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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.

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook

Nice.

The State Board of Education voted 14-0 Wednesday to deny the adoption of a Mexican-American studies textbook decried by opponents as racist and inaccurate.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” was the only submission the board received when it made a 2015 call for textbooks for high school social studies classes, including Mexican-American studies.

But critics say the book is riddled with factual, “interpretive” and “omission” errors and doesn’t meet basic standards for use in classrooms.

Wednesday’s vote wasn’t the last step, as the board will take a final vote Friday. The only board member not present for the vote was David Bradley. In emails obtained through a state open records request by Texas Freedom Network, a left-leaning advocacy group, the Beaumont Republican had written that a “lack of quorum on [the book] would be nice. Deny the Hispanics a record vote. The book still fails.”

With as much dignity and gravity as I can muster, I say “Neener neener” to you, David Bradley. It’s what you deserve.

The Chron reports on the hearing at which opponents of the textbook far outnumbered its supporters.

State education board members on Tuesday grilled the publisher of a controversial Mexican-American studies textbook about alleged errors, all but promising to reject the proposed book later this week.

Members of the State Board of Education are poised to vote Friday on whether to adopt “Mexican American Heritage,” a textbook that university professors and historical experts argue is riddled with errors, cherry-picks sources and claims immigrants have radical ideas that pose a cultural and political threat to American society.

“This book offers one thing. It offers hatred. It offers hate toward Mexican-Americans,” said Ruben Cortez Jr., a member from Brownsville.

Board members from both parties spent nearly two hours of a public hearing peppering Momentum Instruction CEO and owner Cynthia Dunbar about reported errors in the proposed textbook.

“You have submitted a textbook that will be rejected” from landing on the state’s preferred textbook list, said board member Erika Beltran, D-Fort Worth, who criticized Dunbar for failing to recall the credentials of the book’s authors. “We’re not just talking about a textbook on Mexican-American heritage, we’re talking about the education of 5 million kids.”

[…]

Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, who said in September the book was “dead on arrival,” stressed the board needs to focus on the errors that Dunbar has refused to fix.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know enough to know that communism does not cause natural disasters,” said Ratliff, referring to a passage in the textbook that links the two. Dunbar said the passage was “not a verified factual error,” then later agreed to change the sentence.

Emilio Zamora, a University of Texas at Austin professor who reviewed the text, accused the authors and publisher of arrogance by refusing to acknowledge the problems.

“Not once do they agree with any of our findings of error – not once,” said Zamora, shaking his fist behind a podium before the state board. He and a team of professors reported finding 407 errors in the book’s latest version.

See here and here for some background, and here for the report on how crappy this textbook was that SBOE member Ruben Cortez’s ad hoc committee put together. This issue won’t go away for long. The SBOE will put out another call for a hopefully non-crappy textbook, so there should be more submissions in the future. And just to make this all the more fun, to-be-rejected publisher Dunbar is threatening a lawsuit if she gets rejected, because by God you just don’t do that in Donald Trump’s America. Or something like that. The Trib, the Observer, the Current, the Texas Freedom Network, the DMN, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Dan Patrick buys airtime for anti-HERO ads

Of course he does.

HoustonUnites

With the start of early voting Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick began lending his voice and his pocketbook to radio and TV ads urging Houston voters to reject the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance.

At a news conference Monday in Houston, Patrick echoed the chief criticism of equal rights ordinance opponents – that the law would allow men to enter women’s restrooms – and he blasted Mayor Annise Parker, saying she “ought to be embarrassed” by the ordinance.

In Patrick’s TV ad, set to begin Tuesday airing on cable and network stations, he tells voters that “no woman should have to share a public restroom or locker room with a man.”

The radio and TV ads totaling about $70,000 were paid for by Texans for Dan Patrick. The former Republican state senator from Houston defended his decision to wade into a local issue.

“I think this is an extraordinary circumstance,” Patrick said. “This is absurd. Years ago, a decade ago, we would laugh at even thinking about that the people would cast a vote to keep men out of ladies rooms.”

Thanks for supplying another example of the shameless lying that the leaders of the anti-HERO effort have been engaging in, Dan. If you were a Catholic, I’d tell you to get yourself to confession ASAP. Be that as it may, I doubt this makes much difference. I mean, if you’re the kind of person who can be persuaded by Dan Patrick to vote a given way, you probably weren’t on our side in the first place. He may get a few people who were otherwise going to sit it out to get out and vote, but being Dan Patrick there’s a good chance some of them will be people going out to vote against whatever it is he’s advocating. More likely, he’s laying some groundwork for a 2017 legislative assault on LGBT rights, couched as always in the guise of “religious freedom”, as a commenter from yesterday suggested. You should click that last link to get an idea of the scope of bad policy that could be on its way, because some if not most of it is likely to get enacted. And I guarantee you, just as it was with Indiana and Arkansas, all of this will generate negative national attention for Texas, just as the anti-HERO effort that Patrick is now abetting is generating for Houston.

In the meantime, this press release hit my mailbox yesterday morning:

Joint Press Release from the Texas Freedom Network and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

CIVIL LIBERTIES GROUPS WARN AGAINST ‘RELIGIOUS REFUSAL’ LAWS

TFN, ACLU of Texas Announce Effort to Track Instances of Religious Refusals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 20, 2015
Contacts: Dan Quinn, TFN, 512.322.0545; Tom Hargis, ACLU of Texas, 713.325.7006

Two leading civil and religious liberties organizations in Texas are warning against efforts by elected officials to misuse religion to defend discrimination in the state. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network announced today an effort to track instances of religious refusals by government officials and businesses. Individuals can report such instances at www.texansequalunderlaw.com/story.

Efforts to carve out special religious exemptions to state and local laws designed to protect the common good – especially nondiscrimination measures – distort the true meaning of religious liberty and put all Texans at risk, said Rebecca Marques, policy and advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas.

“Religious freedom is one of our fundamental rights as Americans,” Marques said. “That’s why we protect it in our Constitution. But religious freedom doesn’t give anyone the right to refuse to obey laws that everyone else must obey or to discriminate against or harm others.”

Earlier this month Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked state senators to recommend allowing government officials and employees, other individuals and businesses to refuse to obey laws to which they object because of their personal religious beliefs.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also sent letters to legislative leaders supporting such “religious refusal” policies. Paxton specifically supported the right of government employees and businesses to refuse to recognize or provide services for the marriages of gay and lesbian couples. He also called for changes in state law that would limit the ability of local governments to adopt protections against discrimination.

Religious freedom doesn’t give government officials and employers the right to impose their religious beliefs on others or to pick and choose which laws they will obey, said Rabbi Neal Katz of Tyler, a board member for the Texas Freedom Network.

“One of our most important values is treating others the way we want to be treated, and we all have the right to equal treatment under the law,” Katz said. “Nobody should be turned away from a business or government office, refused service, or evicted from their home simply because they don’t share another person’s religious beliefs or because of who they are or whom they love. That discrimination distorts the real meaning of religious liberty.”

