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social studies

Documenting the ways that proposed Mexican-American Studies textbook sucks

Read the report.

Saying that a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook is “dripping with racism and intolerance,” several educators and students are calling for the State Board of Education to reject the controversial book.

“It is an utter shame we must deal with racially offensive academic work,” State Board member Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, said Tuesday at a news conference in Brownsville announcing that a committee he convened had produced a 54-page report citing inaccuracies in the proposed “Mexican American Heritage” textbook.

He said the textbook describes Mexicans as people who don’t value hard work and who only bring crimes and drugs into the country. According to the committee’s report, one passage said, “Stereotypically, Mexicans were viewed as lazy compared to European or American workers … It was also traditional to skip work on Mondays, and drinking on the job could be a problem.”

Cortez convened the ad hoc committee — which includes professors and high school teachers — to examine the book being considered for use in Mexican-American studies classes for Texas high school students. A public hearing over the proposed textbook is set for next Tuesday in Austin, and members of the committee will present their report then.


Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he thinks the state needs to focus on preparing students for college before adding courses such as Mexican-American studies. He also believes many school districts with a limited schedule and budget will not be able to add the optional course into their curriculum.

“This is not a required course,” he said. “The use of the textbook is certainly optional to the district. It’s really kind of perplexing as to what all the controversy is.”

Bradley also said he thinks the course is discriminatory toward other ethnic groups.

“Are we not being a little discriminatory in singling out one group?” he said. “I am French-Irish, and you don’t see the French or the Irish pounding the table wanting special treatment, do you?”

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the report. I’d like to personally thank Board member David Bradley for elevating the discussion of this issue as only he can. Allow me to respond in kind, Irishman to Irishman: Hey, David, what’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake? One less drunk at the wake. If I were to write a textbook about the history of the Irish-American people, and I were to include that as a True Fact about the Irish, would you consider that a problem, or would you consider that to be a valid scholarly conclusion that should be taught in the classroom? I’ll give you a few minutes to formulate an answer. In the meantime, there will be a #RejectTheText rally in Austin on Tuesday, for those of you who might want to attend. The Current, the Press, and Mayor Turner, who called on the SBOE to reject this textbook, have more.

Our stupid social studies

Unbelievable, except that it totally is believable.

The publisher of one of Texas’ controversial social studies textbooks has agreed to change a caption that describes African slaves as immigrant “workers” after a Houston-area mom’s social media complaints went viral over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Roni Dean-Burren of Pearland posted a screen shot on Facebook of a text message exchange with her son who sent her a photo of an infographic in his McGraw-Hill Word Geography textbook.

“The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations,” a caption on the infographic read.

“We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” Dean-Burren replied, including an irked emoji. The next day, she posted a video showing more of the textbook. It has since garnered more than 1.7 million views.

“It is now considered immigration,” the mother says of slavery in the video, noting that the section in her son’s textbook titled “Patterns of Immigration” describes “indentured servants who worked for little or no pay” but fails to describe the similar, if far worse, circumstances for slaves.

The next day, publishing giant McGraw-Hill said in a Facebook post it had “conducted a close review of the content and agree that our language in that caption did not adequately convey that Africans were both forced into migration and to labor against their will as slaves.”

“We believe we can do better,” the publisher continued. “To communicate these facts more clearly, we will update this caption to describe the arrival of African slaves in the U.S. as a forced migration and emphasize that their work was done as slave labor.”

The changes will be made to the digital version of the textbook immediately, the publisher said, and in the print version during its next run.


“We are encouraged that the publisher is correcting this passage downplaying the history of slavery in the United States. But it’s no accident that this happened in Texas,” said Kathy Miller, the president of one of those groups, the Texas Freedom Network. “We have a textbook adoption process that’s so politicized and so flawed that it’s become almost a punch line for comedians. The truth is that too many elected officials who oversee that process are less interested in accurate, fact-based textbooks than they are in promoting their own political views in our kids’ classrooms.”

Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant who has defended the textbooks, described the caption as “an isolated incident” while noting that the 2010 curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, inspired him to run for the board because “they did go too far on some political issues.”

“But I don’t think that’s what caused this specific poor word choice,” he said, praising Dean-Burren for being proactive. “One of the biggest challenges we face in public education is parents who don’t care.”

With all due respect to Thomas Ratliff, the proximate cause is a State Board of Ed and a Legislature that seeks advice from professional liars like David Barton. People with an ideological ax to grind have long meddled in the affairs of school boards and textbook publishers, and craziness like this is the natural result. I absolutely agree that more involvement from people who would like to see more objectivity and accuracy in school curricula and textbooks is vital, though as recent polling has shown there’s a disconnect between what the people will say and what the Legislature will do. It’s still necessary. Daily Kos, Think Progress, the Chron, the Press, BOR, the Observer, and TFN Insider have more.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read


After adopting hundreds of pages in last minute updates and corrections, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks Friday.

All but the five Democrats on the 15-member board voted to accept products from all publishers except Worldview Software, which they rejected because of concerns over factual accuracy.

“When I think of the other publishers, they were on it. They were on the errors. I did not see that here,” Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican, said of Worldview.

In total, they approved 86 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas public schools for the next decade. School districts do not have to buy products from the list vetted by the state education board, but many do because it offers a ready guarantee that materials cover state curriculum standards.

The TFN Insider liveblog from Friday’s clown show explains just what this means.

Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade.

Better be sure to read your kids’ textbooks along with them for the next ten years. Or better yet, tell your local school board – if they have sane representation – to buy their own textbooks and avoid the SBOE’s shenanigans. TFN’s press release is here, and Newsdesk has more.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

It’s textbook approval time again

You know what that means, because we can’t do this sort of thing without controversy and a generous side order of knuckleheadedness.

