Some people would say the Texas State Board of Education is “troubled,” or maybe even (that journalistic clichéd kiss of death) “besieged.”
The agency it oversees, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), has a director whose term is expired, the agency has taken hits from almost every daily newspaper in Texas for cheating scandals on the state achievement tests which have been roundly ignored by the agency. The legislature voted to eliminate the Board’s showpiece tests, substituting tests that will have TEA personnel scrambling to make ready, and the legislators didn’t send enough money to buy all the textbooks the agency is obligated to purchase under the Texas Constitution. Meanwhile, Texas kids fall farther behind kids in other states. One member of the board is on the lam after refusing to answer a subpoena to a grand jury investigating whether he actually resides in the district he represents as required by law (he keeps a cot near his office in the district, but spends most time at his farm, outside his district — the farm where he claims residency for homestead purposes under Texas property tax law). Statistics out last week show Texas leads the nation in pregnancies among kids of school age, and a study shows that abstinence-only programs, pushed by TEA, are to blame for high out-of-wedlock-teen pregnancy rates.
But that’s just “business as usual” for the top education agency in Texas for most of the last decade or so. Many Texans might have been disappointed, but none were surprised when Gov. Rick Perry appointed Bryan, Texas, dentist Don McLeroy to be chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).
McLeroy’s politics sometimes appear to the right of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s education policies for the state of Georgia in 1864. McLeroy stared at Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg and a letter from four other Texas Nobel winners in biological sciences, all of them urging high academic standards for Texas students, and McLeroy voted instead against including evolution in textbooks, in 2003, and for including language pushing intelligent design. Someone, often alleged to be McLeroy, then telephoned publishers and warned them to tone down evolution and play up intelligent design in a fit of sore losership (no investigation was ever conducted). A “great quote” at McLeroy’s website explains (from Paul Johnson, End of Intellectuals):
The belief seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors, or worthier as exemplars, than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that scepticism.
Condolence notes stream into Texas from scientists and educators. P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula, Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy, the guys at DefConBlog, and Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, all cry the blues, and for good reason (read their accounts!).
The Dallas Morning News diplomatically expressed hope that McLeroy might rise above petty and partisan politics at a crucial time for education in Texas, in an editorial published over the weekend: [see below the fold]
With new rounds of curriculum reviews ahead, Dr. McLeroy needs to represent the virtues of balance. Just as it is wrong to malign anyone’s faith-based views of the origins of life, it is unacceptable to teach versions of those views as being derived from accepted scientific methods. Just as it is misguided to dismiss sexual abstinence as effective birth control, it makes no sense – considering teens’ other sources of information – to banish mention of condoms.
Dr. McLeroy has been an advocate of high academic standards for Texas’ public schools and of statewide tests for measuring performance. He also has fought proposals to raid the state’s public-education endowment, the Permanent School Fund. We endorse these positions and urge Dr. McLeroy not to waver from them.
Public education in Texas needs staunch allies in leadership roles. We hope the governor has found an effective one in Dr. McLeroy.
Texas is a place full of hope — not misplaced, we hope.
Speedy update: No sooner did I hit “publish” than I got this e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network, below:
Dear TFN Supporter:
The fears of Texas parents appear to be coming true: the religious right may finally have a stranglehold over what schoolchildren learn in Texas public schools. Last week Gov. Rick Perry appointed a far-right ideologue as chairman of the State Board of Education (SBOE) the culmination of nearly two decades of efforts by right-wing extremists to take over public education policy in Texas.
Now more than ever before, the Texas Freedom Network needs your help to reverse the religious rights control over our states public schools. Donate today!
The SBOE’s new chairman, Don McLeroy (R-Bryan), is a key member of the far-right bloc on the board. For years the extremists who made up that bloc tried to censor school textbooks based on their own narrow political and religious objections. In fact, in 2001, McLeroy rejected an advanced placement environmental science textbook because he claimed its warnings on global warming were based on junk science; in 2003, he led the push to water down discussions of evolution in biology textbooks; and, in 2004, McLeroy voted to approve abstinence-only health textbooks that failed to include state-required information about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention.
The Texas Freedom Network has fought to defeat the far right’s efforts to censor our schoolchildren’s textbooks. But with the far right now controlling the SBOE, textbook censorship may be just the tip of the iceberg. Donate today!
Last year far-right extremists finally captured a majority of seats on the State Board of Education. Now they are set to make sweeping revisions to ALL of the states curriculum standards the foundation on which textbooks and everything Texas kids learn in public schools are based. The far rights goal is clear: turn our childrens public schools into tools for promoting a narrow, extremist religious and political agenda.
Major daily newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News, have reported dismay among supporters of public education worried about McLeroys appointment. The
Austin American-Statesman has warned McLeroy and the board’s far-right faction not to promote religious agendas over science.
Please take the following steps NOW to help TFN fight the far rights power grab at the SBOE:
1) Click here to donate to TFN and make sure we have the resources to fight the well-financed pressure groups that support McLeroy and his far-right cronies on the SBOE.
2) Sign up for TFN News Clips and Alerts to stay informed about efforts by the far right to hijack public education in Texas.
For nearly two decades the religious right has worked for this moment a time when it would finally be able to dictate what our children learn in public schools. Dont let them succeed. With your help, the Texas Freedom Network can ensure that far-right ideologues like Don McLeroy and Rick Perry don’t have the last say about what our schoolchildren learn.
Texas Freedom Network
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