Pressure on Texas Board of Education to fix damage to social studies standards

February 18, 2011

Probably not enough pressure to get the board to act, but the Dallas Morning News turned a cannon on the Texas State Board of Education this morning, asking that they fix the damage done to social studies last year.

The paper’s editorial board keyed off of the Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards — Texas failed, with at D.

Here’s the editorial in its entirety — there’s more at the Dallas Morning News website and I encourage you to go read it there:

Editorial: Report offers new reason to rewrite standards

Just in case you think it’s only us warning about Texas’ new social studies standards, check out the awful grade that the respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute gave those benchmarks in a report released Wednesday.

A big, fat “D” is what Texas got for the history, economics, geography and cultural standards the State Board of Education approved last year for Texas’ elementary and secondary school students.

Some of that awful mark was for the way the standards are organized. Fordham researchers likened their confusing structure to a jigsaw puzzle. But much of the national organization’s critique was about how politicized the State Board of Education has made those standards.

We were particularly struck by Fordham’s conclusion that the hard-right faction on the board, which dominated the writing of the standards, made the same mistake left-wing academics have made in approaching such subjects as history and economics. The Fordham study puts it this way:

“While such social studies doctrine is usually associated with the relativist and diversity-obsessed educational left, the hard right-dominated Texas Board of Education made no effort to replace traditional social studies dogma with substantive historical content. Instead, it seems to have grafted on its own conservative talking points.”

Oh, it gets worse. Back to the report: “The strange fusion of conventional left-wing education theory and right-wing politics undermines content from the start.”

For the record, Fordham is not a left-wing outpost of American thought. Its leader is Chester Finn, a former Reagan administration official and one of education’s most recognized voices. At the least, his organization’s critique is not a predictable one.

The institute echoes the complaint this newspaper has had since the 15-member Texas board rewrote the state’s social studies standards. Its hard-right faction at the time insisted on inserting its slant on those important subjects, such as suggesting Joe McCarthy wasn’t so bad, that international treaties are a problem and that the separation of church and state is misguided.

The warped view is why the revised board must go back and rewrite the standards this spring. And that should be possible.

Voters were so frustrated with the board’s work last year that they elected more moderate Republican members. Moderates now have enough of the upper hand to fix these standards before schools start planning for next year and before publishers start drafting new history and social studies textbooks.

Some on the new board may believe that rewriting the social studies standards will be too difficult. But surely Texas students deserve better than a “D” when it comes to what the state wants them to learn in some of the most critical subjects.


Texas fails among its peers

How big states fared on the Fordham Foundation report on social studies standards nationwide:

California: A-

New York: A-

Florida: C

Texas: D

National average: D

Good education, or right-wing propaganda: War on Education battle in Austin, Texas

January 13, 2010

In a post titled “The Battle Joined,” the Texas Freedom Network repeated for us the press release from their Tuesday press conference at the Texas Education Agency, about the hearings on social studies standards, graduation requirements and other issues in Austin this week.

Watch that space (see also this explanatory piece) and this space, and your non-faux news outlets.

The Texas Freedom Network sent out the following press release after our press conference this morning at the Texas Education Agency:

The state’s leading religious liberties group today joined with clergy and scholars in calling on the State Board of Education to approve new curriculum standards that don’t undermine religious freedom in Texas social studies classrooms.

“Curriculum writers have drafted proposed standards that rightly acknowledge the influence of faith on the Founders and in our nation’s history,” Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said today. “But those writers also respected religious freedom by rejecting political pressure to portray the United States as favoring one faith over all others. Doing otherwise would aid the teaching of bad history and promote something that is fundamentally un-American.”

Miller spoke in advance of a Wednesday public hearing on proposed new social studies curriculum standards. Teachers, academics and community members from around the state have spent the last year crafting the new standards. Publishers will use the standards to write new textbooks scheduled for adoption by Texas in 2011. The state board will debate the standards drafts on Thursday and has scheduled a final vote in March.

