4/17/2009 2:26 PM
Here we go again. Another session; another attempt from the social left to neuter this state's elected State Board of Education (SBOE).
There's a lot more going on here, though, than the usual attack from the social left on a conservative enterprise. Educator groups have always wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They want an endless supply of public funds. They don't want parental choice. But they certainly don't want those pesky parents and community members telling them what to do, even though they're spending the public's money.
To the education establishment, the State Board of Education is a thorn in its side. It's the only place where average people, who can't hire lobbyists, can go and have their voices heard. During the 1990s (era of bipartisan feel-good), SBOE members were some of the only elected officials willing to shine the light on the state's dropout problems or expose what a joke the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) was. They were the only ones willing to say that the Emperor had no clothes.
The other reason folks don't like the State Board of Education is because socially conservative Christians have sway there. There is an element in our public life that wants to castigate and marginalize traditional Christianity as somehow extremist. A good example of this worldview (and any arguments you want against the board) can be found at The Texas Freedom Network
A lot of politicians -- all too many of them Republicans -- love to campaign on socially-conservative themes like pro-life and family values but then behind the scenes in Austin treat the social right like a bunch of lepers. This session, these politicians see an opportunity because of the change in House leadership and board's recent the highly publicized debate over the role of evolution in the science curriculum. So we've had a lot more hearings on bills to strip the board of its powers.
There lots of bills that bash the SBOE this session including some that take control of the state's Permanent School Fund (educational endowment) away from the board and one that elects the board in nonpartisan elections. Conservative Christians have a lot of influence in Republican primaries, and non-partisan elections appear to be part of a strategy to reduce that influence.
Just this week, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on SB 2275. This bill would take away all authority over curriculum and textbooks from the board and leave it to the unelected, largely unaccountable commissioner of education. One side effect of this bill is it would reduce public involvement in setting the curriculum and textbooks. The current State Board of Education is subject to open meetings and open records. It also holds extensive public hearings and offers lots of opportunities for public comment and input before it takes decision. While the commissioner often takes written comments, historically, elected boards tend to take more notice of public input.
SB 2275 would completely neuter any meaningful role the board has in education. Before taking that step, perhaps it's time to discuss some of the board's accomplishments:
1. The board provided a forum for parents statewide to protest the dumbed-down, fuzzy math books like Connected Math and Focus on Algebra (nicknamed "Rainforest Algebra" because its detractors believe it puts as much emphasis on rainforests as it does mathematics). The board did not kill most of the fuzzy math books outright, but it did shine the light on the fact that some math curricula are more about improving students' self-esteem and critical thinking skills than teaching them how to find correct answers.
2. The board stopped environmentalists from using high school environmental science classes to bash the Texas oil and gas industry.
3. The elected State Board of Education members have emphasized teaching the positive achievements of America's Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. On two successive occasions -- the college readiness standards in 2007 and the rewrite of the social studies standards in 2009 -- the education establishment has tried to hijack the social studies curriculum and replace the Founding Fathers and American values with freedom-bashing Multiculturalism 101.
4. The board has insisted that phonics is the basis for reading instruction in the early grades. In the recent rewrite of the English-Language Arts curriculum -- much maligned by the usual educator groups -- the board insisted that the curriculum be grade-level specific, getting more difficult at each grade. The board ended dumbed-down passing standards that were designed to produce high test passing rates, not teach kids how to read and write in standard English.
5. Thanks in part to the work of then-Board member and now Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Lewisville), the board now holds publishers responsible for errors in textbooks.
No board is perfect, and everything could use improvement. One thing that would greatly improve the effectiveness of the board would be a small allowance to hire staff. Board members have no staff to do constituent casework. Another would be giving the board authority to set the cut-off points for the state's accountability ratings. This would make it harder to dumb-down the accountability system.
Before trying to neuter the elected State Board of Education, lawmakers may wish to consider the board's real record and accomplishments, not just the spin from turf-conscious educator groups and the social left.
2 comment(s) so far...
By Jill Dutton on
4/18/2009 3:29 PM
This is just one more way the left is trying to take away parent's input in their child's education and I dare say that if they get their way, public education is in serious trouble. I have a feeling that if the last group of good parents hanging on in public education (myself included) are no longer able to vote for their SBOE representative, these parents will begin voting with withdraw notices and their pocket books and find alternative education for their children via home schooling and private schools. Public school administrators and local school boards have worked way too hard to earn back the trust of home school and private school parents. We had recently gained their trust and they have been re-enrolling their children back in our districts. However, by this one particular act, the Texas Legislature will undo all of our hard work and pull the trust right out from under us!
By Larry Fafarman on
5/28/2009 5:24 PM
The purpose of having an elected board of education is so the voters can focus on education issues when voting in the board elections. The legislature should not be dealing with education issues because the voters cannot focus on these issues when voting for legislators because the legislature must deal with many other kinds of issues. Even when voting for board of education members, the voters must weigh and balance many different issues in education. The legislators should not act like they know better than the voters who elect the members of the board of education.