Pressure on Texas Board of Education to fix damage to social studies standards

February 18, 2011

Probably not enough pressure to get the board to act, but the Dallas Morning News turned a cannon on the Texas State Board of Education this morning, asking that they fix the damage done to social studies last year.

The paper’s editorial board keyed off of the Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards — Texas failed, with at D.

Here’s the editorial in its entirety — there’s more at the Dallas Morning News website and I encourage you to go read it there:

Editorial: Report offers new reason to rewrite standards

Just in case you think it’s only us warning about Texas’ new social studies standards, check out the awful grade that the respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave those benchmarks in a report released Wednesday.

A big, fat “D” is what Texas got for the history, economics, geography and cultural standards the State Board of Education approved last year for Texas’ elementary and secondary school students.

Some of that awful mark was for the way the standards are organized. Fordham researchers likened their confusing structure to a jigsaw puzzle. But much of the national organization’s critique was about how politicized the State Board of Education has made those standards.

We were particularly struck by Fordham’s conclusion that the hard-right faction on the board, which dominated the writing of the standards, made the same mistake left-wing academics have made in approaching such subjects as history and economics. The Fordham study puts it this way:

“While such social studies doctrine is usually associated with the relativist and diversity-obsessed educational left, the hard right-dominated Texas Board of Education made no effort to replace traditional social studies dogma with substantive historical content. Instead, it seems to have grafted on its own conservative talking points.”

Oh, it gets worse. Back to the report: “The strange fusion of conventional left-wing education theory and right-wing politics undermines content from the start.”

For the record, Fordham is not a left-wing outpost of American thought. Its leader is Chester Finn, a former Reagan administration official and one of education’s most recognized voices. At the least, his organization’s critique is not a predictable one.

The institute echoes the complaint this newspaper has had since the 15-member Texas board rewrote the state’s social studies standards. Its hard-right faction at the time insisted on inserting its slant on those important subjects, such as suggesting Joe McCarthy wasn’t so bad, that international treaties are a problem and that the separation of church and state is misguided.

The warped view is why the revised board must go back and rewrite the standards this spring. And that should be possible.

Voters were so frustrated with the board’s work last year that they elected more moderate Republican members. Moderates now have enough of the upper hand to fix these standards before schools start planning for next year and before publishers start drafting new history and social studies textbooks.

Some on the new board may believe that rewriting the social studies standards will be too difficult. But surely Texas students deserve better than a “D” when it comes to what the state wants them to learn in some of the most critical subjects.

 

Texas fails among its peers

How big states fared on the Fordham Foundation report on social studies standards nationwide:

California: A-

New York: A-

Florida: C

Texas: D

National average: D


Good education, or right-wing propaganda: War on Education battle in Austin, Texas

January 13, 2010

In a post titled “The Battle Joined,” the Texas Freedom Network repeated for us the press release from their Tuesday press conference at the Texas Education Agency, about the hearings on social studies standards, graduation requirements and other issues in Austin this week.

Watch that space (see also this explanatory piece) and this space, and your non-faux news outlets.

The Texas Freedom Network sent out the following press release after our press conference this morning at the Texas Education Agency:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educate somebody else on this issue:

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Trouble at Texas Board of Education: Social studies

January 11, 2010

Here is a news rundown of stories on the Texas State Board of Education, who have been planning for a year now to mess up social studies standards for Texas public schools, this week.

Get on your horse and warn Texans:  The Idiots are coming to get your good schoolbooks:

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Texas Tribune and Texas State Board of Education

January 5, 2010

Have you found Texas Tribune yet?  It’s a new, on-line newspaper, and generally it’s terrific.

See their collection of stories already about the State Board of Education. The collection can substitute for at least one cup of coffee to get your blood flowing in the morning.


Texas Citizens for Science supports stripping powers from state board

April 14, 2009

Another press release, FYI.  I’ve added some links in for your convenience.  Remember, teachers of social studies, social studies is next on the SBOE chopping block — with rumors that SBOE is disbanding the expert panels rather than simply ignore the recommendations.  Will they expunge slavery and Native Americans from the history books?  Will they rewrite the Vietnam War?  Consider Senate Bill 2275, and call your legislator:

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Texas Citizens for Science
2009 April 13

Contact:
Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
432.352.2265
tcs@texscience. org

Texas Citizens for Science strongly supports Senate Bill 2275 which transfers authority for curriculum standards and textbook adoption from the State Board of Education (SBOE) to the Texas Commissioner of Education.

