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Gail Lowe

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

Bradley and Lowe fail to get confirmed

Time for some new chairpersons.

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.

Since they weren’t confirmed, the appointments of the two chairs will end when the regular session draws to a close Monday.

In the case of John Bradley, that’s almost certainly a good thing. Perry can replace him with another hack, of course, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more damage to the Forensic Science Commission than Bradley did. As for Lowe, well, there is still another level of absurdity that can be achieved. And two years from now, we’ll go through this again. Grits has more.

It’s Bradleys all the way down

Me, March 15, on the subject of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe’s confirmation issues in the Senate:

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

Peggy Fikac, March 28, same subject.

It looks like speak-his-mind prosecutor John Bradley’s appointment as head of the Forensic Science Commission will end with this legislative session.

But Bradley’s brother, the equally blunt David Bradley, may benefit if Senate Democrats also block State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe’s appointment.

What’s more, if Gov. Rick Perry were to name David Bradley to replace Lowe after this regular session ends, senators might not get a chance to weigh in on the appointment until the 2013 regular session (barring a special session).

Perry’s appointments of Lowe and John Bradley are in trouble because a two-thirds Senate vote is needed to confirm nominees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 12 Democrats.

A couple of Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing John Bradley. Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said all the Republicans would vote for Lowe. But that’s not enough. Without a Senate vote, the appointees’ terms end when the session does in May.

David Bradley, a State Board of Education member from Beaumont, is a possible Lowe replacement. He’s a leader of conservatives who’ve made controversial social studies changes that even a conservative group said exaggerates Biblical influence. Bradley once tried to insert President Barack Obama’s middle name, “Hussein,” in a reference to him in history standards.

Lowe, while conservative, is credited with an even hand in presiding over board meetings. Bradley acknowledges he doesn’t have her patience.

I’m just saying.

Lowe has confirmation issues, too

John Bradley isn’t the only Rick Perry appointee who is having trouble getting confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who chairs the Senate Nominations committee, says Gail Lowe has not been scheduled for a hearing as chairwoman of the State Board of Education because she lacks the votes for a confirmation on the floor.

Gov. Rick Perry nominated Lowe, who currently serves in the position, on Feb. 1. Democrats in the Senate have been unhappy with her performance — especially in light of a recent report that blasted the state’s social studies standards.

Deuell said that while he believes the Lampasas Republican’s nomination has the votes to get out of committee, she currently does not have the support of any Democrats — meaning she would not survive a vote of the full Senate.

[…]

In blocking Lowe, who, while a member of board’s social conservative bloc, is known for a balanced management style, Democrats run the risk of a more controversial member as her replacement.

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

By the way, our social studies standards still suck

So says a conservative think tank.

In a report [released Wednesday], the Thomas B. Fordham Institute gives the Texas social studies curriculum standards a “D” while accusing “the conservative majority” of using the curriculum “to promote its political priorities, molding the telling of the past to justify its current views and aims.”

“Biblical influences on America’s founding are exaggerated, if not invented. The complicated but undeniable history of separation between church and state is flatly dismissed,” the group wrote.

The broad swipe from a respected conservative education think tank comes after civil rights groups and minority lawmakers have demanded the board scrap the standards and start over.

The Fordham Institute report faults the new Texas standards for distorting or suppressing aspects that the board found politically unacceptable, such as slavery and segregation, while exaggerating religious influences.

“The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge, blending the worst of two educational dogmas,” the report said.

The Thomas B. Fordham’s website is here, and their full report is here (PDF). The main question is whether or not this will lead to the SBOE reconsidering its previous work.

“My preference is to take the finished product and put it back through the process with the (expert) writing teams,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Go back through with teachers, experts, businessmen and women and do it right.”

[…]

The SBOE is not likely to take another look at the social studies standards, said Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

“The State Board of Education has moved on to the review of mathematics and fine arts standards,” she said. “I doubt that many would want to put an important area like math on hold for an additional year while we revisit the history standards.”

Lowe’s unwillingness will trigger a fight with lawmakers, said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, head of the 40-member Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

“If she cannot see the problem, she cannot be part of the solution,” he said. “She owes it to the state of Texas to have the right social studies curriculum in place.”