Obergfell may be settled, but the fight is far from over. Don’t sleep on this.

Here comes that anti-gay marriage bill

Ready or not.

RedEquality

“Texas is pioneering a legislative effort to subvert a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage and lock in discrimination against gay and transgender people and their families,” Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, told reporters in a conference call Monday morning.

“If successful, the strategy could spread to other states, especially in the South,” she said. “But it definitely risks a major backlash from the business community and from Texas voters … that would damage the brand of Texas for a long time to come.”

Miller was alluding to controversies that flared in Indiana and Arkansas a couple of months ago after lawmakers in both states passed religious-refusal bills inspired by a spate of federal court victories by gays and lesbians seeking to overturn state bans of same-sex marriage.

The Texas bills are drawing national attention. Several reporters from national news media organizations participated in Monday’s press call.

Organizers hope to generate a groundswell of protests by Texans, especially to center-right members of the Texas House’s GOP leadership. Miller said bill opponents are less optimistic about their chances of stopping the bills in the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has shown his eagerness to pass similar legislation by successfully persuading senators to suspend Senate rules recently to allow late filing of one such bill, she said.

[…]

Chuck Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Texas, called it “a mean spirited piece of legislation.”

Smith said it would ignore Texans’ growing acceptance of gay marriage and inflict unnecessary pain.

“It will be yet another state-sanctioned slap in the face to lesbian and gay couples who simply want to make a lifetime commitment to the person that they love,” he said.

The bill could generate costly lawsuits if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ 2005 gay marriage ban, said Smith and Rebecca Robertson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas’ legal and policy director.

Robertson said county clerks would be caught between conflicting orders from judges, much like their counterparts in Alabama. In Alabama, a federal district court judge struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban, but the state’s highest-ranking judge ordered officials not to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

“We’d absolutely be on the course that Alabama is on, where you just have chaos for the time being, until it’s sorted out,” she said.

See here for the background. There’s no chance of voting this bill down, so delays and the rulebook are the Democrats’ best friends. I hope someone has a point of order or three in his or her back pocket to try to send this mess back to committee.

The Observer notes the numbers:

In addition to Bell, HB 4105 is co-authored by 88 other House Republicans. Only nine Republicans hadn’t signed on as co-authors as of Monday morning: Rodney Anderson (Grand Prairie), Sarah Davis (Houston), Craig Goldman (Fort Worth), Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi), Linda Koop (Dallas), Morgan Meyer (Dallas), John Smithee (Amarillo), Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) and Jason Villalba (Dallas).

None of the chamber’s 52 Democrats were listed as co-authors.

Like I said, the Republicans are seriously out of touch with the general public on this. I’d be willing to bet that even a sample of Republican primary voters would be more than ten percent favorable to same sex marriage. But as always, until someone loses an election over it, nothing will change. As for the Dems, support of same sex marriage in our world is pretty high, but it’s not unanimous. Not having a single Democratic coauthor on this bill is therefore a nice accomplishment. I hope that translates to no votes in favor of it as well, but we’ll see. There are still a couple of potential holdouts to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, in other same sex marriage news:

The Senate on Monday tentatively approved a bill saying that clergy, churches, religious organizations and their employees don’t have to be involved in gay weddings if they don’t want to be.

The bill advanced by a vote of 21-10, despite warnings from some Democrats that it’s vague and inadvertently might provide legal cover for biased actions by religious health-care institutions or clergy who hold elective offices such as justice of the peace.

Bill author Sen. Craig Estes, though, insisted the bill just would apply to wedding ceremonies and related events.

“As far as I’m concerned, this bill does not deal with the secular in any form,” said Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“It is not my intention to discriminate against anyone with this bill,” he said. “My intention is to protect pastors’, ministers’ and clergy’s First Amendment rights.”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so let me quote Sen. Rodney Ellis’ statement on SB2065, since he pretty much nails it:

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” said Senator Ellis. “In the more than 30 states where same-sex couples can legally marry, no clergy or house of worship has ever been compelled to perform a same-sex wedding. The fact is that there are many faith traditions that embrace gay and lesbian couples and joyfully celebrate these marriages. Nobody is reliant on forcing a reluctant pastor in order to get married.”

That has always been true in any context, and it will continue to be true for as long as we have the Constitution. The Trib has more.

Discrimination is bad for business

Good for TAB.

RedEquality

The Texas Association of Business has come out against two religious freedom resolutions that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution.

TAB, which is the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, unanimously adopted a resolution last month opposing House Joint Resolution 55 and Senate Joint Resolution 10, by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), respectively.

Chris Wallace, president of TAB, said more than 100 members of the board voted to add opposition to the resolutions to the group’s legislative agenda at a statewide meeting Feb. 17.

“We feel that this will certainly make our state look very much unwelcoming when it comes to business recruitment,” Wallace said of the resolutions. “We also have several businesses within the state, our large corporations for instance, that have diversity policies already in place, and what we’re hearing from them is they want their state to look the same way.”

Wallace pointed to the example of Toyota, which is moving its U.S. headquarters to Plano and worked with the city to pass an Equal Rights Ordinance protecting LGBT people against discrimination. He also cited damage to Arizona’s business reputation when similar legislation passed last year before it was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

In addition to LGBT issues, the chamber is concerned the resolutions would allow people to claim religious exemptions to criminal, tax, health and safety, environmental quality and zoning laws. Wallace said the resolutions would also lead to a spike in litigation, costing businesses and taxpayers.

In opposing the ordinances, TAB joins progressive groups, including Equality Texas, the ACLU and the Texas Freedom Network.

“We are a very conservative business association as the state chamber, and it’s not our typical partners we have at the table with us,” Wallace said. “But we’re proud we have these partners at the table with us because we’re all working together to make sure we keep Texas open for business, and that we are seen as a place that welcomes all people and not one that excludes any groups of people.”

See here and here for some background. I pound on TAB pretty regularly around here. Often it’s because they support things I oppose, and vice versa. And often it’s because they support Republicans who then oppose the things they (and I) support. Their to-the-end patronage of immigrant hater Leo Berman remains an indelible stain on the organization. But every once in a while, they do the right thing for a good reason, and for that they should be commended. This is one of those times. Whether this will have any sway over their favored Republicans in the Lege, and whether there will be any consequences for TAB-approved candidates that cross them on this, remains to be seen. For now, kudos to them for being on the right side.

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 http://ncse.com/files/Texas-social-studies-report-2014.pdf.

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: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/states/2013_TX_SBOE_from_NCSE.pdf

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 www.tfn.org/history.

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.

Teaching creationism in Texas

Zack Kopplin reports on some unconstitutional behavior by a national charter school operator that has several campuses in Texas.

When public-school students enrolled in Texas’ largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is “sketchy.” That evolution is “dogma” and an “unproved theory” with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth. These are all lies.