Bowing to public pressure, the world’s largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state.

Proposed wording in Pearson Education’s English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of “some scientists.” It then went on to say: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.”

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

“For these textbooks to present climate change as a ‘debate,’ or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children,” AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board’s leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

“Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat,” it says. “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns.”


Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

“It’s certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change,” Quinn told VICE News. “It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this.”

In the end, McGraw Hill came to their senses. There’s still room for improvement overall, but this was a nice result. Today is the day that the SBOE meets to approve (or not) new textbooks, and there are other bones of contention to be dealt with as they debate. As that Chron story notes, a 2011 law allows school districts to buy their own textbooks and not the SBOE-sanctioned ones if they want to. Local action is an option if you think it’s necessary. TFN, Newsdesk, Grist, and the National Journal have more.

Next in “What’s wrong with our textbooks”: Climate change

From the inbox:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available at

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

  • McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.
  • WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available at:

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available at

Here’s TFN Insider and the NCSE on the matter. Given the way the SBOE has handled subjects like social studies and evolution in Texas’ textbooks in the past, this hardly counts as a surprise. There’s a petition to sign if you want to add your name to the effort.

Something else to consider here. When I did a Google news search on Texas climate change textbooks, I got a number of results from various national news sites – Politico, Huffington Post, National Journal (be sure to read their quote from SBOE member and part of the problem David Bradley), Ars Technica, io9, among others – but only two from the major Texas dailies, in the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman. (The alt-weeklies did themselves proud, as the SA Current, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls also had posts about this.) Maybe I didn’t type in the right combination of search terms to find more Texas coverage on this, but still. We need to do better than that.

Anyway. This is all happening as the SBOE meets to hear testimony about the new social studies textbooks. You can imagine the capacity for unintentional comedy therein, but you don’t have to imagine it because TFN Insider is there liveblogging the madness. Look and see what’s going on and what sorts of things your kid might be taught someday soon. The Trib, which is also covering the hearings, has more.

Time again to talk textbooks

Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network sounded the alarm in the Sunday op-eds.

The last time Texas adopted social studies textbooks – in 2002 – political activists and members of the state education board themselves demanded scores of changes to content they didn’t like.

Publishers resisted some, such as demands to downplay slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. But they buckled on others, such as rewriting passages in geography textbooks so students learn that landscape features and fossil fuels formed “in the distant past” instead of “millions of years ago.” The latter conflicted with the beliefs of biblical creationists that Earth is just a few thousand years old.

A fundamental problem this time around is that the new textbooks must be based on deeply flawed curriculum standards the board adopted in 2010. How bad are those standards? Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in a scathing review published in 2011, called the standards a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.”

That political bias is evident in how the standards address topics such as slavery and the Civil War, the civil rights movement and “grossly exaggerated” religious influences on the nation’s founding. Fordham’s report expressed dismay at the treatment of McCarthyism (vindicated!) and even compared the “uncritical celebration” of the free enterprise system in the standards to “Soviet schools harping on the glories of state socialism.”

Despite these flawed standards, you might hope that the state’s official review and adoption process would help ensure that the new textbooks are accurate. Sadly, it’s hard to imagine how that could happen.

See here and here for some background. On Wednesday, as promised in that op-ed, TFN got all academic about it.

Teachers, activists and officials are girding for a renewed battle over Texas school textbooks, as the State Board of Education is set to discuss new social studies instructional materials for the first time in a dozen years.

The first volley came from the Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning religious liberties nonprofit group that advocates for the separation of church and state. With the help of three academics and seven doctoral students, the TFN undertook a comprehensive review of 43 of the proposed history, geography and government textbooks available for public perusal.

Their findings released Wednesday assert many of the textbooks exaggerate Judeo-Christian influences, lend “undue legitimacy to neo-Confederate” arguments about states’ rights and slavery and “suffer from an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system.”


Emile Lester is an associate professor of political science at Virginia’s University of Mary Washington and one of the experts who put together the TFN report: “The SBOE and these textbooks have collaborated to make students’ knowledge of American history a casualty of the culture wars.”

The TFN placed much of the blame on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, new curriculum standards the state board adopted in 2010. They point to studies like that completed in 2011 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which gave the new U.S. History curriculum a D for “a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history.”

An index page of their reports is here, the press release is here, and the executive summary, which is quite detailed, is here. You really have to admire TFN for doing this kind of unglamorous but vitally important work, which they do consistently at a high level. Trail Blazers, Newsdesk, the Trib, and K-12 Zone have more.

SBOE does something OK

I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

Instead of making Mexican-American studies an official high school course, the Texas State Board of Education has settled on a tentative compromise that would allow school districts to decide whether to offer the course.

“It wasn’t necessarily what we were hoping, with a stand-alone course for Mexican-American studies,” member Marisa Perez, a San Antonio Democrat, said in an interview after the meeting. “But it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

In an 11-3 vote, board members added the class — along with African-American studies, Native American studies and Asian-American studies — to the list of instructional materials that publishers will develop for Texas social studies standards in the 2016-17 school year. That means schools will have a list of state-approved textbooks and other resources to choose from if they opt to give the class.

“This will enable districts to teach courses in Mexican-American studies, African-American studies, Native American studies if they choose to do so,” said board member Marty Rowley, who spoke in favor of the motion, supporting local development of the courses for school districts. “There is curriculum out there, there are materials out there, and publishers are free to submit those materials.”

The board will have a final vote on Friday.

