The Houston Chronicle’s coverage of the Texas State Board of Education meetings this week is not well indexed on the web. Following a couple of odd links I found Gary Sharrar’s article (he’s the Chronicle’s education reporter), though the Associated Press Story shows up for the paper’s main article on most indices I found.
Sharrar adds a few details of Kommissar McLeroy’s war on English education, but the significant thing about the story is in the comments, I think. One poster appears to have details that are unavailable even from TEA. Partisans in the fight have details that Texas law requires to be made public in advance of the meetings, while the state officials who need to advise on the regulations and carry them out, do not.
TEA has an expensive website with full capabilities of publishing these documents within moments of their passage. As of Sunday morning, TEA’s website still shows the documents from last March. Surely Texas is not getting its value from TEA on this stuff.
Two different outside groups offered opposite reactions. The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank, favored the board’s action.
“It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren’t learning the basics with our current curriculum,” said Foundation education policy analyst Brooke Terry. “We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills.”
Texas public schools fail to adequately prepare many students for college or the workplace, she said, citing a 2006 survey by the Conference Board found that 81 percent of employers viewed recent high school graduates as “deficient in written communications” needed for letters, memos, formal reports and technical reports.
But the Texas Freedom Network, which promotes public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.
“College ready” generally means reading well, and reading broadly in literature. From a pedagogical standpoint, emphasizing “grammar and writing skills” over the reading that is proven to improve grammar and writing skills will be a losing battle. I hope the details of the plan will show something different when TEA ever makes them available to the taxpaying/education consuming public and English teachers. NCLB asks that such changes be backed by solid research — it will be fascinating to see whether there is any research to support the Texas plan (not that it matters; this section of NCLB has been ignored by the right wing from the moment NCLB was signed).
Prior to this week’s series of meetings, Commissar McLeroy expressed what sounds like disdain for reading in the English curriculum to the El Paso Times:
But chairman McLeroy said he would fight against some of the measures the educators want, especially the comprehension and fluency portion.
Their suggestions, he said, would have students waste time on repetitive comprehension strategies instead of actually practicing reading by taking in a rich variety of literature.
“I think that time is going to be lost because they’ll be reading some story, and they’ll just overanalyze,” he said.
By the way, calling the Texas Public Policy Foundation a “free market think tank” is misleading. The group is quite hostile to public education, and features on its board several people who have led fights to gut funding for public schools and impose bleed-the-schools voucher programs. The Foundation appears to endorse preaching in public schools and gutting science standards, among other problems.
If it’s good work, why is it done in secret? Remember that I spent years in right wing spin work in Washington. Here’s what I see: Either McLeroy’s administration at the state board is incredibly incompetent and can’t even get the good news right, and out on time, or there is another, darker and probably illegal agenda at work.
Below the fold, the full text of the comment from “WG1” at the Chronicle’s website.
- Earlier coverage of the meetings, a story by Gary Sharrar in the Houston Chronicle
- “Who decides what children learn in school?” Texas Cable News Network
- Chairman McLeroy to Texas Hispanics: “Drop dead!”
- Be sure to see the Pharyngula post, “Fire Don McLeroy”
- Even the stargazers are worried; see Phil Plait’s comments at Bad Astronomy, “That’s it. Texas Really Is Doomed”
The vote by the SBOE (according to the Houston Chronicle):
• Voting for: Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio; Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Terri Leo, R-Spring; David Bradley, R-Beaumont; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond; Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas; Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas.
• Voting against: Rene Nunez, D-El Paso; Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi; Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston; Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth; Mavis Knight, D-Dallas; Bob Craig, R-Lubbock.
A poster named WG1(Donna Garner?) posted this in the comments to the Houston Chronicle story:
5.23.08 — posted by Donna Garner
The Texas State Board of Education today approved David Bradley’s amendment by a majority vote. Texas now has new English / Language Arts / Reading standards (K-12) for every public/charter school in the state. Gail Lowe and Barbara Cargill presented the Bradley amendment.
1. The SBOE members who brought this document forward replaced whole sections rather than trying to move lines of verbiage around for fear of losing scope and sequence. They consulted with StandardsWork who concurred that moving whole sections would not destroy the progression of skills in the document.
2. 100% of the wording in the Oral and Written Conventions strand (e.g., grammar/usage/handwriting/capitalization/punctuation/spelling) came from the document the teacher workgroups/bilingual experts produced in their May 15 document. This strand is indeed a separate strand that will cause these skills to be emphasized in Texas classrooms. The Board also followed teachers’ suggestions and placed the Oral and Written Conventions strand close to the Writing strand so that teachers will know to link the two.
3. 100% of the Listening/Speaking and Media/Literacy strands came from the teacher workgroups/bilingual experts’ version.
4. Specific Pre-K guidelines were added to Kindergarten based upon the recommendations of teachers in yesterday’s meeting. This was added to smooth out any gaps in skills between Pre-K and K.
Cargill then presented the ELAR/TEKS appendices information:
1. Other states have appendices in their standards, and the SBOE decided to add a similar section. The SBOE knows that their statutory authority only allows them to mandate standards but does not allow them to mandate teaching strategies. Therefore, the Commissioner of Education will develop an appendix containing research-based strategies for reading comprehension for every grade level.
2. The SBOE also passed a motion that permits the reading comprehension strategies in the appendix as well as the reading comprehension elements in the main body of the ELAR/TEKS to be included in textbooks, TAKS/end-of-course tests, and teacher development.
3. The Commissioner is to develop a separate appendix to include the websites of reading resources (e.g., suggested author/title lists).
The SBOE was reminded several meetings ago that they have statutory authority to change the ELAR/TEKS as needed. Even though this vote today provides definite direction to all entities involved, the SBOE can still come back at a later time and tweak the standards to make sure that clear progression from grade level to grade level has occurred and that repetitive expectations have been deleted from the document.
Even though the public has not seen the final document that was passed today, the discussion of it was robust as SBOE members went through a line-by-line vote on each element in the document. Compromises were made; but it appears that Texas now has grade-level-specific, measurable, and explicit ELAR/TEKS. This is a definite improvement over the standards that have been in place for the last ten years.