The more than 17,000 students in the Responsive Education Solutions charter system will learn in their history classes that some residents of the Philippines were “pagans in various levels of civilization.” They’ll read in a history textbook that feminism forced women to turn to the government as a “surrogate husband.”

Responsive Ed has a secular veneer and is funded by public money, but it has been connected from its inception to the creationist movement and to far-right fundamentalists who seek to undermine the separation of church and state.

Infiltrating and subverting the charter-school movement has allowed Responsive Ed to carry out its religious agenda—and it is succeeding. Operating more than 65 campuses in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, Responsive Ed receives more than $82 million in taxpayer money annually, and it is expanding, with 20 more Texas campuses opening in 2014.

Charter schools may be run independently, but they are still public schools, and through an open records request, I was able to obtain a set of Responsive Ed’s biology “Knowledge Units,” workbooks that Responsive Ed students must complete to pass biology. These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.

A favorite creationist claim is that there is “uncertainty” in the fossil record, and Responsive Ed does not disappoint. The workbook cites the “lack of a single source for all the rock layers as an argument against evolution.”

I asked Ken Miller, a co-author of the Miller-Levine Biology textbook published by Pearson and one of the most widely used science textbooks on the market today, to respond to claims about the fossil record and other inaccuracies in the Responsive Ed curriculum. (It’s worth noting that creationists on the Texas State Board of Education recently tried, and failed, to block the approval of Miller’s textbook because it teaches evolution.)

“Of course there is no ‘single source’ for all rock layers,” Miller told me over email. “However, the pioneers of the geological sciences observed that the sequence of distinctive rock layers in one place (southern England, for example) could be correlated with identical layers in other places, and eventually merged into a single system of stratigraphy. All of this was established well before Darwin’s work on evolution.”

[…]

Responsive Ed’s butchering of evolution isn’t the only part of its science curriculum that deserves an F; it also misinforms students about vaccines and mauls the scientific method.

The only study linking vaccines to autism was exposed as a fraud and has been retracted, and the relationship has been studied exhaustively and found to be nonexistent. But a Responsive Ed workbook teaches, “We do not know for sure whether vaccines increase a child’s chance of getting autism, but we can conclude that more research needs to be done.”

On the scientific method, Responsive Ed confuses scientific theories and laws. It argues that theories are weaker than laws and that there is a natural progression from theories into laws, all of which is incorrect.

The Responsive Ed curriculum undermines Texas schoolchildren’s future in any possible career in science.

There’s a lot more, so go read it all, or at least go read the Observer’s summary. Remember, your tax dollars are being used to help pay these guys’ bills. Will the Legislature do anything about it? Maybe, but if Dan Patrick gets elected Lt. Governor, I wouldn’t count on his taking any action. TFN Insider has more.

SBOE getting set to review biology textbooks

TFN Insider sounds the alarm.

We already knew that creationists on the State Board of Education had nominated anti-evolution ideologues to sit on teams reviewing proposed new high school biology textbooks in Texas. We now have seen the actual reviews from those ideologues — and they’re every bit as alarming as we warned they would be.

Many of the reviews offer recitations of the same pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo anti-evolution activists — like the folks at the Discovery Institute in Seattle — have been promoting for decades. Never mind, of course, that each one of those arguments has been debunked by scientists (repeatedly). No, they are insisting that Texas dumb down the science education of millions of kids with such nonsense.

Even more astonishing is a demand that “creation science based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.” Some of the reviewers are clearly oblivious to the fact that teaching religious arguments in a science classroom is blatantly unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court has made that abundantly clear.

Tuesday, September 17, is the first public hearing on the proposed new biology textbooks. Those textbooks could be used in classrooms for a decade. Come to TFN’s Stand Up for Science rally at noon on Tuesday in Austin and help us send a message to the anti-science fanatics on the State Board of Education: Stop putting personal agendas ahead of the education of Texas students and ensure that public schools provide a science education that prepares students to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.

See this NCSE press release for more. We’ve been through this sort of review before, and it’s always a bizarre experience. You never know just what kind of crazy is about to be let out of the box. BOR and Bad Astronomy have more.

The birth control poll

The Texas Freedom Network would like you to know that Texans support having access to birth control.

A new statewide poll from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Here’s the poll memo:

Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer, or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational, and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Voters support efforts to make birth control more accessible to women, not less. Texans oppose the cuts to funding for family planning made by the state Legislature in 2011 and want to see funding restored. They also oppose allowing employers to deny their employees health care coverage for family planning services and birth control, and want to ensure that state funding for family planning goes to medical providers that offer a full range of family planning services, including birth control.

The results in this report are based on a statewide poll of registered Texas voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Chesapeake Beach Consulting for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The survey reached a total of 604 registered voters in Texas and was conducted February 6 – 11, 2013. The margin of sampling error for the sample is +/- 3.99 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

The poll was conducted jointly by Democrat Anna Greenberg and Republican Bob Carpenter. It has certainly accomplished the goal of getting media attention, as these Chron, DMN, Statesman, AusChron, and Hair Balls stories show. But only the Texas Observer notes the disconnect:

Despite the overwhelming evidence of support for family planning services, some legislators have filed bills that go after contraception. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), for example, is pushing “Hobby Lobby” legislation, which would give tax breaks to companies, like Hobby Lobby, that face federal fines over their refusal to provide emergency contraception coverage to their employees through insurance.

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) filed HB 1057 last week, which would prevent abortion providers or their affiliates (like Planned Parenthood) from providing sex education materials for public schools.

But, according to [TFN President Kathy] Miller, this study only illustrates that lawmakers have lost sight of what Texans actually want. “Last legislative session, we saw some legislators openly declare war on contraception. Texans clearly want that war to stop,” Miller said.

I’m not surprised by this poll result, and I do hope it gets a lot of attention. But, and I hate to be a wet blanket here, the fact is that many Republican legislators have nothing to fear, or at least they believe they have nothing to fear, from it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when was the last time someone lost an election in Texas for being wrong on birth control? Far as I can tell, the next time will be the first time. Lord knows, there are plenty of Republicans who’ll be on the ballot in 2014 that should take heed of this, starting with our promiscuously litigious Attorney General/Governor wannabee Greg Abbott, who’s been busy amicus-briefing the federal courts over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate for employers, including Hobby Lobby. But until someone actually does lose an election over this, why should we expect anything or anyone to change? Someone needs to start convincing some of those Republican women to reconsider some of the people they’ve been voting for.

Texas Freedom Network’s guide to the SBOE elections

The Texas Freedom Network has put out a useful little voter’s guide to the 2012 State Board of Education elections, which covers a range of topics from creationism and climate change to bullying and SBOE procedures. You might look at the answers that the candidates who responded submitted and think “Hey, cool, everyone is basically sane and rational”, but look again. Only one Republican incumbent (Thomas Ratliff) and one Republican running for an open seat (Laurie Turner, running for the seat currently held by Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga), submitted answers. Seven Republican incumbents, and three Republican candidates for Republican-held open seats, did not. Donna Bahorich, who is running for Terri Leo’s seat in SBOE6 and who is opposed by Traci Jensen, did not submit answers. Bahorich doesn’t much like talking to audiences that don’t already agree with her so no surprise here. Of course, for a number of these issues we already know where the Republican incumbents stand as their records are quite clear and they’re generally not shy about saying what they believe, but you wouldn’t know it from this. Anyway, take a look and see if your SBOE candidates gave answers. If they didn’t, you probably have a pretty good idea why not.

