Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image


School districts don’t need gift registries

They need to have their needs met by the state.

Texas school districts ravaged by Hurricane Harvey still need thousands of textbooks, dictionaries and other instructional resources, so the state’s education agency is borrowing a page from the wedding industry to help cover the costs.

The Texas Education Agency has modified its textbook ordering system to create a “wedding registry” of sorts where districts can list the textbooks they need to replace those damaged in the storm.

Textbook publishers, individuals or organizations can then donate the books, as can school districts that have excess inventory.

“It was very clear that a lot of people lost a great amount of instructional materials, including textbooks,” Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said. “If you consider the scale of Harvey, (the registry) is not solving everyone’s problems, but it is helping in places.”

The registry is meant to match districts in need with those willing to donate, and officials say those donations will free up money to cover other costs, such as rebuilding schools.

But some question the approach, expressing concerns over delays in instruction as schools wait for the textbooks to arrive, and the impact that will have on student learning.

“If we had books that have been destroyed, then the state needs to step up and take care of that problem,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

So far, 14 districts have created needs-lists in the state’s registry, including Humble, Sheldon and Pasadena school districts.

You can see the registry page here. I mean, I have no problem with providing a way for districts that have surplus supplies to give them to those that need them, but that should not be the first avenue of recourse. Students need textbooks and other such materials today – remember, their standardized test scores are still going to count. As Rep. Huberty says, the districts should just buy what they need and send the bill to the state. Admittedly, I can understand why they might be skittish about that, but if there’s one time where public opinion should be overwhelmingly on their side, this would be it. Let’s not waste any time here.

SBOE approves new evolution standard

Shockingly, it doesn’t suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a necessary change, according to Wetherington.

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

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

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

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

Some things never evolve

The SBOE, for instance.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

SBOE rejects that lousy Mexican-American studies textbook


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.

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.


Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.


Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.

Documenting the ways that proposed Mexican-American Studies textbook sucks

Read the report.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In which we find another way to suck at textbooks

Oh, good Lord.

If the State Board of Education approves a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook this fall, Texas students could learn that the Aztecs waged war because of “bloodlust,” 19th-century Mexican industrial laborers often drank on the job and slavery was in swift decline just before the Civil War, scholars and activists said at a press conference Monday.

Activist groups and professors with the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition gathered Monday at the Texas Education Agency to list their concerns with the book, “Mexican American Heritage,” and call on the board to reject it.

“Excessive errors render the proposed textbook useless and even counterproductive,” said Emilio Zamora, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin who reviewed the textbook at the request of board member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville.

The text was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. Roughly 10 high schools in Texas currently offer Mexican-American studies; the content of the course varies from school to school, but is often interdisciplinary and includes history, literature and current events. Activists had hoped that a state-approved textbook would make it easier for teachers to start offering the class.

At the press conference, Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, noted that the publisher of “Mexican American Heritage,” Momentum Instruction, LLC, has never published a textbook before, and one of the text’s contributors is Cynthia Dunbar, a conservative former board member.


At the press conference, Zamora said he found an average of five to seven errors on each page he reviewed. He said the text focuses more on general American and world history than on the experiences of Mexican-Americans, characterizes Mexican-American social justice leaders as a threat to the United States and doesn’t cite professional scholarship in the interdisciplinary field of Mexican-American Studies.

Christopher Carmona, chairman of the Committee on Mexican American Studies in Pre-K-12 at Tejas Foco, the state branch of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies, said the flawed textbook reflects a broader problem in Texas: the relative paucity of Mexican-American studies courses in public schools where over half of the student body is Hispanic. Currently, about 10 high schools have established such courses through the state’s elective course “Special Topics in Social Studies,” which allows schools to develop their own classes, including ethnic studies.

“The textbook is a symptom of the fact that we don’t have this in place,” said Carmona, who is also an instructor of English at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The call for textbooks was issued as a compromise when the board debated ethnic studies in 2014. Cortez initially proposed establishing a full-fledged Mexican-American studies course. Instead, the board voted 11-3 to ask publishers to submit textbooks that teachers could use for courses in various ethnic studies classes.

First, let’s be clear that any endeavor involving Cynthia Dunbar is going to be a miasma of toxic wingnuttery. The existence of this textbook has been known for a couple of months, and the SBOE has yet to take up the matter of whether it will be adopted or tossed onto the trash pile where it belongs. (This is the SBOE we’re talking about, so you can probably guess what the likely outcome is.) I – haven’t followed this closely so I can’t tell you a whole lot more about this; go read that Observer link for the basics, and go here if you want to get involved. It sure would be nice if we could avoid embarrassing ourselves again, wouldn’t it? ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Press have more.

