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Keven Ellis

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.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Trib overview of SBOE races

As always, there’s a lot of action in these low profile races.

Among the contenders in the races to replace Republican Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant and Democrat Martha Dominguez of El Paso is a 68-year-old East Texas retiree who has said that President Obama used to be a prostitute and a 41-year-old self-described “MeXicana Empowerment Specialist” who says the board’s Democrats have sat silent for far too long.

Both Republican Mary Lou Bruner, of Mineola, and Democrat Georgina Cecilia Perez, of El Paso, taught in public schools for years. That’s one of the few things they have in common, along with a clear passion for their respective causes. Observers and political scientists say both women have emerged as strong contenders in their separate races and could easily claim victory in the March 1 primary, an outcome that could mean the return of a more quarrelsome board.

DISTRICT 9

Bruner, who has won endorsements from influential movement conservatives like Cathie Adams and JoAnn Fleming, is one of three Republicans vying for the nomination to replace Ratliff in representing District 9, a 31-county swath that spans the northeast quadrant of the state.

But it’s Bruner’s voluminous Facebook posts, not her endorsements, that have generated the most buzz in the race. A majority of them echo the kind of anti-Muslim, anti-gay or anti-science opinions commonly spouted by members at education board meetings of yore, but observers — and detractors — say she takes it to a whole other level.

“Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties,” Bruner said last October in a now-deleted post on the wall of her personal Facebook page, where she also has posted campaign materials and solicited votes.

Bruner, who worked for 36 years in East Texas schools as a teacher, counselor and educational diagnostician, said she stands by all her posts but deletes the ones she comes to learn are inaccurate and also publicly apologizes.

“I’m not ashamed of anything that I have ever said,” Bruner said, noting she plans to bring to same zeal to the state board, speaking her mind even if she’s outvoted. “If I’m on the State Board of Education, I’m going to speak up for the things that I believe because I have a First Amendment right.”

The Tribune could not, however, locate a public apology for that post on Obama, which Bruner has since deleted from her Facebook page. Asked specifically about the post and whether she still believes the president used to be a gay prostitute, Bruner said: “You are obviously a hostile and biased reporter pretending to be a friendly reporter to gain my confidence. The interview is over.”

[…]

DISTRICT 1

Much like Bruner, Perez, a 41-year-old mother of four, also vows to bring “a very strong voice” to Austin. The former 8th grade language arts teacher contends the board’s five Democrats are “far too silent most of the time” — often sidelined as the board’s moderate and social conservatives dominate the debate.

Perez, who retired from teaching a year ago and now is seeking a doctorate in education at the University of Texas at El Paso, targets the education panels’ far-right Republicans prominently on her website.

“The SBOE is an important entity that has been hijacked by extremists that are more concerned with advancing an ultra-conservative agenda and rewriting textbooks than they have been overseeing the education of Texas youth,” reads a quote on the homepage.

But Perez, who has won endorsements from fellow El Paso Democrats Sen. José Rodriguez and Rep. Mary González, also dismisses any concerns that she might not play well with others. She points to her work last year crafting a proclamation that the education board ended up approving in a 12-2 vote supporting the implementation of ethnic studies courses.

“It was my presentation and my research and my testimony that brought them on board with how this closes the achievement gap,” Perez said. “In the past, the SBOE has been known for, perhaps, uncivil discourse, but that has not been my experience up there.”

Bruner of course has drawn national attention for her repugnant statements; as is usually the case, the Texas Freedom Network is your best source of information for this brand of crazy. She’s very much the face of the Texas Republican Party these days. She has a sane, Ratliff-esque opponent in Keven Ellis, and I suppose the question is whether the people that elected Don McLeroy or the people that ousted him in favor of Thomas Ratliff will show up for that race. Lord knows, the state GOP deserves her, but the schoolchildren of Texas do not.

As for Georgina Perez, it’s lazy and irresponsible of the Trib to draw a parallel between her and Bruner, even of the rest of their writing makes it clear that outside of a willingness to mix it up the two are completely different. One of these two will be a laughingstock, and it ain’t Georgina Perez. One of her opponents is a recipient of money from the astroturf group Texans for Education Reform, so I’ll be rooting for Ms. Perez on March 1.

And there’s also our local race:

DISTRICT 6

[…]

Two of the Democrats seeking the District 6 nomination — Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter — criticized [incumbent Donna] Bahorich, as well as each other, for lack of experience and predicted their own passionate campaigning will push them to victory.

Carter, 28, is a child and adolescent psychiatry resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston who said he is “the only person running in the primary or the general election who understands how kids develop, at what ages they should be learning different subjects.”

The Panhandle native expects to receive his doctorate in education next year from the University of Houston, with a focus on curriculum instruction and leadership.

Jenkins, 32, also has a doctorate in education but says her experience teaching bilingual 4th grade in the Houston area for two years may be more important to voters.

“Being well educated doesn’t make someone an educator,” said Jenkins, who now is the manager of community-based initiatives at Advantage Testing of Houston.

“I hope that people will really recognize that and put these decisions in the hands of experienced educators.”

I interviewed Dakota Carter, and apparently got door-knocked by Jasmine Jenkins, but wasn’t home for it. Either one would be fine by me (there’s a third candidate who’s been invisible so far), but Bahorich got 57.1% in 2012, which was enough to win by over 100,000 votes. I’ll be happy if we can know that down a point or two – for sure, if we do, we’ve probably done pretty well countywide, too.