See here for the background. While the vote is encouraging, the Observer notes that the crazy people are reacting to this about as you’d expect them to, so don’t get overconfident about this. Stace and TFN Insider have 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.

From the “Don’t know much about history” department

Ladies and gentlemen, your State Board of Education at work.

A report ripping the new social studies standards for schoolchildren offers recommendations for how teachers can best skirt its shortcomings — although a state agency responsible for the group that produced the study disavows it.

The controversial curriculum standards approved by the State Board of Education last year represent “a widespread pattern of neglect of college readiness skills,” according to the 64-page report developed by the Social Studies Faculty Collaborative of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“No student will succeed in college or the workplace if he confuses writings with speeches, conducts a one-sided analysis or simply spits back a string of memorized information,” it states. “No Texas parent would desire this for her child and no profit-minded Texas business leader would hire a graduate who had attained only these abysmal standards.”

The report, called “Bridging the Gap Between K-12 and College Readiness Standards in Texas: Recommendations for U.S. History”, is here, and an earlier report by the Fordham Institute, which I blogged about a few months ago, is here. The Coordinating Board, being a political institution, has distanced itself from the Collaborative’s report, calling it “individuals who did some independent analysis”, as if that were a bad thing. The point of that “independent analysis” is that a group of college professors are saying that Texas students who are educated to these standards will not be prepared for college or for life, which sure seems to me to be something we ought to be concerned about. For some painful, depressing, and outright embarrassing background, see here. The Texas Freedom Network has more.

Republican legislators want SBOE do over on social studies

Good for them.

Texas House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; and House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; criticized the new [social studies] standards.

Various civil rights and minority advocacy organizations have opposed the standards, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative-leaning education think tank, gave the standards a harsh review last month, saying they offered “misrepresentations at every turn.”

“When groups like the Fordham Institute call our standards ‘a politicized distortion of history’ and ‘an unwieldy tangle of social studies categories,’ we have a problem,” Eissler said.

Critics fault the State Board of Education for considering nearly 200 last-hour amendments before taking a final vote last year.

“These standards and the way they were developed just don’t pass the common-sense test,” Geren said. “The law has a process laid out for how to write our state’s curriculum, and they thumbed their nose at it and wrote standards themselves..”

See here for more on the Fordham Institute criticism of the social studies curriculum. I’m glad to see this, and I hope they have a lot more company. The nutjob wing of the SBOE would feel a lot more constrained in what it could do if it were subject to more criticism and oversight from the Lege, especially from fellow Republicans. It’s a lot easier being crazy when no one is paying attention. It also doesn’t hurt for folks like Pitts to remind the SBOE that it’s the Lege that allocates money to buy the textbooks needed to teach these new standards, and putting that expenditure off for a little while would save a ton of money at a time when we need all the savings we can get. I don’t know how much effect this will have, but it’s the right thing to do and a very welcome development.

One more thing:

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader of the board’s social conservatives who championed the new curriculum standards, said he doubted a majority of the 15-member board would be willing to reopen the process.

The board has already started the curriculum rewrite for math standards, with health education to follow.

You may now commence making jokes about their intent to require that the Biblical value of pi be taught in math classes.

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.


White wants to “undo some of the damage” the SBOE has done to social studies

Lord knows, there’s a lot of it to undo. Bill White wants to start with changing the Chair.

Some Texans have called for a limited review to address some of the more controversial standards that will influence new history, government, geography and economics textbooks for 4.8 million public school children. Only the board chairman sets the agenda, and the governor chooses that leader — currently Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.

The board appointed academic experts, historians and teachers to recommend new social studies textbooks but then did a massive rewriting by considering some 400 amendments.

“Obviously, I would pick a chair who would try to undo some of the damage that is being done as quickly as we can,” White said. “We should have standards which reflect the views of professional educators and historians and respect the integrity of that process rather than injecting political ideology in the classroom — regardless where that ideology came in the political spectrum.”

Burka thinks White needs to go farther than that – he think White needs to call on the Lege to throw out what the SBOE has done and start the process over. Some legislators, like State Rep. Mike Villarreal, are talking about that possibility, while groups like the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and the House Black Caucus have threatened to withhold funding for the new textbooks. I’ll say this much, the more you can tie Perry to the clown show, and the more you can put him in the position of having to defend or back away from what they’ve done, the better.

And as long as we’re pushing back on the crazy things the SBOE has done, let’s push back on this bit of sophistry:

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, a leader among the board’s socially conservative members, recalls that his side lost by a lopsided margin when the social studies standards were last rewritten in 1999.

“It’s over. Ten years ago we were not on the prevailing side. The liberals won and the conservatives lost. We didn’t hold press conferences and call for a reconsideration or appeal to the Legislature,” he said.

But those standards hardly caused a ripple 11 years ago. More than 40,000 people offered comments on this year’s proposal, and more than 1,200 historians from across the country expressed their objections. Many minority organizations also spoke out. Minority children now make up more than 66 percent of the public school enrollment, and the new curriculum standards were approved by the board’s 10 Republicans — all of whom are white. The board’s five Democrats, all minorities, voted against the document.

The difference between ten years ago and now is that nobody, not even Bradley, is claiming that the Board at that time replaced widely accepted facts with politically slanted nonsense. In fact, Bradley’s complaint is that his preferred set of politically slanted nonsense didn’t get any traction in 1999, and so now that there are enough Board members who want to see that particular worldview pushed on Texas’ students, they’re doing it. The truth isn’t what matters, because the majority on the Board gets to decide what the truth is.

Finally, note that while the SBOE is usually described as being evenly divided between the wingnuts and the moderates, all three supposed Republican moderates voted with the wingnuts in the end. Sounding like a moderate means nothing if you don’t vote like one. When there’s a choice between someone who tries to sound like a moderate and someone who genuinely is one, don’t be fooled by soothing words. Actions count for much more.

