texas public schools into material for comedians on late night TV.

They have done everything possible to demean our teachers and demoralize our students.

They are trying to create a new state. A divided state.

They must be stopped.

Now look at what Barbara Cargill is talking about. If there’s not a story in that, I don’t know where you’d find one. Unfortunately, where you won’t find one is in this Chron article, and more’s the pity for it. As for Ashley, her race against Bradley is more of a traditional intra-party pissing contest – see here and here for some less-than-high-minded exchanges – but Bradley has a higher profile than Cargill and is a bit of a bully besides. It’s possible that this primary could be a political career-ender for not one but two Bradleys, which would also be a hell of a story. I don’t think I’ve ever been this interested in the outcome of a couple of GOP primary races, that’s for sure.

Anyway. KHOU has a collection of videos made by area candidates for SBOE, which I found via TFN Insider. The winner in SBOE8 faces a Democratic opponent – Dexter Smith has been the more active candidate of the two running and has garnered most of the endorsements of which I am aware – and while there is no GOP primary in SBOE6 there is a three-way Democratic race for that nomination. I interviewed all three candidates early on in the cycle. Get to know your SBOE candidates so that when they meet next year and begin work on the next textbook or curriculum review you’ll know what to expect.

No calculators for you!

I’m OK with this.

Texas schoolchildren should not use calculators until they learn to work through math problems the old-fashioned way — on paper, State Board of Education members said Thursday.

The board on Thursday tentatively approved new math curriculum standards designed to add rigor while encouraging students from kindergarten through fifth grade to learn basic math without the aid of calculators.

“We hear more and more from parents that their kids in school are being allowed to rely on calculators without actually memorizing their math facts and building that firm foundation,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

Member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, cast the only dissenting vote against removing calculators from the early elementary grades. The board is expected to take final action on the new math standards Friday.

[…]

“Our objective today is that our kids are required to memorize their math tables and their basic math,” said David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed for the restriction on calculators. “That will then lead to success.”

The board, he said, wants to send a message in the new standards that “calculators are not to be an instructional tool in K-through-5.”

Knight said she believes teachers need flexibility and should be allowed to use calculators as “an enrichment activity.”

“I think it’s nonsensical in this 21st century that we are not having students use the tools at the appropriate time and at the appropriate level because these are the tools that they will be using as they advance through school and in the work world,” she said.

The new math curriculum standards will not ban calculators in the early elementary classes as there is no way to enforce such a prohibition, but Knight said teachers “will interpret the standards as ‘we cannot use calculators.'”

The Board gave its final approval to this and the new math standards on Friday. I don’t really want to invoke the “back in my day” argument, but I did get a degree in math and never once used a calculator in any of those classes. I do think there’s value in using calculators for higher level math, mostly for graphing, and I don’t have a problem with using them in other classes where math is part of what you do – physics, for instance – but I have to agree with Cargill and Bradley here. There’s no substitute for knowing your multiplication tables. I’ve seen people whip out a calculator to multiply something by ten, or to add two two-digit numbers together. That’s crazy, and to my mind represents a failure of that person’s elementary education. Calculators have their place, and I agree with Knight that students do need to know how to use tools to help them do more things more efficiently, but knowing the times tables is a tool, too. Save the calculators till you’re at least in algebra.

Grading Texas science classes

We get a C.

Texas public school science courses “pay lip service” to critical content and largely ignore evolution in the middle grades, according to a national education foundation study that gives the state of Texas an overall “C” for science education.

The average grade for Texas science curriculum standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a national report card Tuesday represents a step up from the “F” issued for Texas two years ago by the National Center for Science Education.

Texas science curriculum standards are “just too vague,” said Kathleen Porter-Magee, a senior director at Fordham. “They cover a lot of the essential content, but they don’t do it in a way that can actually guide curriculum or guide instruction in the classroom or can guide assessment development.”

It’s also better than the D we got in Social Studies from the Fordham Institute. You can see the Texas report here and a full list of state reports plus their other materials related to this here.