The curriculum standards will shape new textbooks that could be adopted as early as next year, although budget problems could delay the purchase.

“In a time of record budget deficits, I don’t believe it’s wise to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on books that are not accurate,” Martinez Fischer said. “Nobody would dispute that.”

I think there’s a decent chance that delaying the purchase of textbooks will be one of the budget-balancing tricks the Lege will employ. Whether that will lead to a change or just postpone the inevitable, I couldn’t say. Given that every member of the SBOE will be up for election in the post-redistricting 2012 cycle, it would be nice if the forces of sanity made another push to win some seats in what should be a much better electoral climate. The Trib has more, and a statement from the Texas Freedom Network is beneath the fold.

(more…)

The SBOE and charter schools

Some members of the State Board of Education want to get into the charter school business.

Representatives for Texas’ 460 independent charter schools asked the State Board of Education on Wednesday to tap into the state’s education trust fund and for the first time provide them classrooms and facilities for their students.

The charter school operators also expressed support for board member David Bradley’s proposal to take up to $100 million from the $22 billion Permanent School Fund and use it to purchase or build facilities that the board would lease to charter schools.

[…]

While several board members expressed interest in the facilities idea, others had questions, citing the large number of charter schools that have failed since being first authorized 15 years ago.

“Once the board awards a charter, we have no control over the school after that – and that causes me great concern,” said board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock. “I just don’t see this as a good investment,”

He said 71 state licenses for charter schools have been revoked, removed or returned since the program began.

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said the board would have the same concerns as banks and other financial institutions that have been reluctant to lend money to charter operators to build schools or remodel buildings.

A more pointed objection was raised by SBOE Chair Gail Lowe.

Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe , R-Lampasas, said she is a proponent of charter schools and would like to help them cover their facility costs.

But the assets of the fund, which was established by the state constitution in 1876 , have to be invested for the benefit of all Texas schoolchildren for generations to come. Given that mandate, Lowe said, she is not convinced this investment would be in the best interest of the fund, even if only a relatively small amount is dedicated to the program.

“Regardless of what percentage it is, it is still incumbent upon a fiduciary to determine what is in the best interest of the fund,” Lowe said.

The Trib and Abby Rapoport have more on this; board member Bob Craig also pointed out the risk of litigation if someone decides that Bradley’s proposal does not meet the mandate Lowe points out. This proposal by Bradley first surfaced last month, and so far I haven’t seen a good response to the concerns that member-elect Thomas Ratliff and State Rep. Scott Hochberg raised in that story:

Newly elected board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who will take over from former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, in January, said the board has no business going into the rental business.

“If they want to do it, they better do it quick, because I don’t think the votes will be there on the board in January,” he says. “Charter school facilities are a legitimate issue. But it’s a problem for the state Legislature to solve. … If a charter school has a good business model, than it should be no problem getting a loan in the commercial space. And if not, why would we want to invest?”

[…]

On the House side, Hochberg says the alternative stretches the SBOE far out of the bounds of its authority over the public school fund. Common sense dictates that the best-possible investment mix to maximize Permanent School Fund revenues will change constantly, as the market changes. Real estate in general might be a great investment today and a terrible one a month from now. A board decision to lock itself into specific properties for the specific purpose of renting only to charters can’t possibly be the best business decision for all market environments — if it makes sense at all, Hochberg says.

“Let’s say you decide to invest a certain amount in real estate, and you buy a building and rent it to Wal-Mart — and then the market changes, so you decide to change investments and sell it. You can do that. But what if a charter school is in there?” Hochberg asks. “They’re not supposed to be in a specific business — they’re supposed to be investing in the long-term interest of the children of the state of Texas.”

It is interesting how Bradley, who is one of those “the government is the problem, the free market is the solution” conservatives wants to use the government to solve a problem with the free market, isn’t it? Things can look a little different when the free market isn’t being kind to something you like, I guess. Having said that, I don’t think Bradley’s plan is completely nuts. I think that if there were sufficient controls in place to ensure that good charter schools could thrive while bad ones could be quickly shut down, there’s an argument to be made for the state helping out with the facilities end of things. I think that’s a job better suited for the Lege, however. Having an answer for Ratliff and Hochberg would be nice, too.