Derek Davis, dean of humanities and the graduate school and director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Mary Hardin-Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Belton, called on the board to respect the work of teachers and other experts who helped write the new standards.

“Religious liberty stands as one of our nation’s bedrock principles,” Davis said. “Yet it seems always under siege by those who fail to appreciate the astute thinking of the founding fathers that caused them to write into the Constitution the principle that guarantees religious liberty: the separation of church and state. This distinctly American value continues to set our nation apart from those embroiled in religious conflict in the rest of the world.”

Miller and Davis were joined at a press conference by the Rev. Marcus McFaul of Highland Park Baptist Church in Austin and Steven Green, a professor of law and of history and director of the Willamette Center for Religion at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

“The instruction of religious faith, discipleship, and a life of service and piety is the responsibility of each faith community, whether church, synagogue or mosque,” Rev. McFaul said. “It is the responsibility of parents and parishes, not public schools. We all note – as the curriculum writers did – the role and influence of religion in American history, but not to advance, promote or seek advantage for any particular religion’s point of view.”

The state board has revised curriculum standards for language arts and science over the past two years. In both cases the board either threw out or heavily revised standards crafted by curriculum writing teams that included teachers, curriculum specialists and academic experts. Last year, for example, creationists on the state board pushed through science standards that call into question long-established scientific evidence for evolution.

“This is not a good way to make sound education policy,” Miller said of the board’s habit of rejecting the work of teachers and experts. “It’s past time that state board members stop playing politics with the education of Texas children, respect the hard work teachers and other experts have put into writing standards, and acknowledge that experts – not politicians – know best what our children need to learn.”

Educate somebody else on this issue:

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Trouble at Texas Board of Education: Social studies

January 11, 2010

Here is a news rundown of stories on the Texas State Board of Education, who have been planning for a year now to mess up social studies standards for Texas public schools, this week.

Get on your horse and warn Texans:  The Idiots are coming to get your good schoolbooks:

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Texas Tribune and Texas State Board of Education

January 5, 2010

Have you found Texas Tribune yet?  It’s a new, on-line newspaper, and generally it’s terrific.

See their collection of stories already about the State Board of Education. The collection can substitute for at least one cup of coffee to get your blood flowing in the morning.

Texas Citizens for Science supports stripping powers from state board

April 14, 2009

Another press release, FYI.  I’ve added some links in for your convenience.  Remember, teachers of social studies, social studies is next on the SBOE chopping block — with rumors that SBOE is disbanding the expert panels rather than simply ignore the recommendations.  Will they expunge slavery and Native Americans from the history books?  Will they rewrite the Vietnam War?  Consider Senate Bill 2275, and call your legislator:


For Immediate Release

Texas Citizens for Science
2009 April 13

Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
tcs@texscience. org

Texas Citizens for Science strongly supports Senate Bill 2275 which transfers authority for curriculum standards and textbook adoption from the State Board of Education (SBOE) to the Texas Commissioner of Education.

For decades, members of the SBOE have censored, qualified, distorted, damaged, manipulated, and rejected curriculum standards and textbooks. All of this was done for political, ideological, and religious reasons, never for educational or pedagogical reasons. In the past, this activity was done secretly, behind closed doors, but now it is being done publicly in full view of the public and press. Recently, inaccurate, censored, and pedagogically- inferior English Language Arts and Science curriculum standards have been written by the SBOE using their power of amendment. This year, the Social Studies standards will be attacked by some SBOE members for non-educational reasons that support their political and ideological agendas.

For textbooks, in the past the SBOE chair would secretly “negotiate” with publishers to make them change the content of their textbooks under the implied threat of being rejected; publishers readily submitted to save multimillion dollar textbook contracts with the state. In numerous instances, textbook content was replaced by watered-down, inferior, and often misleading, inaccurate, and incomplete information. This activity continues today, albeit more openly with both press and public attention. Science textbooks censorship by the SBOE has occurred sinc the 1960s, as has censorship of social studies and other textbooks.