The TFN on the SBOE

Hair Balls attended a session at the TDP convention held by the Texas Freedom Network about electing a less-embarrassing State Board of Education.

More than 600 people packed a ballroom at the George R Brown Convention Center on Saturday morning for TFN’s session, “Ignorance Is Not a Texas Value: Electing a Smarter State Board of Education,” at the Texas Democratic Convention.

“We are reaching out, and it seems to be working,” said TFN’s Kathy Miller, who led the session. “Four years ago, even two years ago, we’d never have seen 600 people show up at a workshop.”

Turnout at the polls is key in SBOE elections, Miller told the group. While each State Board of Education member represents roughly 1.6 million people in Texas, voter knowledge of candidates is often limited and turnout typically low. And those who turn out can have a major impact on the board, which stands in the balance between a bloc of social conservatives and their moderate-liberal counterparts.

Even those whose fate to return to the board seems assured can go down in an instant. During the party primaries at the end of May, incumbents Gail Lowe and Michael Soto were taken out. Sue Melton, a retired Lampasas educator, knocked off long-time member and former chair Lowe. Soto, up for a second turn, was taken down by a social worker Marisa Perez, whom few in the party claimed to know.

Such turns in election results indicate that the results aren’t always pegged on conservative versus liberal. Miller said the problem is that most voters simply don’t know their State Board of Education members, and only a few care until groups like the Texas Freedom Network or the Liberty Institute rally the party base.

A description of the session, which I was unfortunately unable to attend, is here, and a picture showing how well-attended it was is here. The lesson that I take from this year’s results is that while there is an admirable amount of attention and resources devoted to races involving whackjob candidates, there needs to be an equivalent amount of attention and effort devoted to boring races that feature good incumbents like Michael Soto. TFN and ParentPAC do a good job in the former – Lord knows, we need to shine a bright light on what these yahoos say, and we need to rally around those who are brave and decent enough to stand against them – but there’s nobody doing the latter. And it was nobody, myself included, that saw Soto’s shocking loss to Marisa Perez coming. The reason why nobody saw it coming is because it never occurred to any rational observer that one of the best members on the SBOE could possibly lose to a last-minute filer who didn’t do any campaigning. Well, now we know beyond any doubt what can happen in races where the voters don’t know anything about the candidates. What are we going to do about it?

Perez, by the way, has finally updated (and renamed) her Facebook page, with an announcement about a fundraiser being held tomorrow. I suppose that means she is running in November, so that’s good news. Hopefully, some of the people who have been wondering who she is will attend and then tell the rest of us about her. I want to stress that she could turn out to be a fine Member. We just have no way of knowing right now, unlike Michael Soto. All we can do is hope.

Another reason why Texas has a high teen pregnancy rate

We’re lousy at sex education.

In the mid-1990s, California embraced sex education that teaches students the importance of waiting until they’re older to have sex, but also the value of using protection if they don’t wait.

Compare this with classrooms in Texas, where messages around contraception — if they’re delivered at all — have sometimes been shrouded in negativity and misinformation.

Which method has proved most effective?

The numbers are telling: Texas had the fourth-highest teen birth rate in the nation while California was 29th in 2010.

California reduced its numbers despite sharing Texas’ demographics and sky-high teen birth rates in the early ’90s. And while more teens have abortions in California than in Texas, California reduced those at the same time it brought down teen births.

California teachers freely promote condom use and other birth control methods. They demonstrate condom use in class. Classroom talk is frank and open. Many schools have free condom handout programs.

In Texas, where a state code demands a heavy emphasis on abstinence, teaching tends to be more constricted. Condoms can’t be distributed as part of instruction.

Across the U.S. there are essentially two types of sex ed curricula — comprehensive programs that promote abstinence and contraception, and programs that promote only abstinence, many of which historically cast contraceptive use in a negative light, if it was included at all. Texas has been called the “poster child” for the latter.

But the buzzword in sex education now is “evidence-based” — programs that are proven to positively change teen behavior — most of which are comprehensive, at least for now.

As the tide turns toward such rigorously tested programs, once firm lines are blurring. Some so-called abstinence-only programs teach more than “just say no” — decision-making skills and the like — and some now address contraception in a more neutral way. Meanwhile, some so-called comprehensive programs spend more time teaching abstinence than contraception.

In Texas, parents, teachers and administrators are rethinking sex education.

It’s a fairly long story, and it’s worth your time to read. As we know, there are more factors involved in the teen pregnancy and birth rates than just the quality of sex education, but we’re not in good shape with any of them. You might also be surprised to learn that “abstinence only” sex education can be evidence-based, too. I have philosophical issues with the concept of “abstinence only”, but if such a curriculum can be shown to be effective in reducing teen pregnancy and STD transmission, I can live with it.

One more thing:

Teaching birth control, especially in middle school, “is a sad message, almost like giving up,” said one mother who asked not to be named so as not to identify her children. Her two teen sons took vows to remain virgins until marriage.

“Teaching that condoms provide safe sex isn’t true,” she said. “But the real problem is it makes you think you’re entitled to do whatever you want. You’re not entitled to have sex just because you want to.”

Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition, agreed.

“We don’t tell kids, ‘Try not to be too fat or too drunk when you drive or just smoke a little bit,’” she said. “In Texas, we have a clear and singular message. We don’t change that message just because not everyone is getting it.”

But Cheyenne Armendariz, 12, who attends New Frontiers, said kids can discern the difference between information and permission. “I mean, like, duh, we have our own brains,” she said.

You tell ’em, Cheyenne. As the story notes, the facts are on your side. For more information, see these Texas Freedom Network reports.

Harris County rejecting fewer voter registrations

In other lawsuit-related news:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County officials have rejected far fewer would-be voters since 2008, but Democrats are demanding more proof that voter rolls are not being illegally suppressed – particularly among Hispanics – as another U.S. presidential election approaches.

The two sides [met] in secret mediation Friday as Democratic officials seek assurances the county is following the terms of a 2009 settlement reached after the party challenged Harris County voter reviews in a federal lawsuit. The county’s voter registrations have remained fairly flat at about 1.9 million since 2008, failing to keep pace with a boom in the eligible voting population.

“Harris County continues to fall behind other large cities. Harris County rejects far too many applications and removes far too many eligible voters from the rolls,” Chad Dunn, an attorney for the Democrats, told the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s own analysis of voter registration data shows county officials denied about 39,000 applications in the last three years – far fewer than the 70,000 rejected as ineligible or incomplete in 2008. Of applications received in 2009 to 2011, about 14 percent were not immediately accepted. A slightly higher percentage of voters with Hispanic last names had applications denied, the Chronicle’s analysis shows.