The clown show finally calls it a wrap

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some other state to be the national laughingstock again. The Court of Criminal Appeals gives it a good run for its money, but you just can’t out-embarrass the SBOE, and every time they meet it gets worse. All I can say is thank goodness that two of the worst of these clowns will never hold public office again.

Anyway, here’s your wrapup from the Day Two festivities, which carried over a few minutes past midnight and into Day Three, from the Trib, TFN, and Abby Rapoport. And here’s your Day Three liveblogging and other reports, from TFN, the Trib, TFN again, the Trib again, Abby Rapoport, and Steven Schafersman. Mainstream media coverage is here, here, and here. Burka and Stace also weigh in, and of course Martha was working it on Twitter. May those who had to endure all this get a nice long vacation to recover their sanity.

Most of the heavy lifting came during Thursday’s marathon session. Friday was about finishing touches and final votes. The highlight was the restoration of Thomas Jefferson to the world history curriculum, reversing a decision that has drawn the most derision from pretty much everywhere on the planet. That’s good for TJ, but not so much for his fellow Enlightenment figure James Madison, who didn’t make the cut. The lowlight, if you have to pick just one, was the Board’s ratification of the idea that there is no “separation of church and state”. As noted by the Trib:

[M]embers this afternoon passed an amendment to the state’s socials studies standards calling for students to “contrast” the intent of the nation’s founders with the notion of separation of church and state.

It reads: “Examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and compare and contrast this to the phrase, ‘separation of church and state.’”

The motion came from Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, a moderate Republican who worked on the language with arch-conservative former chair Don McLeroy, R-Bryan. With the exception of the adding the word “compare” along with “contrast” and including some verbiage directly from the First Amendment, what the board passed mirrored what McLeroy had originally proposed.

I have several statements, from the Texas Freedom Network, Bill White, State Rep. Mike Villarreal, and Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Stephen Brown, about this travesty beneath the fold. Texas Politics has a reaction from US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who echoes former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige. The only thing we can do about this is elect some better SBOE members. Three such candidates running this year are Judy Jennings, Rebecca Bell-Metereau, and Michael Soto. The TDP got video statements from all three at the meeting, which you can see below:

Here’s a video of TFN President Kathy Miller, whose group has been a stalwart all throughout this process and which deserves your support as much as any candidate:

We can’t afford any more of this crap. We have a chance to do something about it this year. Please help these folks out.


Back to the clown show

So here’s a bunch of coverage from yesterday’s SBOE hearings: from the Chron, the DMN, the Statesman, the Trib, TFN, and BOR. Very short summary: Many people testified. Some said crazy things. Others begged the SBOE to not enshrine crazy things in the standard social studies curriculum. Some Democratic lawmakers reminded the SBOE that funding for new textbooks is not assured, so maybe they ought to rethink the whole enshrining-crazy-things-in-the-standard-social-studies-curriculum idea. The SBOE responded by sticking out its tongue and saying “NEENER NEENER NEENER!” I think that about covers it.

So on we go from there, with more debate and the expected vote on Friday. In the meantime, TFN released some interesting poll results this morning:

Texas voters believe the public school curriculum should be set by teachers and scholars, not politicians. Nearly three-quarters of Texas voters (72 percent) say that teachers and academic scholars should be responsible for writing curriculum standards and textbook requirements for Texas’ public schools. Only 19 percent prefer that an elected school board decide curriculum.

Support for teachers and experts making curriculum decisions is broad, extends across partisan lines, and includes parents of young children. Self-identified Republicans (63 percent) and political independents (76 percent) agree that politicians should not decide the content of children’s education. Overall, 78 percent of parents prefer that teachers and scholars make curriculum decisions, with 69 percent feeling that way strongly.

The majority of Texas voters believe that separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution. Sixty-eight percent of likely voters agree that it is a core principle, including 51 percent who strongly agree. Only one-quarter of voters (26 percent) disagree that the separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution.

Agreement about the separation of church and state as a core tenet of the Constitution extends across party lines. Nearly 6-in-10 Republicans (59 percent) believe in the importance of this principle, as well as 76 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of political independents.

You can see more at the link. I’ll be honest, if you had asked me yesterday what percentage of the public I thought believed that “separation of church and state is a key principle of the Constitution”, I’d have pegged it in the 35-40% range. Not to put too fine a point on it, but a lot of people are pretty hazy about what’s in the Constitution and what it means. I’d feel better about this result if I thought it would translate to better electoral results in SBOE races, but too often that connection fails to be made. Happily, this year has been somewhat of an exception to that so far. May it continue on in November.

Anyway. Your liveblogging from TFN is here and here. I missed including Steven Schafersman and his work for the Observer yesterday – you can see that effort here, and today’s here. I found that via Martha, who’s also busy covering the hearings, with most of her updates on Twitter. Other updates can be found on Texas Politics and Postcards.

UPDATE: Still more from TFN. Gonna be a late night.

And the clown show gets underway again

Here’s your TFN liveblogging of today’s SBOE social studies hearings. Brian Thevenot of The Trib is also there, and he reports that an interesting character has asked the Board to slow down.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education and Houston Superintendent Rod Paige this morning asked the State Board of Education to delay adopting its new textbook standards, saying they had “swung too far” to the ideological right and diminished the importance of civil rights and slavery.

Asked after his comments by board member Rene Nunez, D-El Paso, whether the board should delay a final vote expected on Friday, Paige said: “Absolutely.”