Our stupid social studies

Unbelievable, except that it totally is believable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBOE defers new textbook decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s textbook approval time again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

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


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

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

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

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

From the inbox:

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

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

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

NCSE’s analysis is available at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time again to talk textbooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Digital textbooks are on their way

HISD is on the leading edge.

HISD is the first of Texas’ large districts – and among the first large districts in the nation – to radically rethink the way it buys new high school instructional materials, shifting from printed textbooks to digital materials accessible from school-issued laptops.

“Our rule is that, each time state dollars to buy instructional materials come in, we no longer procure physical textbooks,” says Dan Gohl, the Houston Independent School District’s chief academic officer. “We’ll do that every year until we reach a new balance between electronic and physical materials.”


For HISD, the switch is possible because the district is in the midst of a three-year project to equip every high school student with a laptop. This year, students at 11 high schools were issued laptops they could take home. In January 2015, students at 20 more high schools will be similarly equipped, and by 2016, every high school student in HISD will have one.

The new generation of textbooks, HISD officials emphasize, must be more than just scans of the print versions. “It’s not enough to say ‘digital,’ ” says Gohl. “A pdf isn’t enough.”

Last October, in a meeting with publishers that serve the Texas market, Gohl described the kind of digital textbooks that HISD intended to buy – starting with this year’s purchases for science courses. (Next year, the district plans to follow suit with social studies and math.)

“There should be embedded links and video,” Gohl says. “It has to be editable; teachers must be able to use just portions, without taking the whole thing. And it must share some degree of connectivity.”

Yeah, that’ll be different, all right. Benefits include lower costs, more flexibility, and of course better outcomes in the classroom. How much of these benefits HISD ultimately reaps remains to be seen, since we’re still on the first steps of this journey. There’s a lot to look forward to, that much is for sure. See here, here, here, and here for more on the laptop program that underlies this for HISD.

SBOE does something OK

I know, I’m as surprised as you are.

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

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

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

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

The board will have a final vote on Friday.

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

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.

Barton versus Cornyn?

From Warren Throckmorton:

Big John Cornyn

Big John Cornyn

There is a lot of chatter these days among tea partiers in Texas about who should run against John Cornyn in the 2014 Senate primary. Despite a conservative voting record, Cornyn is being targeted by the tea party set because he is perceived to be soft on Obamacare, immigration, taxes and the national debt. As I reported on Monday, David Barton has been asked by some tea party folks to consider a challenge to Cornyn. The spin is that Barton has party experience, broad name recognition, and, probably with Glenn Beck’s help, could access adequate funds for a Senate campaign.

Without Barton in the mix, Cornyn seems safe. Cornyn’s current challengers probably could not mount a significant campaign to unseat Cornyn. Thus far, those challengers include attorney Linda VegaErick Wyatt and Dwayne Stovall.


If these three are the only challengers, the Senate seat seems safe for Cornyn. However, I suspect the situation would change if Barton gets into the race.

Barton’s name recognition would swamp the other three challengers and soon involve the national media. A Barton v. Cornyn confrontation would place additional focus on the current GOP Civil War. Barton’s supporters would invoke memories of Ted Cruz’s improbable victory over an establishment candidate in Texas with Barton cast as Cruz’s ally. Given Barton’s early support for Cruz, I suspect Cruz would endorse Barton. Cornyn would have a boatload of opposition research to use but Barton’s followers seem immune to such things. All of this is probably enough to cause major heartburn among the GOP establishment in Texas.

Ed Kilgore fills in a few details.

This possibility dwarfs even Craig James’ disastrous 2012 Senate campaign in Texas as a possible source of schadenfreude.

In case you’re not familiar with David Barton, he’s the “historian” who is heavily responsible for the “Christian Nation” meme beloved of conservative pols, and for the inversion by conservative evangelicals of their historic support for separation of church and state (the above-mentioned Warren Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian scholar himself, co-authored a recent book debunking Barton’s especially twisted take on Thomas Jefferson).

The Texas Freedom Network has a good primer on Barton, whom they’ve been keeping an eye on for awhile since he’s been heavily involved in the textbook wars around here. I have no idea if this really is a thing or not, but if Barton were to get elected, hard as this may be to believe, he could displace Ted Cruz as the craziest Senator from Texas. Thankfully, we Dems will have a candidate in the race, so get to know Maxey Scherr, you’ll need to know that name later. Burka, Unfair Park, and The Slacktivist have more.