[…]

U.S. District Court Judge Gray H. Miller, who oversees the settlement, ordered both sides to meet with a mediator Friday. If the dispute is not resolved, a hearing has been set next week.

County records show that most unsuccessful applicants from 2009-2011 -35,800 – provided incomplete information, such as leaving parts of the form blank.

As part of the 2009 settlement, Harris County officials agreed to be more flexible in reviewing voter addresses and accept those submitted from so-called commercial properties. However, about 3,000 voters’ applications apparently were red-flagged because of address-related issues in 2009-2011, according to data. In at least a few dozen cases, officials rejected valid addresses mostly from voters living in newly-built homes, the Chronicle found.

They did some good analysis of the rejected applications, so be sure to read the whole story. This action resulted from a followup complaint in 2010 by the TDP, which was itself a result of then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez getting in bed with the KSP. If the Tax Assessor’s office is now doing a better job of accepting valid registrations – and sorry, but I’m not going to just accept Don Sumner’s word for that – that’s great, but there’s still a long way to go before they earn any trust. PDiddie has more.

SBOE manages to not screw up science supplements

Baby steps.

The quietude of yesterday’s State Board of Education meeting came to a screeching halt during today’s final vote over supplemental science materials.

After a unanimous preliminary vote on Thursday, the board appeared split over alleged errors in how evolution was addressed in a high school biology submission from Holt McDougal.

A board-appointed reviewer had identified the errors but the publisher maintained that the points at issue were not wrong. It was up to the board to referee the dispute and the mood turned testy.

In the end, the board members chose to punt the contentious issue to Education Commissioner Robert Scott.

“My goal would be to try to find some common ground,” Scott said.

Then the board unanimously approved the online science materials that will supplement existing textbooks.

That may not sound like much, but it was enough to get both the NCSE and the Texas Freedom Network to put out victory statements. Sometimes, not going backwards counts as going forward. What a difference having a couple fewer wingnuts can make. The Trib, Burka, and TFN Insider have more.

Day One at the SBOE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Time to get it on again with the SBOE

From an email from the National Center for Science Education:

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

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

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

The details:

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

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

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

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

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

Live video feed:

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

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

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

When: 9 a.m.

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

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

Live video feed:

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

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

UPDATE: More ways to follow the action:

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

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

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

By the way, our social studies standards still suck

So says a conservative think tank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

TFN poll on public school curriculum

This is generally good news.

Eight of 10 Texans want high schools to teach contraception, including the use of condoms and abstinence, according to a statewide opinion poll that also shows high support for letting teachers and scholars write public school curriculum standards instead of the State Board of Education.

More than two-thirds of the respondents – 68 percent – agreed that “separation of church and state is a key principle of our Constitution,” although 49 percent also want to see “religion have more influence” on education. Only 21 percent said religion should have less influence in public schools.

The research arm of the Texas Freedom Network, a liberal-leaning group that monitors the board, commissioned the poll.

[…]

88 percent of the respondents believe public schools should be required “to protect all children from bullying, harassment and discrimination in school, including the children of gay and lesbian parents or teenagers who are gay.”

55 percent oppose using publicly funded vouchers that allow some students to attend private and religious schools.

72 percent want teachers and scholars to be responsible for writing curriculum standards for schools, not the elected Board of Education.

Initially, 32 percent of the respondents opposed the State Board’s revisions to Texas’ social studies curriculum standards. The opposition climbed to 57 percent after the process was described.

You can get a copy of the poll report here; you do have to provide your name and email address to get it. The poll was done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the report is detailed, though it does not give crosstabs. While I find the results positive, my optimism is tempered somewhat by my belief that this is the sort of thing that polls better than it performs at the ballot box. I feel like there’s still a lot of people out there who give the “correct” answer to these questions but then support candidates who hold the opposing view. That may be because they value other issues more highly, it may be because they don’t know enough to realize they’re not voting in their interest, or who knows what other reason. Point being, while I’d rather have these numbers than their inverse, it doesn’t mean much at this point. The TFN press release is beneath the fold, and BOR, Abby Rapoport, and The Trib have 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.

(more…)

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!

More on the SBOE

The Texas Freedom Network does a victory dance over the defeat of wingnut SBOE member Don McLeroy, noting that overall the forces of good did much better than the far right did.

“Don McLeroy was right when he said this election was a referendum on what the board has done over the past four years,” [TFN President Kathy] Miller said. “Voters sent a clear message by rejecting the ringleader of the faction that has repeatedly dragged our public schools into the nation’s divisive culture wars over the past four years. Parents want a state board that focuses on educating their kids, not promoting divisive political and personal agendas.”

The Republican primary between McLeroy and challenger Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant had the highest profile of all the state board contests. In addition to McLeroy’s defeat in District 9, Randy Rives of Odessa lost his race against incumbent Bob Craig of Lubbock in the District 15 Republican primary, and Joan Muenzler lost her District 3 GOP primary against fellow San Antonian Tony Cunningham. Both Rives and Muenzler were backed by far-right groups such as WallBuilders and the Texas Pastor Council.

In addition, Austin attorney Brian Russell, who Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, recruited to run for her District 10 seat, was forced into a Republican runoff against Marsha Farney of Georgetown.

The NCSE also celebrates McLeroy’s defeat. There’s a decent chance that Dunbar’s old seat could flip to the Democrats, where Judy Jennings is the nominee. Democrats also have a strong candidate in Rebecca Bell-Metereau running against Ken Mercer in district 5, though that’s a tougher hill to climb. Here’s an email I got from Suzy Allison, that lays out what we have to look forward to from here:

PRIMARY RESULTS ARE IN – THE LINEUP FOR THE NOVEMBER ELECTION

There are eight SBOE seats which will be filled in November. Here are the results so far.

Some you win, some you lose, one goes into overtime.

District 1 – 38 counties from El Paso to Starr County along the Rio Grande, stretching north to include Midland County, Mason and Bandera Counties. Rene Nunez (D), incumbent. Nunez is the Democratic nominee, and will be challenged by Carlos “Charlie” Garza, the Republican nominee. Neither had a primary challenger. This district’s down-ballot race non-Presidential year performance in 2006 was 53.5% D, 46.5% R.

District 3 – All or part of 13 counties from Bexar in the north to Hidalgo County in the south. Rick Agosto (D), incumbent. Michael Soto is the Democratic nominee (Agosto did not file for re-election), Tony Cunningham is the Republican Nominee. The down-ballot off-year numbers from 2006 for this district are 57.9% D, 42.1% R.

District 4 – Part of Harris County and a small part of Fort Bend County. Lawrence A. Allen, Jr. (D), incumbent. Allen is returning to the SBOE, as he had no primary challenge and has no Republican opponent in this overwhelmingly Democratic district.