The report offers a mixed review on how Texas teaches evolution. The evolution portion of the new Texas science curriculum standards provoked considerable controversy before the State Board of Education adopted them in 2009.

“In spite of the Texas Board of Education’s erratic approach to evolution, the state’s current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly,” the report says

[…]

“As a science teacher, I am pleased that our standards received a score of 5 out of 7 for content and rigor,” said board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. “We look forward to continuing to work with Texas teachers to bring the best instruction to the classroom with our excellent science standards.”

Former board member Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, lost his chairmanship, in part, because Senate Democrats believed he injected his strong religious beliefs into the curriculum development and blocked his nomination three years ago.

McLeroy said he was pleased the report described the high school evolution teaching as “exemplary.”

“The report confirms what I have always insisted: that the creationists inserted real scientific rigor into the teaching of evolution,” McLeroy said.

McLeroy is as dishonest as ever. Here’s what the report said about Texas and the teaching of evolution:

Evolution is all but ignored from Kindergarten through fifth grade, save a sentence in the earth and space science section that asks students to “identify fossils as evidence of past living organisms” (grade 5).

The middle school standards are marginally better, but still problematic. For example, seventh graders should learn that:

Populations and species demonstrate variation and inherit many of their unique traits through gradual processes over many generations. (grade 7)

Unfortunately, this is simply wrong. Traits are inherited directly at each generation; there’s nothing gradual about it. Students are then asked to explain variation within a population or species by examining external features that enhance survival. Such examinations will yield no explanation of variation.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the middle school standards, however, is their coverage of evolution. For instance, the seventh-grade standards mention the Galapagos finches, giving the impression that the Darwinian paradigm is being presented. Unfortunately, it is not. Instead, the example of the finch Geospiza fortis apparently refers to studies by Peter and Rosemary Grant on beak size in this species, made widely known by Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Beak of the Finch. Creationists often distort these important findings to argue that Darwinian macroevolution does not occur—instead, microevolution does. In addition, the word “evolution” is never used in any of the middle school standards, and the term “natural selection” is never explained.

In spite of the Texas Board of Education’s erratic approach to evolution, the state’s current high school biology standards handle the subject straightforwardly. There are no concessions to “controversies” or “alternative theories.” In fact, the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution. Even so, the term “natural selection” appears just three times, as does the word “evolution” and its variants. It is hard to see how Texas students will be able to handle this course, given the insufficient foundations offered prior to high school.

In other words, it’s pretty clear they think McLeroy and his bunch were the problem, not the solution. The more voters that see it that way as well, the better. One Democrat running for the SBOE had some sharp words for his putative colleagues.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science and a longtime critic of the board’s conservatives, said the Fordham analysis overlooked some glaring problems with Texas’ standards.

He pointed to a separate examination from the National Center for Science Education that found Texas’ standards contain “creationist jargon” and “reflect political and religious agendas, rather than good pedagogy and strong science.”

“Without the State Board-mandated political, anti-scientific changes, Texas would have received an A or perhaps B grade from the Fordham reviewers,” said Schafersman, who is running as a Democrat for an open West Texas seat on the board.

If Schafersman’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he’s been one of the indefatigable SBOE meeting livebloggers of late. He’d be a great addition to the Board, but he’s running in a bright red district, so I can’t say I’m holding out any hope. Texas Politics has a link to Schafersman’s full response. TFN Insider has more.

A look ahead to SBOE races

Regardless of what happens with the other maps, the one map that was precleared and is set for the next decade is the SBOE. With all 15 members up for re-election (like the Senate, everyone has to run in the first election post-redistricting), there are already some hot races shaping up. This Trib story from a few days back has a look.

Now, with three longtime (and reliably moderate) members stepping down and all 15 members up for re-election because of changes brought about by redistricting, political control over the divisive board hangs in the balance. And even though the filing period has yet to begin, there are already signs that these races could get ugly. Questions about one member’s sexual orientation, for example, are already being raised.

Some board members will also undoubtedly try to oust each other. [David] Bradley, who consistently votes with the board’s social conservatives, said he would be “actively working” against Thomas Ratliff, [Don] McLeroy’s replacement.