Standing up for science

Sure hope it did some good.

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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.

CSCOPE still in scope

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

Thomas Ratliff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Open source textbooks

This is a great idea.

The words “free” and “college” aren’t often used in the same sentence, but a philanthropic venture at Rice University is drawing attention for bringing them together.

OpenStax College, a nonprofit publishing organization founded by a Rice professor, offers free online textbooks for the five most-attended college courses in the country. They’re mostly introductory courses that students must take to move on to upper level classes. In some classes, the required textbook can cost as much as $250.

With rising tuition and fees, some students struggle to cover the costs of textbooks and supplies, which also have increased. Students will shell out an average of $1,200 on textbooks this school year, up about 3 percent from last year, according to the College Board, a nonprofit that tracks colleges costs.

“Textbooks are so expensive, especially for community college students,” said founder and electrical engineering professor Richard Baraniuk. “Some drop out because of the cost of learning materials. We decided to do something about it.”

OpenStax’s goal is to save 1 million college students $95 million over the next five years.

About 80 institutions have adopted the organization’s first two titles – College Physics and Introduction to Sociology – since they were published in June. More than 75,000 users have viewed them and more than 40,000 have downloaded pdf versions. Print versions are also available for $30.

Another option introduced two weeks ago is the interactive ibook version of College Physics, which includes graphics, videos and demonstrations. Students can download the textbook on an iPad or iPod for $4.99.


The real question is whether open source publishers are sustainable. Flat World Knowledge, a for-profit open source publisher, recently announced that starting Jan. 1, it will begin charging a fee for online textbooks. The company’s co-founder, Jeff Shelstad, told the Chronicle of Higher Education the move was because of cost and limited capital.

Baraniuk believes OpenStax will be sustainable. The organization is already generating revenue through profit sharing with for-profit companies that offer ancillary textbook features for a fee. It also earns revenue from its print and ibook versions, he said.

We’ve been talking about electronic textbooks for several years now, though it’s taken off slowly. I suppose availability and distribution are part of the reason for that, and if so then this sort of scheme ought to address those issues. It also seems to me that these textbooks don’t need to be free for this to be a success – a donation model, or a modest subscription plan should be workable and should be true to the idea of making these texts affordable to students. I figure it’s just a matter of time before something like this becomes the norm. Anyone out there have any direct experience with this? Leave a comment and let us know.

Soto’s parting gift on textbooks

Outgoing SBOE member Michael Soto will be missed.

Michael Soto

Soto, the Trinity University English professor who was knocked off in this year’s Democratic primary by the little-known Marisa Perez, spent much of his two years on the board grappling with frustration over the state’s cumbersome textbook mandates.

So, in his final months in office, he quietly rewrote the board’s rules governing the adoption of instructional materials.

Those changes, coupled with a 2011 state law that let some oxygen into the room for school district curriculum planners, could mean that textbook publishers will no longer view Texas as the rich, crazy uncle they need but wish they could avoid.

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Soto says.


“I wanted to encourage school districts to think creatively about how they used their instructional materials,” Soto says. “And I wanted publishers to have significantly more freedom to be creative and still remain a part of the state adoption process.”

Ultimately, that meant more deleting than writing; scratching nonsensical rules such as the one that mandated textbook publishers to mention a required element of the state curriculum three times.

“I would ask my colleagues, ‘Why are we specifying how many times something has to be mentioned?’ They said, ‘Three times is better than one, because students will encounter it more and be more likely to remember it,’” Soto says. “So I said, ‘By that logic, why not require it 50 times?’”

Before Soto’s rule changes, if a school wanted to buy a teacher’s manual from a publisher, it was obligated to also shell out money for textbooks. Soto eliminated that requirement, enabling publishers to tailor their products more precisely to the needs of individual districts.

Soto also threw out the board’s onerous old mandate that all electronic instructional materials be platform-neutral, automatically ruling out innovative material in Android, iPad, Kindle, Windows or Mac formats.

The result of this work, made possible by the passage of SB6 in 2011, is that textbook publishers can now bypass the state approval process and sell their wares directly to school districts, which ought to reduce the need for them to kowtow to whatever creationist/alternate history whims the SBOE might be indulging. That’s a big deal. I still don’t know what motivated Marisa Perez to run for this office – as far as I know, she’s still never clearly articulated a reason for her decision – but I sure hope she can come close to living up to the standard Soto set while on the board, because they need all the help they can get. Thanks for your service, Michael Soto.

