April 23, 2010

Texas Governor's Race

Bill White, the Democrat challenging incumbent Texas Governor Rick Perry, has found a sore spot to pick.

It’s almost May, which means that the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is near to finalizing the laughable social studies curriculum revision for Texas public schools.  Just about everybody has weighed in on this potential debacle, and now Bill White is leveling his guns. Rick Perry, you see, appointed the clown leading this circus.

White was in Austin Saturday speaking to teachers at the Association of Texas Professional Educators convention. Speaking broadly on some of the education challenges facing Texas, White told a packed room what he plans to do to make sure students are better prepared to enter the workforce. He also talked about what he calls a flawed testing system, challenges with the student-to-teacher ratio and how many Texans are being priced out of higher education.

Pointing at the state’s high dropout rate, White said "I'll be active in leadership, in bringing kids back to school. There's many strategies to do it, not just one solution. We need to start early with early childhood educations that work, prepare young people for the classroom. They've proved to be a high return on investment."

The main focus of the talk, however, took aim at recent amendments the State Board of Education made to social studies curriculum standards; amendments written by the overwhelmingly right wing and creationist members of the board.

In a 10-5 vote on March 12, the SBOE gave preliminary approval to the new standards, even though they were opposed by leading experts in the field and by reasonable people everywhere. They are changes dictated by politics and ideology rather than truth or educational interests.

Speaking to this, White said that a line needs to be drawn between what politicians want, and those who make front-line decisions on education. "The amendment process injected politics into our school books and classrooms," White has said, and that was "a step in the wrong direction."

White called on Gov. Rick Perry to urge the SBOE chair to send the amendments back to the original curriculum review teams, a move already laughed off by Perry.

White wants to be sure Texans are well equipped to enter the workforce, something that will be crippled if our educational standards are less than world class. Because Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks nationally, the curriculum changes could resonate across the country. The debate has already garnered national attention with other states already making moves to limit the damage.

White called on Perry today to ask lame duck SBOE chair McLeroy to delay the vote until newly elected board members are in office. This would be a wise and reasonable move, which is exactly why Perry will likely reject it.

Some of the flat-earthers on the board were defeated in recent primary elections, and one has voluntarily decided against seeking reelection. Delaying the vote until a new board is seated would likely cause the amendments to fail. White recognizes this, and likely so does Perry.

"Texas voters have voted against those who are extreme and hyper-political," said White campaign spokesperson Katy Bacon. "If Rick Perry won't show some leadership about the process, he should at least respect Texans who've said they don't want the current, controversial SBOE making decisions about their children's future."

It isn’t just the Democratic challenger who recognizes McLeroy for the nutjob he is.  McLeroy has engaged in such extreme antics that the Texas Senate refused to confirm him in 2009, the second time Perry appointed him, and he was defeated in the spring primary election. 

This isn’t a new windmill for White. Nearly a month ago he called on Perry to ask McLeroy to send amendments back to the original curriculum review teams. Perry responded, saying of the SBOE that he was not going to "try to outsmart them."

Think about that one for a moment…

Since White started making his comments about having the revised standards sent back to expert review teams, the Texas Council for the Social Studies and the Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association have weighed in saying, "state education standards should be balanced and neutral and not reflective of political viewpoints."

The Chair of the SBOE is appointed by the Governor. The 15-member board is elected to represent districts. The Board currently is dominated by Christian, creationist extremists who were elected in part because of the gerrymandering back in 2001.

More importantly though, they were elected because the religious right targeted the SBOE as a priority, knowing that the way to increase their ranks was to be found in the creative revisionism of curriculum standard, such as we see now.

Much of this happened while reasonable Texans were not looking. It was a conspiracy, and we slept through it. We’re awake now and recognize that we have to put all our efforts into reversing the damage. The Governor’s race is important, and so is the 2012 election when the entire 15-member SBOE is up for election. We must stay focused on that.



Anonymous said...

Glad to hear the folks in Texas with working brains are waking up. I wish you all success with your efforts!
Excellent post on a very vital issue. Please keep us informed.