District 5 – Parts of Bexar and Travis Counties, as well as Bell, Burnet, Llano, Gillespie, Blanco, Kendall, Hays, Caldwell, Guadalupe and Comal Counties. Ken Mercer (R), incumbent. Mercer won his primary and is the Republican nominee. Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the Democratic nominee. The 2006 down-ballot percentages for this district are 41.2% D, 58.8% R.

District 9 – From Fannin, Lamar and Red River Counties in the north, stretching south to include Brazos, Grimes and Walker Counties, includes part of Collin County. 29 counties lie entirely or partly in this district. Thomas Ratliff has beaten Don McLeroy in the Republican primary and will be seated on the SBOE. No Democrat filed in this Republican district.

District 10 – Parts of Travis County on the western end, and Fort Bend and Brazoria Counties on the eastern end, this also includes Williamson, Milam, Bastrop, Burleson, Lee, Fayette, Gonzales, DeWitt, Lavaca, Colorado, Austin, Washington and Waller Counties. Cynthia Dunbar (R), incumbent. Dunbar chose not to run for re-election. Judy Jennings is the Democratic nominee who had no primary opposition. Brian Russell and Marsha Farney will face each other in the Republican run-off. This district’s down-ballot performance in 2006 was 46.7% D, 53.3% R.

District 12 – Parts of Dallas and Collin Counties, Rockwall County. Geraldine “Tincy” Miller (R), incumbent. George M. Clayton, in a surprise, has beaten Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and will take a seat on the SBOE. Miller was usually a constructive voice on the SBOE. Clayton is relatively unknown, but some of his comments in a newspaper interview make it possible to doubt that he will be as constructive. This Republican district had no Democrat filed. This district’s 2006 down-ballot numbers were 37.8% D, 62.2% R.

District 15 – This 75-county (as in huge) panhandle district includes Lubbock County as its largest population center. Bob Craig (R), the incumbent, beat his primary opponent and will return to the SBOE. No Democrat filed. This district’s down-ballot numbers in 2006 were 30.2% D, 69.8% R.

Still unclear what Clayton’s defeat of Tincy Miller means. His website is sparse and amateurish, and while I get a somewhat hinky vibe from it, I really can’t draw any conclusions about him from it. Far as I can tell, no one has done a story on him or interview with him since Tuesday, and the TFN still hasn’t addressed his victory – for that matter, neither has anyone on the other side – so for now he’s a cipher. Stuff like this doesn’t help:

Clayton managed to topple the incumbent with his low-budget campaign, mostly conducted through appearances around the district and a Web site promoting his run.

“If you think that having a working teacher on the State Board of Education might be a refreshing, productive and appropriate move, then you will need to vote for me,” he said on his site.

Clayton of Richardson, who is academic coordinator at North Dallas High School, said on his site that “personal political views of board members should play no part in their decisions regarding textbook content or curriculum” – an apparent slap at the board’s social conservative bloc.

He did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Hard to say what the guy plans to do or how he plans to act if he isn’t talking. If anyone knows anything about him, please speak up in the comments. Thanks.

The SBOE takes on social studies

Somewhat surprisingly, nothing too horrible appears to have happened. Yet.

Kindergartners would learn about a Texas revolutionary and first-graders would discuss the idea of holding public officials accountable under proposals approved Thursday by the State Board of Education, which began reshaping the guidelines for social studies lessons.

The board was wading through dozens of amendments before an expected first vote on the new standards, which will dictate what some 4.8 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade are required to learn in social studies, history and economics classes for the next decade. A final vote is expected in March.

What’s decided in Texas could affect what school children elsewhere learn as well. The guidelines will be used by textbook publishers who develop material for the nation based on Texas, one of the largest markets.

Do remember that as was the case with the science standards, what happens now isn’t final. It’s the vote in March that really matters. For the full gory details of the testimony and debate, see the TFN blog here, here, and here – they’re on a dinner break right now, so there’s still more to come – and the Trib here and here.

SBOE prepares to screw up social studies

From a TFN press release:

The state’s leading religious liberties group today joined with clergy and scholars in calling on the State Board of Education to approve new curriculum standards that don’t undermine religious freedom in Texas social studies classrooms.

“Curriculum writers have drafted proposed standards that rightly acknowledge the influence of faith on the Founders and in our nation’s history,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said today. “But those writers also respected religious freedom by rejecting political pressure to portray the United States as favoring one faith over all others. Doing otherwise would aid the teaching of bad history and promote something that is fundamentally un-American.”

Miller spoke in advance of a Wednesday public hearing on proposed new social studies curriculum standards. Teachers, academics and community members from around the state have spent the last year crafting the new standards. Publishers will use the standards to write new textbooks scheduled for adoption by Texas in 2011. The state board will debate the standards drafts on Thursday and has scheduled a final vote in March.

Derek Davis, dean of humanities and the graduate school and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Mary Hardin-Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Belton, called on the board to respect the work of teachers and other experts who helped write the new standards.

“Religious liberty stands as one of our nation’s bedrock principles,” Davis said. “Yet it seems always under siege by those who fail to appreciate the astute thinking of the founding fathers that caused them to write into the Constitution the principle that guarantees religious liberty: the separation of church and state. This distinctly American value continues to set our nation apart from those embroiled in religious conflict in the rest of the world.”

Miller and Davis were joined at a press conference by the Rev. Marcus McFaul of Highland Park Baptist Church in Austin and Steven Green, a professor of law and of history and director of the Willamette Center for Religion at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

“The instruction of religious faith, discipleship, and a life of service and piety is the responsibility of each faith community, whether church, synagogue or mosque,” Rev. McFaul said. “It is the responsibility of parents and parishes, not public schools. We all note – as the curriculum writers did – the role and influence of religion in American history, but not to advance, promote or seek advantage for any particular religion’s point of view.”

The state board has revised curriculum standards for language arts and science over the past two years. In both cases the board either threw out or heavily revised standards crafted by curriculum writing teams that included teachers, curriculum specialists and academic experts. Last year, for example, creationists on the state board pushed through science standards that call into question long-established scientific evidence for evolution.

“This is not a good way to make sound education policy,” Miller said of the board’s habit of rejecting the work of teachers and experts. “It’s past time that state board members stop playing politics with the education of Texas children, respect the hard work teachers and other experts have put into writing standards, and acknowledge that experts – not politicians – know best what our children need to learn.”

Just a reminder that no matter how positive the electoral prospects are, there’s an awful lot of damage the SBOE clown chow can do before it is hopefully ushered off stage. Martha and the Trib, which has yet another depressing report about yet another ignorant, aggrieved wingnut wreaking havoc on the social studies commission, have more.

You can try, but you can’t out-embarrass the SBOE

The Court of Criminal Appeals has had a good run lately as the public institution that has caused the most embarrassment to Texas, thanks in no small part to the ongoing Keller saga and the recent hot judge-on-prosecutor ruling. But never count out the State Board of Education, where it’s not just a clown show, it’s a way of life, as seen in these clips from the recent hearings on social studies textbooks gathered by TPM Muckraker.