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.

Who sets the standard for science?

I don’t get the fuss over this.

Many say students need to be science literate so they can innovate, compete and maneuver with the latest technology. If the United States wants to compete on the world stage, teachers and science lessons must evolve, too.

It’s largely with this agenda in mind that the National Research Council, states, educators and scientists are updating national standards in science instruction.

The Next Generation Science Standards involve identifying what all K-12 students must know in physics, life science, Earth/space science and engineering. It is a collaboration among the council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Achieve, an independent, bipartisan education reform organization based in Washington, D.C. Once completed, the standards will be ready for adoption by the states.

“We want to make sure our students are going to meet the demands of the 21st century,” said Stephen Pruitt, Achieve’s vice president for content, research and development.

Talk of national science standards, however, is stirring a debate in Texas, where members of the State Board of Education say they don’t plan to adopt them anytime soon, in part because the state recently overhauled its science standards.

State officials are also concerned that Texas, by agreeing to go along with the standards, would surrender too much control to outside sources, possibly the U.S. Education Department.

Board member Thomas Ratliff said an overhaul would “throw professional development and teachers and students in an absolute freefall.”

“I just can’t imagine there is any likelihood or chance that it could happen,” Ratliff said. “I think the further away from the children the standards are developed, the worse they are. They have to be all things to all people.”


State board member Patricia Hardy of Weatherford said it is too soon to overhaul science education again, noting that it would cost textbook companies and other providers of materials.

Texas last reviewed its science standards in 2009.The contentious process drew national attention, and the board eventually adopted science standards that encourage study of all sides of scientific theories.

“If we were to jump ship and go over to this other [set of standards], we would have wasted a lot of time and energy,” Hardy said. “When we push back against national standards, it is not really the elements that are in the science standard we are opposed to. It’s the idea that we prefer a state-run educational system.

“We want the state to be responsible for education. That isn’t to say that we can’t take ideas and consider them,” Hardy said. “We don’t want the federal government telling us how to run the schools. They can tell us this is being developed by outside sources, but I don’t … believe the Department of Education doesn’t have its thumb on this.”

I sort of understand Ratliff’s objection. He’s right that the broader an audience there is for a set of standards the harder it is to get everyone to buy into it and the more likely that it will be watered down or overloaded with parochial concerns. But honestly, what is there to be gained by having fifty individual science standards? Biology, chemistry, and physics don’t vary from state to state. The downside to letting everyone do their own thing is that it opens the door for various local yahoos (*cough* *cough* SBOE *cough* *cough*) to impose their own whacked out world view. I’m not going to say that one size fits all, but I definitely see value in an effort like the NGSS to create a standard that states can emulate. Science isn’t subjective – someone needs to say what’s right.

To their credit, neither Ratliff nor Hardy is ruling out using what the NGSS has to offer. Unfortunately, that may not happen any time soon, since the SBOE just finished wasting a bunch of time and insulting everyone’s intelligence with its current science curriculum. This is a good example of why it is best to get things right the first time. Water under the bridge now, but hopefully we’ll be better placed to do it correctly the next time. At least we’ll have something to go by when we do.

Grading Texas science classes

We get a C.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAllen ISD goes digital

Here’s a look at the future, coming to a school near you.

A Rio Grande Valley school district plans to equip every one of its 25,000 students with Apple iPads, rolling ahead with a digitally enhanced curriculum effort that’s among the largest of its type in the nation.

“It’s not just about a device; it’s about a device in a child’s hand,” McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce told school officials and local dignitaries packed into an elementary school library for the announcement Tuesday. “It puts McAllen ISD out front and center.”

The school board last month unanimously approved the first phase of the project, a $3.6 million purchase of more than 5,000 iPad 2’s and 425 iPod Touch devices.

Within a year’s time, the district plans to take things districtwide, spending millions on devices that well may become each student’s own Internet research library, project manager and academic navigator.

To equip each student with an iPad will cost about $20.5 million, district officials said. The district will buy the devices, but said they also will pursue grants and donations to help pay for them.

While McAllen ISD officials say that this is the biggest project of its type in the country, it’s conceptually nothing new. The Lege passed a law in 2009 that directed the TEA to to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials from which schools could select electronic textbooks or instructional materials to purchase. Admittedly, it’s been slow going so far, but some more innovative districts have found ways to take advantage of smartphones to enhance the classroom experience. This is just the next logical step in the progression. I wish McAllen ISD luck in finding underwriters for this project, and I hope they keep good track of all of their data.

