Ever wonder who decides what your kids are taught in school? It’s not their principals and teachers. Nor is it their school’s superintendent. The Legislature, maybe? Not quite; the Legislature’s responsibility is to write the education code, fund the schools, and keep the state’s commitment to an accountability system. Every once in a while a lawmaker might pass a bill that authorizes Bible classes or requires daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag, but the Legislature isn’t responsible for curriculum. Okay, then, how about the Texas Education Agency and the commissioner of education? Sounds right, but you’re wrong again. The TEA’s role is simply (or not so simply) to administer the education code.
Ready for the answer? The folks who decide what Texas schoolchildren will learn are the fifteen members of the State Board of Education. Don’t worry if you can’t name a single one. Almost nobody can! Members of this obscure panel are elected in down-ballot races that generate about as much media attention as an appointment to the Funeral Service Commission, but they are the ones who determine the classroom content for every public- or charter-school student in Texas. The board, currently composed of ten Republicans and five Democrats, oversees the process that establishes curriculum standards—known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills—and adopts or rejects textbooks. Members serve four-year terms and receive no financial compensation. (You heard right: They do this for free.) So how well do you know the powerful volunteers who control your children’s education? Take this quiz and see.
Pencils up . . . begin!
1. How many of the fifteen members of the State Board of Education have experience teaching children in a classroom?
A. All of them.
B. None of them.
2. True or false: Every member of the board has a college degree.
3. How many members of the board have homeschooled their children instead of sending them to public school?
A. None, since no one who homeschools would have a vested interest in public education, right?
B. Only one, and the kid went on to Harvard, but he’s kinda weird.
D. All of them.
4. Scientists believe that the earth is 4.5 billion years old. How old does Don McLeroy, the chairman of the board, insist the earth is?
A. 3.5 billion years old.
B. 500 million years old.
C. A few thousand years old.
D. 2,008 years old.
5. “I believe a lot of incredible things,” McLeroy told the New York Times, in June 2008, in an interview about evolution. “The most incredible thing I believe is . . .”
A. “God created the universe in six days.”
B. “I can fly.”
C. “The Christmas story.”
D. “That I am in control of education in Texas.”
6. In March the board debated creating a book list of more than 150 literary works that would be recommended for the classroom. After some critics noted the small number of works by authors from different cultures, McLeroy told the San Antonio Express-News , “You really don’t want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them. Why should you take a child’s time trying to learn a word that they’ll never ever use again?” Which of the following Chinese words or phrases did McLeroy admit could be useful for a child to learn?
A. Chow mein.
B. Kung Fu Panda.
C. Adios, mofo.
D. Ni hao ma? (How are you?)
7. In a letter to the governor in May, board member Mary Helen Berlanga asked that he replace McLeroy, a dentist, whom she called what?
A. A master of deceit.
B. Criminally insane.
C. Dr. Crazypants.
D. A walking root canal.
8. Why did former Republican board member Cynthia Thornton, who did not run for reelection in 2006, request and receive extra security from the armed Capitol guards at board meetings?
A. She had received death threats from the radical pro-evolution group the Darwinners.
B. A socially conservative Republican member had physically threatened her for not voting in a bloc.
C. She was concerned that the crowds of angry protesters who frequently attend the board meetings were likely to riot.
D. She had become convinced that a gorilla was stalking her.
9. Earlier this year, while arguing for a back-to-basics reading-standards proposal, board member David Bradley told the Houston Chronicle that “this critical thinking stuff is . . .”
A. “Hugely important.”
D. “My specialty.”
10. In 1995 the Legislature decreed that the board could reject a textbook only if it failed to meet the state’s curriculum standards, had factual errors, or had a poorly manufactured binding. Two years later, Bradley demonstrated his opposition to an algebra book that some members criticized for its references to environmental and political causes by doing what?
A. Calmly explaining that “this is algebra you’ll never use in the real world.”
B. Tearing off the cover and declaring, “Ladies and gentlemen, worthless binding. I reject this book.”
C. Shouting, “This book is full of lies!”
D. Setting it on fire, then sheepishly writing a check for $56.13, the cost of the book.
11. In a recent interview with Texas Monthly , board member Gail Lowe said, “The National Academy of Sciences has still stated that [evolution] is not a fact, and we don’t believe evolution ought to be taught as a fact.” What is the actual position of the National Academy of Sciences?
A. Evolution is a working hypothesis with significant weaknesses.
B. The evolution will be televised.
C. Evolution is both a fact and a theory.
D. I want a banana.
12. The current science curriculum standards, approved by the board, state that students must be taught the “strengths and weaknesses” of any theory. Which of the following are theories that, according to this view, could have both strengths and weaknesses?
C. Universal gravitation.
D. The big bang.
E. Plate tectonics.