Randy Stevenson, a Tyler businessman who served on the board from 1994 to 1998, announced Wednesday that he would run against Ratliff, a registered lobbyist whose clients include Microsoft and whose opponents, because of that, have argued that he should be disqualified from office.

[…]

Bradley has yet to attract a declared opponent, but that’s expected to happen soon. Meanwhile, social conservative incumbents Ken Mercer and chairwoman Barbara Cargill have already drawn primary challengers, as has George Clayton. Bob Craig and Marsha Farney, moderate Republicans, and Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat, have all announced that they will not seek re-election.

Farney was elected in 2010, so while she may have been a moderate, she certainly wasn’t “longtime”. As noted before, all of these races make me nervous. Having to rely on Republican primary voters to do something non-crazy is not a bet you want to have to make. And will a Democrat please file to run against Terri “Don’t call me “Terry” Leo? I promise to contribute to your campaign if you do.

The race in Clayton’s district, which now includes all of Collin County north of Dallas, may prove especially contentious. Clayton, a teacher who lives in Richardson, defeated longtime incumbent Geraldine “Tincy” Miller in an upset during the 2010 primary. Miller now wants her old seat back and has launched a campaign attacking Clayton’s conservative credentials, in particular his support of a plan last spring that would have directed $2 billion from the Permanent School Fund to public schools.

[…]

But perhaps more damaging to Clayton in a Republican primary are the rumors that prompted him to send an email to members of the media last week with the subject line “sexual orientation.” Clayton, who was leaked the notes of a conversation between Miller and Tea Party Activist Susan Fletcher that mentioned his “living arrangements,” confirmed in the email that he has “a male partner who lives with me in my home.”

In a phone interview, Miller said that she was not the one who brought up Clayton’s sexual orientation, but she noted that others have. Fletcher said in an email that she was “urged by several sources in general” to investigate Clayton’s living arrangement — but not by Miller.

Clayton said in an email that when he realized his personal life might become an issue in the campaign, his first instinct was to “nip it in the bud.” That strategy has already cost him one supporter: Conservative blogger Donna Garner, who is a vocal follower of education issues, sent out an email Tuesday night retracting an endorsement of him.

Clayton said the political makeup of the board — and whether “cool heads and reasonable discussions” would prevail — depends on the next election. The board’s biggest responsibility in the next four years, he wrote, will be “to keep public education alive in Texas.”

Clayton’s win over Miller in 2010 might have been the most out-of-left-field result from that year. Nobody knew anything about the guy. He turned out to be an upgrade, so naturally the universe, or at least the Republican Party, is trying to course-correct. As with all of the other races so far, I have a bad feeling about this one.

Day One at the SBOE

Here’s your TFN Insider coverage of today’s SBOE science hearings. In Part I of the hearings, we find that the SBOE may not be such a major factor in school curriculum any more:

10:20  – Board members are quizzing the commissioner about how the new rules governing the purchase of instructional materials — changes codified in Senate Bill 6, passed during the legislative session and signed by the governor earlier this week — will play out in school districts. Commissioner Scott rightly notes that the law represents a sea-change in the way the schools purchase materials.Note: TFN is putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive analysis of this new law and its likely effects on the state board’s role in vetting and approving classroom materials. We plan to publish that analysis in the coming weeks. TFN communications director Dan Quinn previewed our conclusions in a story in today’s USA Today: “It has the great potential to diminish the influence of the State Board of Education.”

And we find that maybe, just maybe, the winds have shifted a bit:

11:20 – Interesting news out of the SBOE Committee on Instruction meeting earlier this morning. That five-member committee has long been dominated by far-right members, but there are signs that a change is coming. The committee’s first order of business today was to elect a new chair, after Barbara Cargill announced she was stepping down. In a move that seemed to surprise Cargill, George Clayton, R-Dallas, nominated new board member Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, as chair. Clayton and Farney, though conservative, have been ostracized by Cargill and the far-right faction. Cargill immediately nominated fellow far-right conservative Terri Leo, R-Spring, and the vote was deadlocked at two votes for each candidate. Democratic board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, is absent from today’s meetings, so the committee moved to postpone the election of chair until the September meeting when Berlanga will be present. Since there is no love lost between Berlanga and the far-right bloc, it seems likely that she will vote for Farney at the September meeting. Could this be a coup, signaling a return to common sense on this critical committee?