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:

The details:

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

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

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

Agenda (for “Committee of the Full Board”):

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:

***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.

The board votes on the biology science supplements

When: 9 a.m.

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

Agenda (for “General meeting”:

Live video feed:

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 ( in the morning. After lunch, he’ll switch to his blog,

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:

Time once again to keep an eye on the SBOE

The Legislature is now out of town, but there will still be action in Austin to watch out for as the State Board of Education holds its July meeting. The Express News lets us know what’s happening.

In 2008, an SBOE majority rejected the recommendations of experts and scholars from a two-year process to rewrite the English and reading curriculum. Instead, at the last minute this faction adopted a document that had never been publicly reviewed, one that established new language arts standards in Texas for the next decade.

In 2009, the SBOE adopted new science standards that ignored the recommendations of leading scientists and educators. Last year, the board adopted politically-charged social studies standards that even a conservative educational think tank panned as “historically misleading and potentially damaging to our shared values as a nation.”

Now the SBOE is preparing to adopt supplemental instructional materials in science. With school district budgets strapped by cuts in education funding, it is essential that science teachers have the materials they need to prepare students to meet state-mandated benchmarks and, more important, to be successful in a competitive, knowledge-based economy.

Ideologically monkeying with educational standards and materials should never be acceptable. The only check on the SBOE’s actions is an informed public that scrutinizes the work of SBOE members and holds them accountable at the ballot box.

We’ve been down this road before and we know where it leads. New SBOE member Michael Soto has some information on his website about how to get involved:

You can view samples of the science instructional materials under consideration and leave comments at the Texas Education Agency website. (Some samples require a username and password; to request access, email If you discover factual errors, you can file a list with the TEA at this email (To learn more about how to report factual errors, please review this TEA web page.)

The public is invited to testify before the SBOE at its July meeting. (Testimony will be heard on Thursday, July 21st.) To learn more about how to testify, please review this TEA web page.

See here for more. Let’s start working on this now and raise alarms where needed so we won’t be caught by surprise later.

So what is the point of the SBOE, anyway?

Here’s another story about the difficulties of SBOE redistricting, and it’s got me wondering why we bother having an elected body called the State Board of Education.

This legislative session, lawmakers are working on redrawing the 15 districts based on new census data — released every 10 years — but a rise in population has made the task difficult and left some pushing to enlarge the board.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, a Carrollton Republican who heads the House Redistricting Committee, said that by the time the next census is done, some members will represent more than 2 million people.

“That’s unreasonable,” Solomons said.

Solomons said in drawing the new map, which was approved by his committee this month and is waiting to be brought before the House for a vote, it became clear that there is a problem as the population continues to grow.

He said he plans to ask House Speaker Joe Straus to take a look at restructuring the board after the session.

“There needs to be some resolution before the next census,” Solomons said.

His push to restructure the board has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans.

State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who ran for a spot on the board twice, said its districts are twice the size of congressional districts.

“Nobody knows who their State Board of Education member is unless they’re in the news for misbehaving,” Howard said.

My SBOE member is Terri Leo, who happens to represent one of the smallest geographic districts. I know she’s my SBOE member because it says I’m in SBOE6 on my voter registration card. I also know that at least in the last decade, I’ve never received any form of communication from her about what she or the Board are doing or how I can give her feedback. You’ll note there’s nothing on her rather primitive website for any of that, either. You can make a contribution, however, and you can marvel at the fact that her own website misspells her name (see where it says “What people are saying about Terry”?). Way to set a good example, Terri!

Well, maybe that’s just Terri Leo. Maybe Charlie Garza has a legitimate complaint about how much driving he’d have to do to meet his constituents, and maybe Donna Howard is right about knowing your SBOE member. The problem I have with this thinking is that whatever the merits or demerits of a 15-member Board, we can’t expand it enough to make the geography less of an issue. There are 31 State Senators, and some of them have massive, multi-county districts, too. Hell, so do some of the 150 State Reps. I’m certainly open to the idea of expanding the SBOE if by doing so we can make it more diverse, but if you’ll pardon the expression, the geography issue is too big to solve by this method.

Which leads to my question: Why do we need geographic representation on the SBOE? How are the issues that the SBOE deals with – curriculum standards and management of the Permanent School Fund – different for people in El Paso and Houston? The geographic representation we have now is a joke anyway. My urban neighborhood is stuck in Terri Leo’s far-flung suburban district; because of this pairing and the GOP’s partisan needs, Leo is (and has been in the past) the only person who will be on my ballot next year that is both subject to the redistricting process and a Republican. Travis County, as always, is split apart to ensure only Republicans represent it. I might be more sympathetic if these districts made geographic sense, but they don’t. Given all of the other issues, why do we even bother?

