Texas science under siege: Help if you can

March 27, 2009

More bad news than good news from the Texas State School Board:  Yes, the board failed to reintroduce the creationist sponsored “strengths and weaknesses” language in high school science standards; but under the misleadership of Board Chair Don McLeroy, there is yet <i>another</i> series of amendments intended to mock science, including one challenging Big Bang, one challenging natural selection as a known mechanism of evolution, and, incredibly, one challenging the even the idea of common descent.  It’s a kick in the teeth to Texas teachers and scientists who wrote the standards the creationists don’t like.

Texas Freedom Network’s blog headline tells the story:  “Science Under Siege in Texas.”

Do you live in Texas?  Do you teach, or are you involved in the sciences in Texas?  Then please send an e-mail to the State Board of Education this morning, urging them to stick to the science standards their education and science experts recommended.  Most of the recent amendments aim to kill the standards the scientists and educators wrote.

TFN tells how to write:

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

You don’t think it’s serious?  Here’s Don McLeroy explaining the purpose of one of his amendments:

Live blogging of SBOE activities today by Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, here, and by the Texas Freedom Network, here.


Up-to-the-minute reports from the science ramparts — today’s evolution hearings

March 25, 2009

If you’re not thinking of Edward R. Murrow’s reports from the roof of the building in London as the bombs fell, you’re not aware of how grave things are in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the hearings in Austin, before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).  Testimony of a sort is being offered on whether to force Texas kids to study false claims of scientific error about evolution.

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

Schafersman listed several ways you can keep up with the hearings:

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.


Chairman McLeroy to Texas Hispanics: “Drop dead!”

March 20, 2008

With evidence mounting that the politically-motivated rewrite of English standards in Texas schools would harm the education of Spanish-speaking students, the Chairman of the Texas Education Agency told state legislators, English language experts and educators that he will not allow time to analyze the proposed changes to see if they are appropriate, let alone time for changes to the standards.

In short, McLeroy told Texas Hispanics to “drop dead.”

Board chairman Don McLeroy insisted that major changes to the proposed updates are no longer possible. Advocates say the standards need opinions from experts who have researched Hispanic children and understand their learning styles.

“There is no way that ignoring such a sizable chunk of this population from consideration of education policy will do anything but harm the opportunity of a generation,” Herrero said.

McLeroy said there had been plenty of time for experts to weigh in earlier on new curriculum standards. He said he was shocked by accusations that he and others board members are trying to shortchange Hispanic students.

“There’s no malice at all, none, zip, nada. There’s just no time to get another expert in,” McLeroy said. “None of us would do anything to hurt any group of children or any (individual) child. What we want is for them to be successful in the English language because it’s so important.”

In the latest of a string of politically charged bulldozings, McLeroy is pushing standards substituted at the last minute for standards Texas educators had worked on for three years. McLeroy hired a political consulting group to rewrite the standards and substituted the rewrite in a meeting earlier this year (you’ll see my bias when you read the story in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram). Educators, parents, legislators and community leaders criticized the action for disregarding the educational needs of Texas students.

“It’s just ignorance on their part,” said Mary Helen Berlanga, a 26-year board member from Corpus Christi.

The board is set to take a preliminary vote March 27 on the new English language arts and readings standards, which will influence new textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

A four-member board subcommittee signaled its intent Wednesday to stick with that schedule after state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, pleaded to let Latino experts review the standards first.

McLeroy is flexing never-tried-before political muscles in a series of changes at TEA. Last year he led the SBOE to arbitrarily reject a math book by a major publisher, daring legal action, hoping he could finally win a case establishing that the board can reject books on political grounds. Biology books are due for a review in the near future, and science and biology standards will be rewritten before that process.

Moving against Hispanic students on the English standards, if successful, would tend to demonstrate that Texas educato needs to dance to the red book writings of Chairman McLeroy. While 47% of Texas public school students are Hispanic, Hispanic voters have generally packed less clout.

McLeroy appears to be counting on Obama and Clinton Democrats to demonstrate apathy again near the general election. If election numbers from the March primary hold up, McLeroy will remain chairman of the SBOE, but the legislature will be likely to shift against many of the actions he’s pushed since assuming the chair, and may turn antagonistically Democratic.

The stakes are higher for Texas students.

Critics of the process asked the subcommittee to allow an expert in Hispanic culture and language to assess the proposed new standards before a preliminary vote next week by the full education board.

The four-member subcommittee that worked on the curriculum did not include anyone of Hispanic descent, or anyone from South or West Texas, and critics said the committee did not seek advice from anyone with expertise in Hispanic language or culture.

Statewide, 47 percent of the more than 4.6 million public school students are Hispanic. Eighty-nine percent of El Paso County’s 173,000 students are Hispanic.

According to the Texas Education Agency, about 16 percent of students statewide and about 28 percent of students in El Paso County in 2006 had limited English proficiency.

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