We can only hope. In Part II we find that all those annoying pro-science testifiers are making Ken Mercer and David Bradley cry, and in Part I of the debate, we find there’s nothing to be alarmed about just yet. Which counts as good news with the SBOE. Here’s Steven Schafersman‘s coverage; Josh Rosenau has weighed in on Twitter but not yet on his blog. All the Twitter action is on the #SBOE hashtag if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, an object lesson in not being able to do more with less:

With one-third fewer people, the Texas Education Agency just can’t do everything it used to do.

State Board of Education members were were told on multiple occasions this morning that a lack of time and staffers had prevented the agency from doing some of the prep work that it would have done previously, such as creating a briefing book on new legislation.

Citing similar constraints, agency staffers said they had yet to produce rules for the implementation of Senate Bill 6, which fundamentally changes how school districts can use state dollars to buy instructional materials and technology. It was passed during the special session last month.

School districts, for example, are waiting to learn how much they will get under the new system to cover the cost of textbooks, hardware, software and other expenses associated with disseminating lessons to students.

Sometimes, when you fire a bunch of people, stuff just doesn’t get done. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

UPDATE: So far, so good. On to tomorrow.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Time to get it on again with the SBOE

From an email from the National Center for Science Education:

The Texas Board of Education is at it again, this time aiming to insert creationism into high school biology classes via textbook “supplements” (such as those from International Databases, LLC). The other goal: to force mainstream publishers to rewrite their supplements to de-emphasize or undermine evolution education.

We’re talking heated debate among board members, contentious testimony from the public, followed by an equally contentious Board vote the next day.

The science textbook supplement finalists: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/tea/RSSM_CommissionerFinalRecommendations1.pdf

The details:

THURSDAY, JULY 21
Public testimony before the Board of Education, followed by Board debate.

When: 10 a.m. Four hours of testimony. 2 minutes per person.

Where:
Room 1-104, First Floor
William B. Travis Building
1701 North Congress
Austin, Texas

Agenda (for “Committee of the Full Board”): http://www.texasadmin.com/agenda.php?confid=TEA_FB072111&dir=tea

Agenda item: “4. Public Hearing Regarding Instructional Materials Submitted for Adoption by the State Board of Education Under The Request for Supplemental Science Materials”

Live video feed:

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3876
http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml

***Note: Texas Freedom Network will hold a press conference before the hearing (before 10 a.m.), in the Texas Education Agency building. Speaking: TFN President Kathy Miller, Josh Rosenau from NCSE, Prof. Ron Wetherington from Southern Methodist University, and more.

FRIDAY, JULY 22
The board votes on the biology science supplements

When: 9 a.m.

Where:
Room 1-104, First Floor
William B. Travis Building
1701 North Congress
Austin, Texas

Agenda (for “General meeting”: http://www.texasadmin.com/agenda.php?confid=TEA_GM072211&dir=tea

Live video feed:

http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3876
http://www.texasadmin.com/tea.shtml

See here, here, and here for some background, and this Chron story for more. TFN Insider will be liveblogging the proceedings, and I’ll try to keep an eye on things as they go, too. Hair Balls and the Trib have more.

UPDATE: More ways to follow the action:

What’s happening minute by minute? There are two live feeds worth checking out, starting tomorrow at 10a.m.

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau will be covering the event live via Twitter (http://twitter.com/ncse) in the morning. After lunch, he’ll switch to his blog, http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/.

Steven Schafersman from Texas Citizens for Science will likewise be blogging live from the Texas board of education meeting tomorrow, starting at 10 a.m. Go to: https://www.texasobserver.org/authors/stevenschafersman.

Perry appoints Forensic, SBOE Chairs

The new SBOE Chair is not who I expected.

State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, will take the helm as the board’s new chairwoman, Gov. Rick Perry announced Friday.

