SBOE adopts science standards; was the fix in?

Jul 22, 2011 By Paul Burka

When the Texas Freedom Network puts out an approving statement about an action taken by the State Board of Education, you know something strange is going on. Here was the TFN statement: “Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education.

SBOE’s Mercer blasts “RINO’s”

Jul 19, 2011 By Paul Burka

And “liberal Austin bloggers.” That’s me. Mercer issued a press release, which, I assume, also went to his mailing list, under the following headline: Democrats recruiting a “Republican” to run against Ken Mercer ( San Antonio, Texas) – Well the liberal Austin bloggers let the political cat out of the…

Perry’s pick at SBOE

Jul 5, 2011 By Paul Burka

The choice came down to Barbara Cargill and David Bradley. Perry should have picked Bob Craig, of Lubbock, a respected member and a moderate. Cargill will get to occupy the chairman’s seat until the Senate refuses to confirm her in 2013, as it has chosen to refuse to confirm the…

SBOE strikes again — loans for charter schools

Jul 24, 2010 By Paul Burka

You have to hand it to the far-right faction on the State Board of Education. They never seem to run out of bad ideas. This one is really terrible — a $100 million loan program for facilities for charter schools. The constitution vests in the SBOE the responsibility for managing…

Where’s Waldo?

May 23, 2010 By Paul Burka

I mean, where’s Bill White? The State Board of Education is in a meltdown that is getting worldwide publicity, and the best he can do is say that if he is elected governor, he would name a new chair. Big deal. He ought to be saying: This is Rick Perry’s…

Jefferson wins! He’s back in the textbooks

May 21, 2010 By Paul Burka

This "tick-tock" report comes from my colleague Katy Vine, who has been following and writing about the State Board of Education for Texas Monthly. 12:31 – Here we go. Bob Craig makes a motion to add “impact of Enlightenment ideas” back into a standard altered in March to remove references to the Enlightenment and Thomas Jefferson. Craig also asks to strike the Protestant theologian John Calvin (added in March) and restore Thomas Jefferson. Far-right board members pounce. 12:36 – Dunbar rides to the defense of John Calvin, trying desperately to recast him as a political theorist on the order of others mentioned in the standards. 12:39 – Miller defends the absolute necessity of keeping Jefferson in the group of important enlightenment figures, reading comments from SMU history professor Ed Countryman. Board members are taken aback at sudden injection of informed opinion into their debate. 12:42 – It appears the far right faction is set to wave the white flag and allow Jefferson back into this standard. But they are dead set on having Aquinas and Calvin alongside him in this standard. 12:44 – Here is Dunbar’s tortured logic — the definition of Enlightenment necessarily rules out divine, received knowledge in favor of rational knowledge. Ergo, you can’t put political philosophers like Montesquieu and Blackstone in a standard mentioning Enlightenment thinking because they believed knowledge was received from God. 12:50 – Motion fails on a 7-8 vote. Pat Hardy added the eighth vote to the far-right bloc. 12:52 – Mercer immediately follows with a motion to add Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to the same standard. Pat Hardy makes an amendment to strike Madison and keep Jefferson in Mercer’s amendment. 1:04 – Hardy’s amendment to strike Madison passes 8-7. They now return to original motion as amended. It passes without objection. Welcome back, Tommy!

SBOE may delay science textbooks

May 18, 2010 By Paul Burka

The State Board of Education may decide today to push back the arrival of new science textbooks to 2013. No, it’s not because the publishers dared to mention evolution. It’s because of the budget crunch. By delaying the arrival of books, the Legislature can pay part of the money in…

McLeroy wants social studies students to “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty”