In a prepared remarks and answers to board questions, Paige said the board needs to throw aside its history of making standards an ideological and political battleground. He acknowledged that previous boards dominated by more liberal members had committed the same offense, but asked the current board to “narrow the swing of the pendulum.”

“We in Texas have allowed ourselves to get into a position where we’ve allowed ideology to drive and define the standards of our Texas curriculum. We’ve swung from liberal to conservative with members of the board. It’s unreasonable to expect you to make decisions without some reference to your ideology, but we’ve swung too far from one way to the next, and I’m asking you to narrow the swing,” Paige said.

There’s no question that the Board does not want to wait, but as Thevenot wrote earlier, they may not have a choice. The same budget economics that forced a delay in purchasing new science textbooks are at work with social studies textbooks as well.

The financing delay likely will have the domino effect of pushing back legislative appropriations for new social studies books to the 2015 legislative session, said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe.

“It’s not clear when or if the new books will be published,” she said of science texts after Tuesday’s preliminary vote, which will have to be finalized Friday. She called the future of social studies books “a wildcard.” At the same time, the TEA and the instructional materials industry, both digital and print, are pushing forward under new legislation that both promotes electronic textbook development and weakens the SBOE’s historic purview over statewide curriculum.

“It could be a whole new publishing world by then,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s pretty much a giant puzzle.”

Even better, if the textbooks do get pushed back till then, the newer Board members are at least open to the idea of revisiting this whole sorry mess and doing it right.

Meanwhile, two Repubicans who will likely be joining the board in January — Thomas Ratliff and George Clayton, who each face token Libertarian opposition in the fall — along with a Democrat in a hotly contested race — Judy Jennings — said in interviews this week that they would support reopening the standards process in January, after they are sworn in, if consensus emerged on the newly constituted board. “I would defer to somebody who has been on the board for a while to approach me to reopen the standards,” said Ratliff, who defeated McLeroy. “But if they asked, I’d vote ‘yes’ to revisit.” Jennings and Clayton lent similar tentative support to the prospect of turning back the changes, which both have criticized in their campaigns.

“The State Board of Education isn’t supposed to be that damned interesting,” Clayton said.

You can say that again. More, so much more, from:

Musings (see also her Twitter feed)
Abby Rapoport
State Rep. Mike Villarreal
Hair Balls
Kate Alexander
Zahira Torres
Garry Scharrer

UPDATE: More from Abby Rapoport, Peggy Fikac, and Kate Alexander.

Briefly noted

Some interesting things from today that I wanted to note…

There are plenty of people who want to be on the Appropriations Committee, so putting some who doesn’t want to be there, like State Rep. Joe Driver of Dallas, doesn’t make much sense. But once you’re on Appropriations, whether you wanted it or not, you ought to show up to the big budget meetings, what with the budget being such a big deal and all these days.

As you know, TFN will be live-blogging what may be the last clown show of some SBOE members’ careers. I expect the Texas Observer and the Trib to be there as well. If you want some preliminaries, you can attend TFN’s “Don’t White-Out Our History” rally, about which SBOE candidate Judy Jennings has more. You can also read Martha’s explanation of the Board’s agenda for the next few days.

The long-awaited Martinez-Fischer/Riddle debate finally took place. Rep. Martinez-Fischer declares victory and talks a little smack.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos writes another letter about HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

Finally, a release from the HCDP:

On the recent episode of the PBS local series Red, White and Blue, Republican candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners was asked if he was concerned about getting the support of the Hispanic community after defeating incumbent Leo Vasquez. His answer concluded with the following – “I don’t have a problem with their (Hispanics) agenda except for trying to get benefits that may not have been earned.”

Below is a statement from State Representative Armando Walle:

“Mr. Sumner’s position that Hispanic families don’t work hard for what they earn is both ignorant and offensive but not the least bit surprising. With their inflammatory rhetoric and political agenda, Texas Republicans have made it clear there is no room for Hispanics in their Party.

Most recently, local Republican state representative Debbie Riddle announced plans to introduce a Texas version of the highly controversial and discriminatory Arizona immigration legislation.  And later this week in Austin, the extremist Republicans who control the State Board of Education will meet to finalize their plans to purge Tejano heroes who died at the Alamo from our children’s social studies books. Latinos have played a major role in shaping Texas’s rich culture and history, but local Republican politicians see our community as a pinata to score points with the far right wing of their party. This assault on our community is disrespectful, intolerant and will not be forgotten when Hispanics head to the polls in November.”

I think that about covers it.

Science textbook delay

The adoption of new science textbooks may be delayed a year as a budget maneuver.

The $1.4 billion price tag for new science textbooks and other materials has been causing sticker shock among state officials bracing for the upcoming budget shortfall.

So, the State Board of Education on Tuesday must decide whether to push ahead despite the cost or delay the textbooks for at least a year to save the state money in the 2012-13 budget.


The $1.4 billion total would pay for much more than science textbooks, including ongoing contracts for instructional materials and books for new students. But the state at this point has more flexibility on the science textbooks than the other materials.

One option the board will consider is keeping the existing textbooks for a little longer while providing students electronic supplements that would reflect the science curriculum standards approved by the board last year.

Basically, it’s another accounting trick, since changes to the curriculum will require different textbooks. The money will be spent, it’s just a question of how much of it will be spent this biennium, and how much will be put off till next time. Too bad they’re not considering a similar delay for social studies. In fact, as Lisa Falkenberg notes, McLeroy will be doubling down on the social studies madness one last time before he slinks off the stage. As before, TFN will be live-blogging the whole mess when it starts tomorrow. We’ll see how much worse it’s all about to get.

UPDATE: An “indefinite delay” in buying the new science textbooks has been recommended to the Board.