She will follow Gail Lowe, who was appointed chairwoman two years ago but did not win Senate confirmation during the just-concluded legislative session. Lowe, who returns to her seat as an elected member of the board, also got the position when her predecessor, Don McLeroy, failed to get Senate confirmation in 2009.

I figured Perry would pick David Bradley. I’m sure he has his reasons for going a different route. Cargill is part of the same social conservative bloc, but off the top of my head I can’t think of anything horrible she’s done. Fortunately, we have the Texas Freedom Network to keep track of these things, and their Cargill files can be found here. We’ll see if she can break the streak of non-confirmed SBOE Chairs; she has nearly two full years to convince the Senate that she’s not just another nutjob.

Meanwhile, Perry also named a new Chair of the Forensic Science Commission.

Gov. Rick Perry today announced he has appointed Dr. Nizam Peerwani, a well-known Fort Worth medical examiner, to lead the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Peerwani, who has served on the commission since 2009, will replace Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as leader of the panel that has been embroiled in controversy practically since its inception. Bradley, a law-and-order prosecutor, failed to win Senate confirmation during the legislative session that ended last month.

[…]

Peerwani, who was appointed to the commission at the same time as Bradley, is chief medical examiner for Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Parker counties. His term will expire “at the pleasure of the governor.”

Well, at least he’s a scientist. The Commission could use more of a scientific influence these days. I presume Dr. Peerwani will need to be confirmed as Chair as well in 2013. At this time, I have no particular reason to believe that he will have any difficulty with that. At least, I sure hope that’s the case. Grits has more.

House approves SBOE map

One down, three to go.

A new map for the 15-member Texas State Board of Education became the first redistricting proposal to make its way through the Texas House Thursday afternoon, winning approval on a vote of 99-45.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, the Carrollton Republican who sponsored the legislation and who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, told House members that the map created districts that were as compact and cohesive as possible, maintained communities of interest and met the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

Solomons easily fended off challenges to his map in the form of amendments from Hispanic lawmakers who contended that he had largely ignored the state’s dramatic Hispanic population growth.

Alternate plans were offered by Reps. Roberto Alonzo and Trey Martinez-Fischer. You can see all three of them here – Alonzo’s plans are E114 and E115, Martinez-Fischer’s is E113. Where Solomons’ plan had three Latino VAP majority districts and two Latino VAP plurality districts, the three alternatives had four of the former and one of the latter. Interestingly, SBOE6, home of Terri “Don’t call me Terry!” Leo, is now the least Anglo of the other ten districts, with Anglos having only a 47.2% VAP plurality. That’s all the result of natural change, as the SBOE6 district didn’t change at all, as far as I can tell. The main difference in Harris County is that David Bradley’s SBOE7 is completely removed, replaced in the far north and east by Barbara Cargill’s SBOE8, and Lawrence Allen’s SBOE4 is now completely within Harris; the bit of Fort Bend County that had been in SBOE4 is now in Bradley’s SBOE7, as is the rest of Fort Bend.

While I expect this map to easily pass the Senate as well (assuming Democrats don’t block it via the 2/3 rule), it’s clear that between this map and the State House map that as little as possible is being done to accommodate Latino growth in Texas. I fully expect that to be the basis of legislation regardless of what happens with the Senate and Congressional maps. There’s more of this story to come.

What kind of patriot are you, anyway?

The Contrarian reports on more SBOE follies.

A reader passed along a link to this Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel story that shows just how much some members of the State Board of Education are trying to slant social studies classes in Texas.

The newspaper reports:

‘Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?’

That was the last question that State Board of Education (SBOE) member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked SFA’s Education Coordinator Rhonda Williams in an e-mail interview for a spot on the state’s world history curriculum writing committee last December.

Williams was nominated to sit on a writing panel that would help shape the state’s social studies curriculum for the next 10 years. She was hoping that she would be selected for the world history writing committee where she felt her expertise could be best utilized. The writing teams are usually made up of high school and college level educators who help to draft curriculum standards in their respective fields.

Now, a lot of people hold politically conservative views of the Constitution, and that’s perfectly fine.