In the end, the SBOE decided to go for it. After initially voting to adopt an asset allocation plan as a committee that did not include any charter school funds, the Board then went ahead and allocated some funds for this plan.

The measure passed 7-6 with two members absent: Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio. Agosto voted against the measure in committee yesterday and could have killed it today by voting the same way. Berlanga’s position on the issue is unknown, but she often votes against the conservative members who pushed the measure.

The board’s bloc of social conservatives usually consists of seven Republicans on the 15-member panel, including chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. While Lowe voted against the plan, the bloc succeeded in pulling a Democratic vote from Rene Nunez, of El Paso. Other members voting for the plan included David Bradley, R-Beaumont — who spearheaded the idea — Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Terri Leo, R-Spring; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; and Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

The allocation was contingent on a favorable opinion from the Attorney General and “express legislative authority”. I have a feeling the Lege is more likely to expressly yank their chain on this, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Until then, consider it one last parting gift from the McLeroy/Dunbar axis of ideology. Abby Rapoport has more.

Where’s Gail?

This morning at 9 AM in Austin, a hearing will be held by various legislative groups including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Legislative Study Group, the House Black Caucus, and Senate Hispanic Caucus, to discuss the recent changes to the social studies curriculum. You know, the whole dropping of Thomas Jefferson thing and all that. The legislators requested the presence> of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe. She declined, because really, what can she say? So it will go on without her. That’s pretty much how it is these days with the SBOE.

A fine whine from the SBOE

Apparently, some of the wingnut members of our State Board of Education got their widdle feelings hurt by some of the coverage of their most recent hijinks, in particular about their amendment to remove Thomas Jefferson from the world history standards. It was all just so unfair that SBOE Chair Gail Lowe took the time to air her grievances against the media, in a press release and again at Texas Insider. You will no doubt be shocked to learn that her complaints are largely based on misdirections and half-truths. Go read The Trib’s Brian Thevenot for the fact-checking.

I will admit, there is one thing the SBOE may have to whine about, though as with the rest they brought it on themselves:

It is time to consider abolishing the State Board of Education because its distractions over cultural wars are hurting public education, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said Tuesday.

He said he plans to file legislation to get rid of the 15-member elected board when the Legislature returns to its regular session in January.

[…]

Hinojosa took exception to the board’s vote to limit or outright exclude mention of central figures in U.S., Texas and world history, including important figures in the 1960s civil rights movement.

The social conservatives on the board “seem to be more focused on cultural wars and on their own personal biases than they are on the education of our kids,” he said. “In one breath, this faction will speak of a need to return to a more fundamental understanding of freedoms based in, say, the Declaration of Independence. Then, they work to revise Thomas Jefferson’s views on separation of church and state.”

A press release from Sen. Hinojosa about this is here. I don’t really expect this to go anywhere, but the SBOE should expect to be a (well-deserved) punching bag for the next eight months. Since “repeal” seems to be the mot du jour for the GOP, here’s Bill White giving it right back to them:

Bill White today called on Governor Perry to urge his appointed Chair of the State Board of Education to send amendments back to the original curriculum review teams. The State Board of Education (SBOE) recently voted on more than 100 amendments to social studies curriculum standards that will guide textbooks and classroom materials for years to come.

The overly political process and outcomes disrespected professional educators and historians.

The original standards were developed by curriculum review teams comprised of classroom teachers and subject matter experts.

“Individual school board members are no doubt sincere in their beliefs, and some of the changes can be debated by reasonable people. But, under the leadership of another extreme Rick Perry appointee, the amendment process injected politics into our school books and classrooms,” said Bill White. “That is a step in the wrong direction, requiring leadership from our Governor.”

“Rick Perry must ask his appointed chair to send the curriculum standards back to review teams before final adoption in May,” White continued.

I don’t expect that to happen, either, but I’ll be happy to have Rick Perry defending the SBOE’s wingnuttery everywhere he goes.

“The list of shame”

Here are three last reminders of that gang of idiots known as the State Board of Education before they return in May to finalize the vandalism they committed last week. First up, from the Texas Freedom Network:

So what happened? Over just a few days in January and this month, the state board shredded nearly a year’s worth of detailed work by teachers, scholars and other curriculum writers. In vote after vote, board members made numerous and outrageously foolish, intolerant and ignorant changes based on little more than their own (limited) knowledge and personal beliefs.