“We went out and won some elections”

I know people who read this blog understand the importance of voting in every election, but I think it’s good to be reminded from time to time. So with that, this Statesman article about the current state of the SBOE and how they managed to do so much damage to the public school curriculum, sums it all up nicely.

The seeds of the current discord at the State Board of Education were sown in 1997 when the conservative minority was shut out of the final debate over new curriculum standards.

Unlike today’s curriculum critics, the conservatives and their allies didn’t march in protest or hold news conferences to disparage the majority, said David Bradley , R-Beaumont, a board member since 1996 .

“We just went out and won some elections,” Bradley said.

Any questions?

White tells the SBOE to wait till next year

As we know, the SBOE is set to take a final vote on their proposed revisions to the social studies textbook standards. They’ve received a lot of mostly negative feedback so far, but have said they’re still considering specific suggestions. Here’s what Bill White had to say to them.

I write to urge the State Board of Education to return the proposed revisions to the Social Studies TEKS, 19 TAC Chapter 13, Subchapters A, B, and C, to the TEKS review committees and to delay adoption of the TEKS until January 2011. Some of the revisions proposed by the SBOE are in direct conflict with the recommendations of the review teams and others with subject matter expertise. Substitution of judgments by elected officials on subjects requiring expertise runs counter to basic principles of academic freedom and respect for the professionalism of educators.

I specifically object to the proposed revisions to Subchapter C, Section 113.42(c)(20)(C) and ask that the proposal as written by the review committee prior to the SBOE’s revisions be adopted.

That TEK was designed by educators and experts to teach about the impact of Enlightenment period ideas, following Section 113.42(20)(A) which recognizes the ideas as a precursor to democratic-republican government. Instead of providing content to support the lesson, the SBOE’s proposal strips out the terms “Enlightenment ideas” and “political revolutions,” and omits Thomas Jefferson from the list of Enlightenment thinkers who inspired political revolutions.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.


Bill White

A press release from White is beneath the fold. It’s not too late for you to submit your own feedback if you want to. The goal here is to get them to put it off till 2011, when the current lame ducks have been replaced by their elected successors. There’s no way it actually happens, of course – you think Don McLeroy and Cynthia Dunbar are going to turn this chance down? – but we’ve got to be as loud and clear as we can about their illegitimacy. The Trib and TFN have more, the latter including a list of McLeroy’s proposed amendments. Because what they’ve come up with isn’t bad enough already.


They get letters

Many people have told the SBOE what they can do with their proposed textbook standards for social studies.

The State Board of Education had received more than 20,000 public comments as of last week on the proposed revision of social studies curriculum standards.

That incomplete tally — the monthlong comment period ends May 19 — has swamped the 3,000 comments received during last year’s debate of science curriculum standards.


About 8,000 of the comments — 7,500 from out-of-state senders — have apparently originated with an organized effort by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas stating the standards are “not in the best interest of students,” Martinez said.

Many of the comments state general opposition or support, which board members have said is not very helpful. Instead, they have said they would prefer specific criticisms and alternative language.

I’ll grant that “You’re a bunch of idiots” isn’t particularly constructive, but it is accurate. Be that as it may, I’m not sure what the point of detailed criticism is at this stage of the game. For one thing, the SBOE has made its contempt of experts and expertise quite clear, and for another they’ve already gotten some perfectly good specific suggestions as to what to do next, which basically boil down to starting over with people who know what they’re doing. If the blunt feedback they’re getting helps them come to that realization, then it will have accomplished its objective.

The historians have their say

The various legislative groups held their SBOE hearings on Wednesday. In pointing out the many ways in which that unesteemed body screwed the pooch on social studies, they joined with others in calling for a delay in adopting the new curriculum standard, pointing out that doing so could save the state a few bucks at a time when such things are needed.

With severe budget projections facing Texas next year, it makes sense to postpone the $800 million price tag for new history books, some legislators said.

“There’s no rush necessary. We have plenty of time to do it right,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which organized the special legislative hearing.

A dozen historians and other experts took aim at the proposal, which the education board plans to adopt May 21.

Historians described the document as bloated with detail and a distortion of history that glorifies the achievements of white males. Board members made nearly 300 amendments, changing recommendations of the board’s own experts so significantly that they may have violated state law, some lawmakers said.

That’s a pretty good idea, and it’s also a fairly standard thing to delay making some purchases to help balance budgets. There are certainly plenty of worse ways for the Lege to find cost reductions this biennium.

During the testimony, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott described the SBOE’s whitewashing of history as “payback” by the social conservative bloc. You can read a transcription of his remarks at BOR. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of the McLeroy/Dunbar/Bradley/Mercer oevre to realize that resentment is the main force that drives them, but it’s always nice to have it made clear and on the record. As Martha notes, this was just another way of saying that elections have consequences, which is why it’s important to elect qualified and responsible people to the SBOE. We see what happens when we don’t. EoW 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.

Historians want SBOE to hold it right there

A group of historians have called on the SBOE to review and rethink its recent changes to the social studies curriculum.

Historians are decrying the social studies curriculum standards crafted by the State Board of Education that they say misrepresent and distort the historical record.

About 800 college history professors from across the country have so far signed on to a letter circulated this week by seven academics from the University of Texas campuses in Austin and El Paso.

“Those of us who teach and conduct research in colleges and universities have grown concerned that social studies curriculum standards in Texas do not meet student needs,” the letter reads.

The letter says that some board revisions undermine “the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.”