But can someone explain to me how on Earth anyone could consider themselves conservative or liberal about “patriotism” and “the heritage of our forefathers”?

Clearly, he doesn’t think about these things the way that our SBOE does. You have to be an expert to truly understand the nuances of such a question. In case you’re curious, Ms. Williams apparently did not meet muster for sufficiently conservative patriotism. I guess her education in code words was lacking.

For what it’s worth, at least one member of the SBOE is insisting that we’ve got it all wrong about the social studies review.

There’s been some angst about reports that children biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin could be yanked from early grades in new social studies/history curriculum standards currently in the drafting stage.

State Board of Education member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth emphatically says such is not the case.

[…]

“Those suggested biographies are still expected reading,” Hardy says. “To bring consistency to the formatting of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) it was decided to remover all reference of specific books from one section of the TEKS.”

Critics simply don’t understand, she says.

“Never did the teachers say that those bios were not to be taught,” Hardy says. “Only the listing in that particular section of the TEKS no longer lists specific books.”

If you say so. I’ll wait and see for myself. The SBOE doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility right now.

Perry appoints Lowe chair of SBOE

The good news is, he didn’t pick Cynthia Dunbar. The bad news is, it’s not clear how much better new State Board of Education Chair Gail Lowe will be.

Lowe, co-publisher of the Lampasas Dispatch Record, was first elected to the board in 2002 after serving on the Lampasas school board.

Perry’s pick avoids the controversy that would have followed if he had selected one of the members whose names have been floated as likely candidates, including Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richardson.

Lowe consistently votes with the conservative wing of the 15-member board but she has typically been a quiet presence.

That makes her sound somewhat like Barbara Cargill, about whom The Contrarian recently wrote. About Lowe, The Contrarian says:

My impression of Lowe — from watching hours of State Board proceedings last year (an experience from which I’m still recovering) — is that she’s not the savviest operator in the group. She’ll likely be a quieter public presence as chair than [Don] McLeroy.

The open question is whether she’ll be more effective at passing a socially conservative agenda.

That may make this a very savvy move by Perry, if it turns out Lowe is effective in getting wingnuttery passed but manages to avoid becoming an easy target by being low key. So far, some potential critics are staying reserved.

Richard Kouri, public affairs director for the Texas State Teachers Association, said Lowe’s selection is no surprise.

“She’s certainly somebody who’d been on the short list of names that had been circulated … pretty much comes from that same sort of conservative block.”

Kouri said his organization will closely watch next week’s meeting. They’ll look for clues as to whether Lowe will be able to calm the politicized rifts that have characterized the board in recent years. Debates over language arts and science curriculum have been especially contentious and a revision of social studies objectives is already heating up similarly.

“Given the split on that board, we would like to see a chair that I guess is more the arbitrator, more the person who is going to create a level and fair environment for the discourse to happen, not basically be the kind of chair that says, ‘This is what I believe, now eight or nine of you line up behind me,” Kouri said.

Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association in Fort Worth, agreed that change is needed.

“I sincerely hope they start taking more realistic positions instead of political positions because they’ve made themselves irrelevant in the minds of many educators, including me,” he said.

Others, like the Texas Freedom Network and Hal at Half Empty, are unimpressed. Here’s TFN:

In 2004 Ms. Lowe opposed requiring that publishers obey curriculum standards and put medically accurate information about responsible pregnancy and disease prevention in new high school health textbooks.

In 2007 Ms. Lowe voted to throw out nearly three years of work by teacher writing teams on new language arts standards. Over the strenuous objections of teachers and curriculum specialists, Lowe instead voted for a standards document that the board’s far-right bloc patched together overnight and slipped under hotel doors the morning of the final vote.

In 2003 and 2009 Ms. Lowe supported dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.

Going back to that Star-Telegram article, Lowe makes herself sound like a mixed bag.

Lowe, who is also a Republican conservative, thinks she was selected by Perry because she is the type of person who writes headlines instead of making them.

“I’m a little bit more of a background person than others,” she said. “I’m not upfront. I choose my words carefully and don’t speak an awful lot.”