The problem isn’t simply that many changes were wrong factually. Teachers will surely despair as they read through the numerous names, dates and events board members added willy-nilly to the standards with little consideration of how in the world to cram all of those facts into the limited instructional time available for classes.

In addition to that, poor scholarship — if scholarship is a word that can be used to describe any “research” done by this board — was particularly evident during the debate. On more than one occasion, board members simply resorted to Internet searches from laptops at their desks. They invited no historians, economists, sociologists or even classroom teachers to guide them as they rewrote history (and standards for government, economics, sociology and other social studies courses) with scores of ill-considered, politically motivated amendments. In fact, board members had explicitly rejected a proposal in November that they invite such experts to be on hand during the debate. They simply didn’t want to be bothered with facts and real scholarship as they moved to transform a curriculum document into a political manifesto.

They then present a long list of excruciatingly dumb things the Board did. You may need a drink to get through it all. When you’re done with that, here’s a Statesman editorial to finish you off.

The McLeroy faction occupied seven of the 15 seats on the board and has used that to force a very narrow worldview into Texas public school instruction. So cocky was McLeroy before the March 2 primary that he said the balloting was a referendum on the board’s performance.

The voters spoke, but McLeroy and company obviously weren’t listening. Board chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, quit listening as well. She sided with radicals on tie votes at last week’s meeting. Lowe was appointed to head the board after the Texas Senate refused to confirm McLeroy as board chair.

McLeroy, [Cynthia] Dunbar and [Geraldine] Miller’s terms expire in December, a month that can’t come soon enough.

Remember when Paul Burka advised Lowe to try to be non-controversial as SBOE Chair? Guess that didn’t take. Too bad for all of us. Last but not least, Dave Mann asks the question that I’m sure many more people will be asking in the coming months:

I can think of no other state agency that has a separately elected board of non-experts that controls key agency functions. Some people argue that education is so important, it requires this added layer of policy-making (and I’m using that term in its loosest sense).

But is education any more important than other policy areas—like ensuring we have clean air, monitoring doctors, dispensing food stamps to poor families, determining which children receive government health insurance—that we delegate to administrative agencies? I don’t think so.

In fact, one frustrated board member, Mary Helen Berlanga, even said several times during last week’s meeting that the Legislature should consider abolishing the State Board, telling the Texas Tribune that, “I think we’re going downhill.”

In the 2009 session, state lawmakers from both parties proposed bills that would have stripped the State Board of much of its power or abolished it entirely. None of them came close to passing. But there’s always next session.

And after another State Board meeting filled with cringe-worthy moments, quite a few legislators probably find the notion of abolishing the board rather appealing.

Honestly, I don’t think that’s likely to happen. But if it’s at least in the conversation, that will say quite a bit.

Textbook ideology

Who cares about Cesar Chavez and Henry Cisneros when our students could be learning about Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh?

The State Board of Education has appointed “review committees” made up largely of active and retired school teachers to draft new social studies curriculum standards as well as six “expert reviewers” to help shape the final document.

The standards, which the board will decide next spring, will influence new history, civics and geography textbooks.

The first draft for proposed standards in United States History Studies Since Reconstruction says students should be expected “to identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.”

I actually wouldn’t mind ol’ Newtie being in the textbooks, as long the whole truth gets told. Of course, some of that truth would likely be considered too, um, sexually inappropriate for school children. Maybe what we need is a nice long public debate about it first. You can’t be too sure about these things.

Whether students will also be exposed to liberal examples from the ebb and flow of American politics is hard to predict. Conservatives form the largest bloc on the 15-member State Board of Education, whose partisan makeup is 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, one of the conservative leaders, figures the current draft will pass a preliminary vote along party lines “once the napalm and smoke clear the room.”

But not all conservative board members share that view.

“It is hard to believe that a majority of the writing team would approve of such wording,” said Terri Leo, R-Spring. “It’s not even a representative selection of the conservative movement, and it is inappropriate.”

Aside to Gail Lowe, the new chair of the SBOE: This is the sort of thing Paul Burka had in mind when he suggested you try to keep David Bradley under control. The alternative is for the “Daily Show” to assign a permanent correspondent to Austin to cover this stuff. Your choice.