For decades, members of the SBOE have censored, qualified, distorted, damaged, manipulated, and rejected curriculum standards and textbooks. All of this was done for political, ideological, and religious reasons, never for educational or pedagogical reasons. In the past, this activity was done secretly, behind closed doors, but now it is being done publicly in full view of the public and press. Recently, inaccurate, censored, and pedagogically- inferior English Language Arts and Science curriculum standards have been written by the SBOE using their power of amendment. This year, the Social Studies standards will be attacked by some SBOE members for non-educational reasons that support their political and ideological agendas.

For textbooks, in the past the SBOE chair would secretly “negotiate” with publishers to make them change the content of their textbooks under the implied threat of being rejected; publishers readily submitted to save multimillion dollar textbook contracts with the state. In numerous instances, textbook content was replaced by watered-down, inferior, and often misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete information. This activity continues today, albeit more openly with both press and public attention. Science textbooks censorship by the SBOE has occurred sinc the 1960s, as has censorship of social studies and other textbooks.

Dr. Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science, says this:

“The Texas State Board of Education has been an embarrassment and a disgrace to Texas for many decades. This Board’s activities that censor and corrupt the accuracy and reliability of specific topics in mainstream Science, Social Studies, and Health Education are well-known to educators throughout the United States as well as in Texas. All educators are aware of the negative and damaging influence the Texas State Board of Education has on textbooks used in Texas and other states.”

“Texas Citizens for Science has opposed the State Board of Education since 1980 in our effort to defend the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas. We have repeatedly had to defend Biology and Earth Science textbooks from the Board’s predatory efforts to damage their content about such subjects as evolution, the origin of life, the age of the Earth and Universe, the true nature of the fossil record, and several other scientific topics.”

“Although largely successful in the past, only this past month TCS was unable to prevent the State Board of Education from amending the excellent science standards produced by science teachers, professors, and scientists. The State Board’s subsequent amendments created several flawed standards that, while not overtly unscientific, were confusing, unnecessary, poorly-written, and opened the door to insertion of pseudoscientific information, including bogus arguments supporting Intelligent Design Creationism. Among others things the Board accomplished during this exercise in pseudoscience was to remove the e-word and the ancient age of the universe from the standards. These accomplishments were petty, disgraceful, and clear proof of their anti-scientific and pro-Fundamentalist bias. A modern, technologically- advanced state such as Texas does not need such anti-science activity from a state board.”

Texas Citizens for Science urges the Senate Education Committee to approve SB 2275 and send it to the full Senate, the House, and then hopefully signed into law.

Resources:


Listen in: Texas board considers science standards, and evolution

March 26, 2009

Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the hearings  and proceedings from  Austin, again today, before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). [I’ve changed the link to go to the TFN blog — that will take you to the latest post with latest news.]    Testimony yesterday showed the coarse nature of the way SBOE treats science and scientists, and offered a lot of “balancing” testimony against evolution from people who appeared not to have ever read much science at all.  The issue remains whether to force Texas kids to study false claims of scientific error about evolution.

As yesterday, Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science is live-blogging, too, here at EvoSphere.

Schafersman’s list of  several ways you can keep up with the hearings still applies:

I will be live blogging the Texas State Board of Education meeting of 2009 March 25-27 in this column. This includes the hearing devoted to public testimony beginning at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, March 25. I will stay through the final vote on Friday, March 27.

Go to the following webpages for further information:

State Board of Education
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index3.aspx?id=1156

March 25-26 SBOE Meeting Agenda
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3994

March 25 Public Hearing with Testimony, 12:00 noon
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=4034

State Board rules for Public Testimony
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index4.aspx?id=3958#Public%20Testimony

Current Science TEKS as revised in 2009 January
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/home/sboeprop.html

For the live audio feed, go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ for the link.


Darwinian medicine works; should we tell the children?

February 1, 2009

The indomitable  and always informative Coturnix at Blog Around the Clock pointed to this excerpt from an interview Richard Dawkins did with Randolph Nesse.  Randy Nesse is one of the most visible exponents of Darwinian medicine.  Nesse argues that much of modern medicine, especially the treatments and cures, is incomprehensible except in the light of evolution theory.

In short, Nesse is saying that the ability of physicians to diagnose and treat disease depends on accurate understandings and applications of evolution theory.

Does this sound familiar?  Sure — this is just a deeper understanding of the principles behind Austin biologist Steve Bratteng’s 13 Questions.

Creationists are working to be sure that Nesse’s points are kept from Texas high school students in science classes.  From this interview,  you can see why scientists ask the State Board of Education to ask Texas educators to teach science instead.  Actions of creationists are directed at preventing information such as this from getting to Texas students, to keep them in the dark.

Texas Citizens for Science, the Texas Freedom Network, and Teach Them Science.org are three organizations working to make sure Texas students get straight science that they need.

Resources:


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