She said she is honored by the appointment and will do her best.

“There are a number of our members I think would have made excellent leaders,” she said, “but I’m probably freeing up others who are more vocal, to continue to do what they do.”

“I think Cynthia (Dunbar) would’ve done a good job as chair, but she’s such an outspoken person that I think she would’ve been a lightning rod,” Lowe said. “I’m sure I will get that kind of scrutiny, too. I’m not naive.”

Lowe’s youngest child is still in public school, and she has served as a Lampasas school trustee and classroom volunteer before being elected to the SBOE seven years ago.

“My emphasis has always been on academic achievement and that’s what I will continue to pursue,” Lowe said.

At least she has a kid in public school, which is a clear distinction from the Dunbars of the world, who are working to kill public schools. If she really does focus on academic achievement, and stays away from the divisive stuff that’s been the SBOE’s hallmark lately, she’ll at least be a step up from McLeroy. On the other hand, if she really did think Dunbar would have made a good Chair but for her outspokenness, that’s worrisome. We’ll just have to see how it goes. What I do know is that getting some of the clowns off of the Board remains a top priority, and that means getting Dunbar and McLeroy unelected next year. The less crazy the Board is as a whole, the less it matters how kooky the Chair is.

The SBOE’s assault on history

In my earlier post about the virtues of a pro-science PAC, I mentioned that the State Board of Education had turned its attention towards doing to social studies what it had done to science. Vince gives a great rundown of the so-called “expert” who is heading up the SBOE’s panel reviewing the curriculum. Check it all out, then tell me if you think I’m exaggerating about the need for those PACs I suggested.

In related news, the Texas Freedom Network chronicles the far right’s push to get Cynthia Dunbar appointed Chair of the SBOE, while the new Observer blog The Contrarian suggests that having Dunbar and her out-there in-your-face nuttiness would be better than having an equally conservative but much more presentable Chair like Barbara Cargill. On the assumption, which I’d made all along, that we’ll never get a sane Chair as long as Rick Perry is in charge, I have to concede the wisdom of that line of thinking. If nothing else, the likes of Dunbar will serve as good campaign material.

Chron coverage of yesterday’s SBOE actions

Here’s the Chron story about yesterday’s happenings at the State Board of Education, in which the good news was that the anti-science “strengths and weaknesses” language had been removed from the curriculum, and the bad news was that a subsequent attempt to back-door similar nonsense made it in for now.

The “strengths and weaknesses” standard has been a staple in the curriculum for about 20 years.

On Friday, however, the board looked again at the issue and decided students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent, which serves as a main principle of evolution — that all organisms have a common ancestor.

The board’s effort to undermine “universal common descent” in public schools will make the state’s science standards “an object of ridicule,” said Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science.

“It’s really unscientific. It promotes creationism. It says that students will be required to learn arguments against common descent or ancestral connections,” Schafersman said. “The only alternative to common descent is creationism in their minds.”

Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes final action in March. New science curriculum standards will influence new science textbooks for the state’s 4.7 million public school children beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

One board member who pushed for the change said that fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent — and students should be allowed to study the possibility.

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

[…]

They are asking students to explain something that does not exist, said David Hillis, a biology professor at the University of Texas at Austin and MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner.

“This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single science expert,” Hillis said.

Yeah. I mean, you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t use the Internet setting standards for broadband, would you? The “fossil gap” argument is an old, longdiscredited one that keeps getting trotted out anyway. As Daniel Davies posited in The D-Squared Digest One Minute MBA – Avoiding Projects Pursued By Morons 101, good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance. Not that this would stop the zealots on the SBOE.

The good news is that there should be time between now and March to get the same votes as before to reject this absurdity. That’s the hope, anyway. Martha has more. I’ve also got some testimony by 2008 candidate for SBOE Laura Ewing beneath the fold. We wouldn’t be going through this nonsense if Ewing had been elected, as there would then have been a clear majority for maintaining scientific standards, but sadly that was not to be. All the more reason to make sure we take out Cynthia Dunbar next year, that’s for sure. Click on for her account.

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