If we must have a State Board of Education, I don’t see how we’d be any worse off with an all-appointed board that was subject to some diversity requirements as well as Senate oversight. Really, given that curriculum expertise and fund management are not skill sets that necessarily go together, it would make more sense to dissolve the SBOE, put the curriculum function into the Texas Education Agency, and create a separate board to manage the PSF. Or forget the TEA, create a separate entity for curriculum oversight like the appointed body I mentioned before. Tell me how this would be less representative or less competent than what we have now.

I don’t think any of that is likely to happen, now or in the future. I won’t be surprised if there’s enough momentum for expanding the Board, to maybe 21 members or some such, to get on the agenda in the future. That may allow for some diversity, which is all to the good, but at best it will make a small and temporary dent in the district size problem. I say it’s better to give up on that and think outside the box. What do you think?

SBOE wants its new textbooks

But it may not get them.

State board members are growing increasingly anxious that lawmakers might not provide funding for new textbooks and instructional material – even though they’re giving the Legislature $1.9 billion from a 157-year-old endowment established to help schools, including providing free textbooks for students.

Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, warns that students won’t be able to handle tougher school accountability tests without updated instructional materials.

“It’s a moral imperative that you provide the proper instructional material,” Bradley said this week in an effort to focus attention on the conflict.

A unified board insists that lawmakers spend $500 million on textbooks and instructional material for biology, chemistry and physics in high school, and for English language arts and reading in lower grades, Bradley said.

“This is non-negotiable,” he said.

Some legislative leaders, however, question the wisdom of buying new textbooks when schools face up to $11 billion in budget cuts.

“Right now it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend money on textbooks and then fire the teachers who would be using the textbooks,” said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, vice chair of the House Public Education Committee and school finance expert on the Appropriations Committee.

Personally, I think Hochberg has the better argument here, and with the SBOE being short on friends these days, it’s not clear how they will overcome it. Sure, the new STAAR tests will require new materials, but we can always push back the implementation date on that. Given all the other upheaval that schools and school districts will be facing, that seems like the obvious thing to do. It hasn’t sunk in yet with Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro yet, though, as she insists there will be at last $400 million spent on new texts. Something will have to give, that much is for sure. Martha has more.

Republican legislators want SBOE do over on social studies

Good for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing:

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

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

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

Where’s the money for new textbooks coming from?

Nobody knows just yet.

Neither legislative chamber’s base budget appropriates funds for any new textbooks. The primary concern in the short term is funding for science materials that reflect the 2009 curriculum changes made by the State Board of Education. Those changes are significant, according to Patsy McGee, a Beaumont school district science supervisor and past president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas.

The new, more rigorous testing regimen — the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness system — emphasizes college readiness and will count toward students’ graduation requirements.

Twelve mandatory exams for high schoolers will be phased in over the next four years; the class of 2015 will be the first to complete the full STAAR program.

Last fall, the State Board of Education, recognizing the likelihood of a state revenue shortfall, asked the Legislature for supplemental science materials that would reflect the curriculum changes and be available online only. By going the digital route, the price tag for the materials dropped from $347 million to $60 million.

In total, state Education Commissioner Robert Scott is asking for about $520 million in updated instructional materials for the fall, for the online science materials and for new language arts materials based on standards also recently altered.


The Texas Education Agency intends to press on with the new testing, textbooks or not, and, barring action from the Legislature, is required by law to do just that.

Since the possibility of high-stakes testing without updated instructional materials became real, Scott has repeatedly warned that students might have legal grounds to sue districts or the state for failing to provide them with an opportunity to learn the subject matter on which testing is based.

At a board meeting in September, Scott said providing the materials is “an absolute moral and legal imperative.”

Seems to me there are only two possible choices here. The Lege can suck it up, find the money, and buy the textbooks and supplemental materials needed for the new STAAR tests (for which incoming high school freshmen this fall will be responsible), or admit that they’re incapable of doing so and push back the start date on STAAR until they can do it. The latter would be a stark admission that student performance will be affected by the budget cuts, so I take Sen. Florence Shapiro, who is quoted in the story saying getting this funded is a high priority for her, at her word. How they’re going to square that with all of the swaggering “no new revenue” talk, I have no idea. Reality is a harsh mistress.