May 17, 2010 By Paul Burka

Not one to give up just because he has been booted from office by the voters, former State Board of Education chair Don McLeroy has proposed new additions to the social studies curriculum, which is up for adoption by the full board later this month. First I'm going to summarize several of proposals that are likely to be controversial, and then I'm going to comment on them. At the end of my comments, I will post all of McLeroy's proposals in his words with his justifications. I'm going to make some comments after each of the first five. 1. Require high school U.S. history students to “evaluate efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty." --Where do folks like McLeroy get these ideas? Do they really believe that the United Nations and the World Court and the Kyoto treaty or the G-20, or who knows what else are scheming to undermine U.S. sovereignty? How are students supposed "evaluate" this? Are the textbooks going to identify the efforts to undermine sovereignty? 2. Add two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to the U.S. history standards. The first is Ricci v. DeStefano, the 2009 case in which white firefighters sued the city of New Haven, Connecticut, after the city invalidated a civil service examination on which the white firefighters had qualified for promotion but no black firefighters had done so. The Supreme Court ruled that the city had engaged in "express, race-based decisionmaking when it declined to certify the examination results because of the statistical disparity based on race." McLeroy argues that the decision "provides balance to civil rights issues." The second case was Kelo v. City of New London. This was the eminent domain case that is anathema to property-rights advocates. The Supreme Court, following precedent, ruled that the city could use its power of eminent domain to acquire property for a public purpose--in this instance, for economic development. --These two cases, interesting as they may be, do not belong in social studies texts. Their rulings are not groundbreaking. Ricci simply restates the already well established principle that express race-based decisionmaking will not withstand scrutiny. Kelo likewise broke no new ground; it upheld the ability of a governmental body to exercise its power of eminent domain. What made the cases important were not the legal principles involved, but the facts of the cases, which had political significance to conservatives. Ricci struck down government's power to tailor an affirmative action remedy. Kelo broadened government's power to take private property for a vague public purpose. They do not rise to the level of essential knowledge, which is what the standards are supposed to be about. 3. Downplay the positive impact of Progressive Era reforms and suggest instead that the work of the era’s reformers like Upton Sinclair, Susan B. Anthony, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois created a negative portrayal of America. --I did not realize that there is a conservative revisionist movement aimed at discrediting the achievements of the progressive era until I read about it on the Web. Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, is in the forefront of this movement. Its thesis is that fascism is really a philosophy of the left, not the right. Glen Beck is another proponent of the revisionism of the progressive era. It is easy to understand why conservatives dislike the progressives (although most of the progressive politicians were Republicans, and most of the ordinary Americans who embraced progressivism were businessmen who fit the profile of Republican voters. (Theodore Roosevelt was the prototype progressive president.) The reason why Republicans have turned against progressivism is that the progressive reformers ushered in the era of big government. They favored government regulation of business and created the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate railroads, the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the food processing industry, passed anti-trust legislation and, under Woodrow Wilson, child labor laws. They passed constitutional amendments for a progressive income tax and to give women the vote. What was progressivism? Richard Hofstadter, an historian whose works ("The Age of Reform," "Rendezvous with Destiny") were mandatory reading for history majors when I was in college, described it as "that broader impulse toward criticism and change that was everywhere so conspicuous after 1900, when the already forceful stream of agrarian discontent was enlarged and redirected by the growing enthusiasm of middle-class people for social and economic reform." It is stunning to think that there is an elected official who regards the reformist impulse as one that brings discredit to America. Would America be better off if Upton Sinclair had not exposed conditions in the meat-packing industry? If Ida Wells had not advocated against lynching? If Susan B. Anthony's decades of work for women's suffrage had not borne fruit? If W.E.B. Dubois had not give voice to black aspirations and concerns? If the muckrakers had not exposed the corrupt political machines? American history is not just founding fathers and noble ideals. Yes, reformers presented a negative portrayal of America. But it was an accurate portrayal. That's why we call it history. 4. Add a standard to high school U.S. history having students “discuss alternatives regarding long term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, given the decreasing worker to retiree ratio. --I don't have a problem with students learning about the shaky status of entitlement programs. However, the subject more properly belongs to the study of government than history and doesn't belong in history texts. 5. McLeroy would add a standard to the eighth-grade U.S. history course that maintains separation of church and state was not the intent of the Founders who drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Students would be asked to “Contrast the Founders’ intent relative to the wording of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, with the popular term ‘Separation of church and state.’” --This is just pure political advocacy. Conservatives insist that the modern view that there is a wall of separation between church and state is misguided and argue that the founders' intent regarding separation of church and state should be narrowly interpreted according to the language of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Scholars who reject this position point to Thomas Jefferson's view, expressed in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists, that the First Amendment does erect a wall of separation between church and state: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state." Conservatives like McLeroy reject the idea that the founders believed in separation of church and state. * * * * What follows is the text of McLeroy's proposals. I am not going to comment on these, except to make on point at the beginning. The biggest problem with the new social studies standards is not that they are politically inspired, though they are that. It is that the sheer volume of the things that students must learn has grown so large that memorization will inevitably squeeze out critical thinking. "Drill and kill" is the wrong path toward better education. On second thought, I reserve the right to make a comment or two. My comments appear in italics.