The best way to fix a mistake is to avoid making it in the first place

In re: the fight over social studies now brewing in the State Board of Education, the problem is described as follows.

About 75 teachers, principals, social studies coordinators, college professors, retired teachers and ordinary citizens are developing the new curriculum standards. The so-called “writing teams” are taking guidance from six expert reviewers appointed by the board. The group’s first draft is expected to be finished before the board’s September meeting. Public hearings will follow before the board acts next spring.

But some of the expert recommendations are already stirring controversy, suggesting for example that biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin should not be included in books for early grade-school children. And some of the experts want to emphasize the role of the Bible and the Christian faith in the settling of the original colonies.

The suggestions also are attracting the attention of the national media, which lampooned Texas earlier this year when the board struggled with the teaching of evolution in public schools.

In an article earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal noted that two of the expert reviewers appointed by the socially conservative state board members have strong Christian perspectives.

David Barton is founder of WallBuilders, which pushes America’s Christian heritage. Another expert reviewer is the Rev. Peter Marshall, a Christian minister who preaches that Watergate, the Vietnam War and Hurricane Katrina were God’s judgments on the nation’s sexual immorality.

Board members said Thurs day they are optimistic they will avoid repeating the rankling that brought attention to the debate over new science curriculum standards. The TFN has more.

“I don’t see at all that we will divide into factions,” said new board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, said of the task: “It’s very difficult. It’s very emotional. I hope we would keep it factual.”

It would have helped if the “experts” hired to do the initial review had all been, you know, actual experts on the subject matter and had not included a couple of fringe wingnuts who want to push their bizarre worldview at the expense of genuine scholarship. Given that that ship has sailed, the only sensible thing to do now is to admit the mistake, throw out everything the current review panel has done, find a group of honest academicians to do a serious job of it, and apologize profusely to the people and especially the students of Texas for having wasted their time and insulted their intelligence. Needless to say, I do not expect this to happen. Good luck making something productive happen now.

The fight over social studies

We’ve talked before about how the State Board of Education wants to do to history what it’s been doing to science. The Chron adds some details to the discussion.

Biographies of Washington, Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin? Not fit reading material for children in the early grades.

Cesar Chavez? Not worthy of his role-model status.

Christianity? Emphasize its importance.

Such suggestions are part of efforts to rewrite history books for the state’s schoolchildren, producing some expert recommendations that are sure to inflame Texans, no matter their political leanings.

The State Board of Education expects to start discussing new social studies curriculum standards this week, with members of the public getting their first opportunity to speak this fall and a final board vote next spring.

The process is a long one with lasting impact: reshaping the social studies curriculum, including history, for 4.7 million Texas public school children.

As we know from the controversy over science textbooks, the decisions the SBOE makes affect schoolchildren outside of Texas as well. Expect this latest drama to get national coverage as well, which means expect Texas’ image nationally to take another hit.

“This is something that every parent would want to be paying attention to. This will determine whether or not the kids get the education needed to succeed in college and jobs in the future,” said Dan Quinn of the Austin-based Texas Freedom Network. “If we are going to politicize our kids’ education, that will put our kids behind other kids when they’re competing for college and good-paying jobs on down the road.”

Curriculum standards are updated about every 10 years; the last social studies update came in 1997.

According to a preliminary draft of the new proposed standards, biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Stephen F. Austin have been removed from the early grades, said Brooke Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The early draft, which is likely to change multiple times in the coming months, also removes Independence Day, Veterans’ Day, and anthems and mottos for both Texas and the United States in a section on holidays, customs and celebrations, she said.

“You have the ability to shape the next generation on the beliefs about the government and the role of personal responsibility but also understanding our history and the principles that we want to pass down to our children,” Terry said. “With many of the suggested changes, I think we would be backtracking on many of the important things that people fight for in defense of our country.”

You don’t see the TFN and the TPPF point in the same direction very often, that’s for sure. I hope that’s a sign that there will be enough pushback against this early draft to move it into non-ridiculous territory. Not that there’s a lot of precedent for that with the SBOE lately, but one hopes so anyway. TFN has more.

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.