You can read the letter here. They are asking the Board to do the following:

  • Delay the final adoption of social studies curriculum standards;
  • Allow curriculum teams and a new panel of qualified, credentialed content experts from the state’s colleges and universities to review changes that the Board has made and prepare a new draft of the standards that is fair, accurate and balanced;
  • Permit the public to review and comment on the new draft of the standards before final adoption; and
  • Make final changes to the draft of the standards only after public consultation with classroom teachers and scholars who are experts in the appropriate fields of study.

This isn’t the first call on the Board to delay implementation of the changes and I suspect it won’t be the last. I don’t expect them to pay any attention – it should be crystal clear by now that the wingnut faction thinks they know better than any so-called “expert”, so what do they care about stuff like this? – but the more that can be done to show how out of touch they are, the better. The Texas Freedom Network has more.

Bill Hobby bashes the SBOE

Boy, I don’t know who put the hot sauce in former Lite Guv Bill Hobby’s Cheerios, but keep it up, I say. Go read it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

When you’re done with that, you can go sign State Rep. Mike Villarreal’s petition calling on the SBOE to knock it off with the clown show politics already. Yes, I know, it’s going to take a lot more than that to make it happen, but having a show of numbers is always a good thing.

Just a minute, SBOE

I almost missed this op-ed by State Rep. Carol Alvarado about everyone’s favorite clown show, the State Board of Education. In it, she hits on a theme we’re seeing more and more of.

How can board members claim that our students will be college-ready when those same members use curriculum standards to rewrite history?

For example, board members deleted Thomas Jefferson, who wrote our Declaration of Independence and championed separation of church and state, from a list of great Enlightenment thinkers who have inspired people around the world in their struggles for freedom. They refused to require students to learn that the First Amendment bars government from promoting one religion over all others.

Even though we’ve seen similar stuff lately from the likes of Bill White and State Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, it didn’t hit me until I read those paragraphs that what we’re witnessing is Democrats using a cultural wedge issue against the Republicans. I guess I just don’t see that often enough to recognize it for what it is. And it’s one on which the GOP ought to be vulnerable. I mean, who outside of the Cynthia Dunbar nut fringe has an issue with Thomas Jefferson, for crying out loud? Let Dunbar’s partymates get into all the nuances to explain her bizarre rationale, we’ll be over here pointing out how whacked out it is to be calling a Founding Father intolerant of Christianity. And I must say, as a child of the 80s who lived through all of the Dead White European Males culture war stuff, it’s hilarious to see it all come full circle like this. Who said history had to repeat itself as tragedy before it became a farce?

Rep. Alvarado has an idea for how to handle this that I like, too:

Board members should seriously reconsider this process and assure parents that they are putting the education of Texas schoolchildren first. Doing so requires only some fairly simple steps.

First, the current process should be halted and resumed only when the newly elected state board members take their seats in January. Doing so will help the board create a new process that is better insulated from personal and political agendas. There is no need to hurry through the revision of standards that will guide what our children learn for a decade.

What she means, of course, is that the Board should not vote to give final approval to the new standards that were approved earlier this month until after Dunbar, Don McLeroy, and Geraldine Miller have all finished serving their terms. We know McLeroy and Miller will be replaced by more moderate voices, and Dunbar may be, depending on the GOP primary runoff and/or the November election; Ken Mercer is also facing a strong challenger. The odds are that many, maybe even all, of the crazier things that got adopted this month could be repealed and replaced if the final decision were left till 2011. Obviously, I don’t expect this to happen, but as campaign fodder goes, it’s pretty darned good.

More legislative pushback against the SBOE


Texas risks becoming a national laughingstock by diminishing Thomas Jefferson, banning the word “capitalism,” and otherwise distorting history for its public schools, the chairman of the Legislature’s largest caucus said Tuesday, announcing a hearing on the state’s proposed social studies curriculum standards.

The Mexican American Legislative Caucus will bring academic experts to the state Capitol on April 28, in an attempt to “repair what undoubtedly will be a very broken history book for millions of Texas public school children,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.


Martinez Fischer and others fault the board for ignoring recommendations from teachers and professors it appointed to help draft new standards.

“What’s become very clear to us is that the academics and the noted experts charged with the recommendations of putting our curriculum standards together have been locked up in a closet,” he said. “And the state board, on a very partisan and ideological standard, has begun to rewrite these books and put people in and taken people out without true debate on the appropriateness.”

This is a fight we need to pick, and I’m glad that Rep. Martinez-Fischer and the rest of MALC is engaging in it. Let the SBOE clowns try to defend their idiocy. The more they can be put on the spot, the better.

Turns out we’re not actually destroying the world one textbook at a time

Good to know.

Though Texas has been painted in scores of media reports as the big dog that wags the textbook industry tail, that’s simply no longer true — and will become even less true in the future, as technological advances and political shifts transform the marketplace, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers. Diskey calls the persistent reports of Texas dominating the market an “urban myth.” Yet the myth persists.

“I’ve been in this job about three and a half years, and I see it reported all the time,” Diskey said. “I give my explanation to reporters, and about half of them believe me and half of them don’t.”

Rather than tailoring history books to Texas, then trying to peddle them nationwide, publishers today will start with a core national narrative and edit to suit the sensitivities and curriculum standards of various states and districts, said David Anderson, an industry lobbyist, former publishing sales executive and Texas Education Agency curriculum director. The irony in the current history wars: The more the state board makes a political circus out of the process, the less likely any of its ideology will seep into books for other states, as the California backlash makes clear.

“The core narrative is very similar” nationally, Anderson said. “If you can customize a book for Texas, and un-customize it for the Midwest — and Texas is controversial — then that’s what you’re going to do.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel better. Read the whole thing and you will, too. Martha has more.