Advice for the State Board of Education

May 6, 2010 By Paul Burka

You might want to think twice about including a vindication of Joe McCarthy's anticommunist activities, based on the revelations of the Venona papers, in the proposed social studies curriculum standards, for two reasons: (1) It was stupid. (2) It was wrong. The current issue of The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal of high quality, has a review of a new book on Soviet espionage in America, titled Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America. Quoting from the review: Since the Cold War, two competing narratives about Soviet espionage in the United States have existed. The left has argued that many who were accused by either Joseph McCarthy or the House Committee on Un-American Activities of being Soviet agents were simply political dissenters, falsely accused because of their opposition to the foreign policies of the United States since the Truman era. Their only crime was to be forthright and brave opponents of a get-tough anti-Soviet policy, and the scorn heaped upon them—and sometimes the actual prosecutions or blacklists—served only to scare others from speaking out. Many on the right assumed, as a matter of course, that most of those named as Communists or as actual Soviet agents, sources, or spies were, in fact, guilty as charged. To those who assumed the worst, most Communists were likely spies in waiting, if not yet engaged. Therefore someone like McCarthy, who railed about the failure of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to do anything to protect America’s national security, was generally correct, and in retrospect, McCarthy’s campaign to stop treason in government was both brave and correct. Ann Coulter has called McCarthy a great hero whom history has proved correct, and M. Stanton Evans devoted a recent biography to the proposition that McCarthy was the man who should have been listened to, and whose advice, if taken, would have prevented some major Soviet attempts to destroy our government. It is because of the power and strength of John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev (hereafter HKV) that this magisterial book transcends the old debates and paradigms, and provides the most complete and thorough account of what Soviet espionage agents actually did in the United States, as well as revealing—by sorting through the evidence in painstaking detail—who these agents were, and what harm they caused. Here is the relevant passage about McCarthy:

HISD debates SBOE’s social studies changes; Democratic SBOE member Lawrence Allen defends board’s changes

Apr 23, 2010 By Paul Burka

Thanks to my colleague Katy Vine, who follows the drama of the State Board of Education, for calling this blog post in the Houston Press to my attention. Here's the post in full: The Houston ISD employees who were asked to draft a resolution asking the State Board of Education to step back from the changes it made recently in the proposed social studies curriculum for public school students, told the Houston school board today that students will be asked to memorize an overwhelming number of "dates and dead people" if the amendments stand. Angela Miller, the manager of secondary social studies curriculum for HISD said, for instance, that instead of the current 92 objectives to be mastered in U.S. History since 1877, the new curriculum calls for 127. Tenth grade World History objectives would go from 92 to 127. The result, school district Superintendent Terry Grier said, would be that students would be spending even more time in drill and kill exercises, rather than learning to think critically and explore higher academic skills. Miller and others from the social studies curriculum who wrote up a talking points document also challenged the changes on grounds that first graders for instance were being required to understand concepts way beyond their 6-year-old years and that some of the scholarship, for example how McCarthyism helped uncover how Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government, is suspect.

Farney assails Russell in key SBOE race

Apr 12, 2010 By Paul Burka

Today I received a robo-call from former state senator and lieutenant governor Bill Ratliff urging Republicans to support Marsha Farney in her race for State Board of Education against Brian Russell. Ratliff’s brief message made the point that Farney had showed her commitment to public education by sending her children…

Center of Gravity

Mar 1, 2010 By Paul Burka

Who can challenge Republicans on the State Board of Education? A different kind of Republican.

Ratliff will challenge McLeroy for SBOE post

Jun 2, 2009 By Paul Burka

Not former lieutenant governor Bill Ratliff. His son, Thomas. Ratliff says that the general release is timed for 8:30 a.m. but that it may be released any time this morning before that. It's 12:50 a.m. Here's the text of the release: AUSTIN - On the heels of a legislative session that saw 15 bills filed by Republican and Democrat legislators to curtail some or all of the responsibilities of the State Board of Education, Thomas Ratliff has filed the necessary paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for the District 9 seat. The incumbent is Dr. Don McLeroy, whose nomination for chairman of the SBOE was recently rejected by the Texas Senate. Mr. Ratliff said, “First, I want to thank Dr. McLeroy for his 10 years of service on the SBOE. I just simply have a different approach to working for the parents and schoolchildren of Texas. I am running because I want to work with educators and the other SBOE members to provide leadership for Texas’ neighborhood schools, help mend the fractured relationship with the Texas legislature and restore the public’s confidence in the State Board of Education.”

McLeroy nomination fails

May 28, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

As expected, Senate Democrats — with Eddie Lucio present, not voting — blocked the confirmation of Bryan dentist Don McLeroy as chair of the State Board of Education. At least, everyone seemed to expect it but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who announced after the vote that McLeroy was confirmed, until…

Resurrection Day

May 20, 2009 By Patricia Kilday Hart

I declared on a recent Friday podcast that Don McLeroy’s confirmation as chairman of the State Board of Education was officially dead this session, but this afternoon Senate Nominations sent the controversial Bryan dentist’s confirmation to the Senate floor for a vote. So, to quote Billy Crystal’s character in “The…