In these clips, the seated officials are members of the GOP-majority board of ed. The woman standing up is the representative of the high school U.S. history textbook standards writing team. Keep in mind, the writing team is supposed to incorporate in its next revision of the standards the input of the board members.

First up, board member Don McLeroy explains the importance of recognizing how “the majority” has helped “minorities” like African-Americans and women. “For instance, the women’s right to vote. … The men passed it for the women.”

(An incredulous female board member can be heard asking in the background, “How many years did it take?”)

I suppose by McLeroy’s logic, I ought to be grateful to all of the people in high school who could have beaten me up but didn’t. That came out almost two weeks ago but just came to my attention, via Twitter. Which means that no matter what ultimately happens, that will be the lasting impression a lot of people have of the SBOE. If only it were an inaccurate one.

Textbook ideology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not all conservative board members share that view.

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

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

The new social studies curriculum, so far

There’s no reason to believe that the lunatic fringe of the State Board of Education will do anything but push an unrealistic and ideological change to the state’s social studies curriculum. They’ve made that clear by the kind of “expert” they’ve added to the committee that’s doing the review. But so far, at least, so good.

The first draft of new social studies standards for Texas public schools is out and, as expected, it contains little to stir up controversy. The curriculum standards, written by teams of teachers and academics, spell out what should be taught in government, history and other social studies classes in all elementary and secondary schools. The standards also will be used to write textbooks and develop state tests for students.

Debate is expected to pick up when the standards go before the State Board of Education this fall. Board members clashed over proposed science standards earlier this year, and the social conservative bloc on the panel is expected to press its views – including the importance of Christian values in U.S. history – when the document comes up for consideration.

Although three curriculum experts appointed by social conservatives called for some dramatic additions in the curriculum proposal, their suggestions were largely ignored by the writing teams – which pursued a more mainstream approach to U.S. history, government and other subjects. The draft is available here.

It would have been much better, of course, for those three so-called “experts” to have never been selected to serve on the committee. But given that they’re there, the more they can be ignored, the better. Again, in the end I am sure they will make their presence known. For now, at least, sanity is prevailing. EoW has more, while the Texas Freedom Network has a few bon mots from (former) Chairman Don.

Defining “expert” down

The Statesman editorial board lets us know how Don McLeroy defines an “expert” on something.

Don McLeroy, who couldn’t muster enough votes in the Republican-dominated Texas Senate to win confirmation as chairman of the State Board of Education, has a curious notion of what qualifies someone as an expert.

“If two (board) members think they’re qualified, they’re qualified,” McLeroy said. McLeroy, a Bryan dentist who retains his seat on the board, was discussing the selection of experts chosen to make recommendations on the state’s social studies curriculum to be adopted next year.

Give the doctor points for candor, but securing two votes of people who agree with your views on religion and politics — religion in politics in this case — should not an expert make. McLeroy’s comment reveals what is horribly wrong with the way curriculum is developed by an elected board that serves as a platform for the ultra-conservative members to promote a religious ideology.

You have to admit, that explains a lot. One wonders: If, say, two board members of the Texas Freedom Network produced a list of experts on the Bible, do you think Don McLeroy would accept it? I’m kinda thinking the answer to that is No.

The fight over social studies

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

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

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

Christianity? Emphasize its importance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another chance to slap the Governor

The Lege has had a few opportunities to express its opinion about Governor Perry and his “leadership” this session. Passing the unemployment insurance bill, inserting the budget amendment that would strip funding from the Texas Enterprise Fund in the event of a veto of the UI bill, the Office of State-Federal Relations bill, that sort of thing. The Senate will get another chance today when the dentist in charge of the SBOE, Don McLeroy, comes up for a confirmation hearing as the chair of that agency. TFN Insider has the details.

Don McLeroy’s appointment as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education finally gets a hearing in the Senate Nominations Committee on Wednesday (April 22). Gov. Rick Perry appointed McLeroy chairman in July 2007, after the last legislative session. So the Senate still has to confirm his appointment.

It’s unusual for the Senate to reject a governor’s appointment. Even so, state lawmakers aren’t happy with a state board that has become increasingly dysfunctional (and embarrassing) since the Bryan dentist’s elevation to chairman. The board has disregarded established procedures, ignored state law, defied the Legislature and lurched from one “culture war” battle to the next. Most recently, of course, Chairman McLeroy led the board in opening the state’s science curriculum to creationist attacks on evolution, wildly declaring: “I disagree with all these experts! Somebody has to stand up to these experts!”

The Nominations Committee will meet 30 minutes after the Senate adjourns for the day on Wednesday. The hearing, which will include testimony on other nominations as well, will be in the Senate chamber at the Capitol. Those who want to testify can register at the hearing.

Unless you’re already at the Capitol it’s probably too late to take any action to influence the committee. You can tune in to the Senate’s live video feed to watch the hearings, though, which ought to be more interesting than the usual Senate business – looks like McLeroy is just now getting into the hot seat. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this one.

Clipping the SBOE

Patricia Kilday Hart has the quote of the day.

The fallout from the State Board of Education’s debate over the teaching of evolution continued this morning in the Senate Education Committee, which held a spirited discussion on Sen. Kel Seliger’s SB 2275 transferring authority for textbook adoption from the State Board of Education to the state’s Education Commissioner.

How spirited? Sen. Kip Averitt, one of the most soft-spoken members of the Senate, was moved to observe that partisan discord has so infected the State Board that its Democrats believe “Republicans want to impose their religious beliefs” on public school students while its Republicans believe “Democrats want to teach our children how to masturbate.”

That woke up the audience members, some no doubt wondering how such a course might boost their kid’s GPA.

Finally, a scholastic category in which we’d have hope of not being Number 50 in the nation. And just imagine what the standardized tests would be like. TFN Insider, which thinks Sen. Seliger’s bill is a good idea, and the Observer have more on the debate and on Sen. Averitt’s remarks.

Quote of the day runnerup goes to the Wall Street Journal for their article on the SBOE’s shenanigans.

“At this point, a lot of us are questioning…whether the state Board of Education serves a purpose anymore,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat.

Most state boards of education oversee curricula and assessment tests, but responsibilities for textbooks and school funding vary from state to state.

Board members, who aren’t paid, object to most legislative meddling.

“As crazy as the Texas Board of Education is, there are just as many crazies, percentage-wise, in the state Legislature,” said board member Pat Hardy. Another member, Cynthia Dunbar, said the board’s fierce debates should be seen as a sign that all views are well represented.

I think it’s incumbent on all of us to figure out a way to compare the levels of craziness between the two bodies. Maybe we can get Nate Silver to do some kind of regression analysis on the question. And I must say, regardless of the outcome of that, Cynthia Dunbar does an excellent job of making sure that the crazy constituency is well-represented; hell, between her, Don McLeroy, David Bradley, and some others, that’s easily the best-represented group in the state. Which, naturally, brings us back to the point of Sen. Seliger’s bill. Here’s hoping it makes it through.