Of course, even if we’re not polluting other states, and even if the textbooks themselves are more about what’s on the TEKS than what’s on the fevered minds of the SBOE wingnuts, we’re still stuck with the embarrassment of it all. But every political embarrassment is also a political opportunity, and to that end let me introduce you to the Thomas Jefferson Movement. I have no idea if that will catch on, but it’s a clever idea with an obvious hook. One can also take the more conventional approach of supporting a candidate for Governor who won’t put a crazy person in charge of the process, thus short-circuiting the lunacy before it can take hold. Both work for me.

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.

The SBOE has low self-esteem

I think I finally figured out why they do stuff like this.

The State Board of Education tentatively approved new standards for social studies Friday with members divided along party lines — some blasting them as a fraud and conservative whitewash, others praising them as a tribute to the Founding Fathers that rightly portrays America as an exceptional country.

The standards, which will influence history and government textbooks arriving in public schools in fall 2011, were adopted by 10 Republicans against five Democrats after weeks of debate and across a racial and ideological chasm that seemed to grow wider as the proposal was finalized Thursday.

Many of us are secure enough in our belief about the true nature of America that we want our children to be taught the basic facts about its history on the assumption that in the end they’ll realize for themselves that they live in a pretty good place. Other people, like certain members of the State Board of Education, seem to think that unless children are given only a carefully edited set of “facts” about America, they won’t grow up to be as intolerant of dissent about things like America’s greatness as they themselves are. Once I realized this was a matter of self-esteem, it all made sense to me. Perhaps if we spiked their water pitchers with Prozac for their next meeting, things will go better. It’s worth a shot, anyway. Steve Schafersman, The Texas Trib, TFN, Steve Benen, and Hair Balls have more.

The SBOE continues on its rampage

Sadly, despite the encouraging election results in the SBOE races last week, there’s still plenty of opportunity for the Board’s troglodyte caucus to wreak havoc on the schoolchildren of Texas.

The State Board of Education’s Hispanic and African American members clashed with its Anglo majority for hours today over how to present history to the state’s 4.7 million public school children.

Much of the conflict centered on the racial balance of historical figures that will be included in textbooks starting in the 2011-2012 school year. When sex or religion was added to the mix, temperatures boiled.

Members grew increasingly distraught over the process as they moved toward a preliminary adoption of new socials studies curriculum standards, set for Friday.

If it’s not too depressing, you can read the ongoing heroic efforts by the Texas Freedom Network to bring you all the gory details. The Trib, Dave Mann, Steve Schafersman, and Kate Alexander have more. The SBOE isn’t going to give up its title of Most Embarrassing Elected Body without a fight, that’s for sure.

Liveblogging the SBOE social studies hearings

No, not me. I’m not there, and besides, I’m no good at liveblogging. Here’s all the coverage you could need, from people who actually are good at this.

First and foremost, the indispensable Texas Freedom Network.

Stephen Schafersman, blogging for the Texas Observer.

Dave Mann, also with the Observer.

Brian Thevenot, writing for the Trib.

Eileen Smith, who’s more of a color commentator than play-by-play person, which for this kind of hearing makes her even more important.

Kate Alexander with the Statesman, and Gary Scharrer with the Houston Chronicle.

And finally, quote of the day goes to State Rep. Mike Villarreal:

I hope the SBOE does the right thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they show up on one of the Comedy Central Shows this week.

I certainly wouldn’t bet against it. From what I’ve seen, it looks like this may go late tonight, so I’ll add more links later. Happy reading!

Time to send in the clowns

You know that old expression about how no one’s life, liberty, or property are safe when the Legislature is in session? That’s how I feel these days about the State Board of Education. And that means it’s loin-girding time, because here they come again, to finish off the social studies textbook standards that they deferred from January.

A three-day meeting beginning Wednesday is the first since voters in last week’s Republican primary handed defeats to two veteran conservatives, including former board chairman Don McLeroy, who lost to a moderate GOP lobbyist. Two other conservatives — a Republican and a Democrat — did not seek re-election. All four terms end in January.


“I think there’ll be lots of amendments … a lot of media attention, and it’s important,” McLeroy said of the meeting, adding that his lame-duck status won’t affect his approach. “Our country is divided on how we see things and these things really come into sharp focus, especially with history and how you present it to your children.”

The 15-member board is expected this week to finish debating social studies, history and economics curriculum before taking a preliminary vote. The final vote is expected in May. Aside from the Founding Fathers’ beliefs, debate could flare over issues such as border security and how much children will study the impact of government regulation on the free enterprise system.

Unfortunately, the board has repeatedly proven that like the song says, they don’t know much about history.

Among the choices the board has made this year:

• The board voted to pull a popular children’s book author after confusing him with the author of a book about Marxism.

• At the urging of a Dallas board member, the panel rejected a nationally known migrant labor leader because she was a member of a socialist group. Instead, the sponsoring member extolled the virtues of Helen Keller, unaware that Keller advocated for socialism.

• The board changed a section on McCarthyism after a member said research had “basically vindicated” the senator’s 1950s hunt for communists.

“This goes to the fundamental issue. The board is not made up of educators, yet alone historians. They look very ignorant when they don’t know that Helen Keller herself was a socialist,” said Julio Noboa, a history professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, one of the board’s socials studies experts offering recommendations. “It really makes them look stupid. These people are making education decisions for one of the largest states in the union.”

It’s stuff like this that really makes you proud to be a Texan, doesn’t it? Get ready for three more days of wince-inducing headlines and stories, followed by the usual barrage of bemused and outraged national coverage. The Trib has an annotated list of what the SBOE will be discussing, and I’m sure that the Texas Freedom Network will be there to liveblog it.