Win some, lose some for science

That’s the basic conclusion to draw after the three-day circus that was the now-concluded SBOE hearings in Austin. TFN Insider sums it up:

TFN President Kathy Miller: Texas State Board of Education Adopts Flawed Science Standards

The word “weaknesses” no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms.

Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don’t agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy.

What’s truly unfortunate is that we now have to revisit this entire debate in two years when new science textbooks are adopted. Perhaps the Texas legislature can do something to prevent that.

As before, TFN’s liveblogging was an invaluable resource for anyone who wanted to know just what the heck they were doing up there. Friday’s installations are here and here, with a video preview of what it was all about here. Other liveblogs: Thoughts from Kansas and Evo.Sphere, while once again Martha covered things on Twitter. She also has an article reprinted from QR that goes into the reasons why this is such a circus. The Observer has a wrapup piece as well. Finally, as evidence for the Evan Smith thesis about the close tie between the SBOE’s baloney and Texas’ bad image elsewhere, I submit this. The good news, in a sense, is that at least we’re not the only ones. And we have two years, and an election, in which to get it right for the next time.

Strengths and weaknesses fails

That’s the good news.

San Antonio’s Ken Mercer, part of the board’s seven-member social conservative bloc, tried to put the much-debated “strengths and weaknesses” language back into the state’s science standards that guide the content of textbooks and curriculum. Mercer’s amendment to a final draft of the science standards would have required science teachers to discuss the so-called weaknesses of evolutionary theory in their science classes.

A few minutes ago, Mercer’s amendment failed by one vote (the tally was 7-7).

Corpus Christi’s Mary Helen Berlanga missed this morning’s vote, though she isn’t one of the board’s social conservatives and would be expected to vote against the strengths weaknesses language.

The board will take a final vote on the science standards tomorrow.

Unless one of the other members has a last-minute change of heart, it appears the strengths and weaknesses language won’t be included in the new science standards. That would be a huge victory for the pro-evolution side.

That’s very good news, as it avoids Texas becoming a national laughingstock for the time being. This sort of thing never truly goes away, of course, so we can never let up. Unelecting some of the troglodtyes on the Board would make the job a lot easier. One such possible target is Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who is at best wishy-washy on a lot of science issues, and who might be easier to take out in a primary than any of the Republicans in a general election. Keep an eye on him.

The bad news is that some other petty little odious amendments did make it through. I haven’t followed this closely enough to tell you about it, but there are plenty of others who have, so for more information than you could possibly need, here’s where to go:

TFN‘s exhaustive liveblogs – one, two, three, four.

Vince’s liveblog from today.

Thoughts from Kansas, another busy liveblogger. Too many posts to recount – try their creationism archives for an overview.

Martha on Twitter – you might also search for the #txsboe hashtag. Martha also testified before the committee.

On balance, I’d call it a good week for science, though between this and the stem cell skulduggery, I wouldn’t say it was good by that much.

UPDATE: The TFN summarizes:

OK, we’ve had a little time to digest all that went on today at the Texas State Board of Education. Without going through each of the many amendments that passed, here’s essentially what happened. This morning the board slammed the door on bringing creationism into classrooms through phony “weaknesses” arguments. But then board members turned around and threw open all the windows to pseudoscientific nonsense attacking core concepts like common descent and natural selection.

The amendments approved today are very problematic, regardless of the important victory over “strengths and weaknesses.” We anticipate that all 15 board members will be participating tomorrow, however, including a pro-science member who was absent today. So there is still time to reverse course.

Tomorrow, with the final vote, the board has a serious decision to make: is the science education of the next generation of Texas schoolchildren going to be based on fact-based, 21st-century science or on the personal beliefs of board members promoting phony arguments and pseudoscience?

You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at sboeteks@tea.state.tx.us. Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

Like I said, it could have been a lot worse. But it could still be a lot better.

UPDATE: Dave Mann thinks the picture is bleaker.

The seven social conservatives on the 15-member board mostly got their way this afternoon. They passed a series of minor amendments that, with a slight word change here and there, diluted the state’s science standards and the teaching of evolutionary theory. Critics say these proposals open loopholes in the standards for the teaching of unscientific theories espoused by religious conservatives. (The same approach was tried, quite successfully, at the board’s meeting in January.)

[…]

The change in fortunes occurred largely because of Rick Agosto of San Antonio, who voted against the social conservatives in the morning and mostly with them in the afternoon. Agosto is viewed as the key swing vote on the board. He voted against the “strengths and weaknesses” language in January and again this morning, despite fierce lobbying from religious groups in his district.

Agosto wasn’t alone. Several other pro-evolution board members voted with the social conservatives’ this afternoon.

The board will take its final vote on the science standards, which will set content of classes and textbooks for years to come, tomorrow. The board can add in or take out language up until final passage.

So one last fight is likely tomorrow.

Remember the name Rick Agosto. The fight next year has to be in March as well.

The “strengths and weaknesses” showdown

Back in January, the State Board of Education somewhat surprisingly voted to remove anti-science “strengths and weaknesses” language from the curriculum. That was only a preliminary vote, however, and today is the day that the hearings begin for the final vote. The Texas Freedom Network gives a preview.

After more than a year of work and often bitter debate, the State Board of Education is set this week to decide what the next generation of Texas students will learn in their public school science classrooms. Media outlets across the country (including the New York Times here and here, the Wall Street Journal today and even FOX News) have focused attention on the important battle over what the state’s new science curriculum standards should require schools to teach about evolution.

Beginning with the public hearing at noon on Wednesday, we will be live-blogging the debate for three days. So you will be able to keep up with the action here. A preliminary vote is scheduled for Thursday, with a final vote coming Friday.

[…]

What students should learn about evolution isn’t really debated in much of the rest of the developed world. In Texas — and, in fact, much of the United States — it still is. And because the huge Texas market is so important to publishers, what this state requires students to learn is likely to be taught in textbooks used by students across the country.

And just to set the scene a little further, here’s what Don McLeroy, the dentist in charge of the SBOE, has been up to in his official capacity as SBOE Chair.

Scientists are “atheists.” Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are “monsters.” Pastors who support sound science are “morons.”

Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn “weaknesses” of evolution back into the science curriculum standards? That’s certainly the message of a new book McLeroy is now endorsing.

It gets better. The book’s author, in a series of essays published on his blog, “presents evidence that Barack Obama is directly linked to Satanic teachings through his close association with Oprah Winfrey”. Lord only knows what he thinks about Dr. Phil.

Oh, and it turns out that in addition to everything else, Don McLeroy is a plagiarist. Isn’t that, like, a sin or something? I mean, what will we tell the children? Thanks to Lisa Falkenberg for the catch.

Go click the TFN links to get the details on that – you can even get to a full copy of the book, if you really want to. In any event, this should give you some idea of what to expect. As Evan Smith noted awhile back, get ready for Texas’ image around the world to take another body blow.