Dr. Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science, says this:

“The Texas State Board of Education has been an embarrassment and a disgrace to Texas for many decades. This Board’s activities that censor and corrupt the accuracy and reliability of specific topics in mainstream Science, Social Studies, and Health Education are well-known to educators throughout the United States as well as in Texas. All educators are aware of the negative and damaging influence the Texas State Board of Education has on textbooks used in Texas and other states.”

“Texas Citizens for Science has opposed the State Board of Education since 1980 in our effort to defend the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas. We have repeatedly had to defend Biology and Earth Science textbooks from the Board’s predatory efforts to damage their content about such subjects as evolution, the origin of life, the age of the Earth and Universe, the true nature of the fossil record, and several other scientific topics.”

“Although largely successful in the past, only this past month TCS was unable to prevent the State Board of Education from amending the excellent science standards produced by science teachers, professors, and scientists. The State Board’s subsequent amendments created several flawed standards that, while not overtly unscientific, were confusing, unnecessary, poorly-written, and opened the door to insertion of pseudoscientific information, including bogus arguments supporting Intelligent Design Creationism. Among others things the Board accomplished during this exercise in pseudoscience was to remove the e-word and the ancient age of the universe from the standards. These accomplishments were petty, disgraceful, and clear proof of their anti-scientific and pro-Fundamentalist bias. A modern, technologically- advanced state such as Texas does not need such anti-science activity from a state board.”

Texas Citizens for Science urges the Senate Education Committee to approve SB 2275 and send it to the full Senate, the House, and then hopefully signed into law.


Listen in: Texas board considers science standards, and evolution

March 26, 2009

Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the hearings  and proceedings from  Austin, again today, before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). [I’ve changed the link to go to the TFN blog — that will take you to the latest post with latest news.]    Testimony yesterday showed the coarse nature of the way SBOE treats science and scientists, and offered a lot of “balancing” testimony against evolution from people who appeared not to have ever read much science at all.  The issue remains whether to force Texas kids to study false claims of scientific error about evolution.

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

Schafersman’s list of  several ways you can keep up with the hearings still applies:

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

March 25-26 SBOE Meeting Agenda

March 25 Public Hearing with Testimony, 12:00 noon

State Board rules for Public Testimony

Current Science TEKS as revised in 2009 January

For the live audio feed, go to for the link.

Darwinian medicine works; should we tell the children?

February 1, 2009

The indomitable  and always informative Coturnix at Blog Around the Clock pointed to this excerpt from an interview Richard Dawkins did with Randolph Nesse.  Randy Nesse is one of the most visible exponents of Darwinian medicine.  Nesse argues that much of modern medicine, especially the treatments and cures, is incomprehensible except in the light of evolution theory.

In short, Nesse is saying that the ability of physicians to diagnose and treat disease depends on accurate understandings and applications of evolution theory.

Does this sound familiar?  Sure — this is just a deeper understanding of the principles behind Austin biologist Steve Bratteng’s 13 Questions.

Creationists are working to be sure that Nesse’s points are kept from Texas high school students in science classes.  From this interview,  you can see why scientists ask the State Board of Education to ask Texas educators to teach science instead.  Actions of creationists are directed at preventing information such as this from getting to Texas students, to keep them in the dark.

Texas Citizens for Science, the Texas Freedom Network, and Teach Them are three organizations working to make sure Texas students get straight science that they need.


Them lyin’ newspapers: World Net Daily gets Bible class story exactly wrong

September 4, 2008

Sometimes you have to wonder if people are really that stupid, or if they are acting stupid for nefarious purposes.

The inveterate trash purveyor, World Net Daily, carried a column with this headline:  “Texas to teachers:  Bible will be taught.

It’s what you’d expect out of Texas, sort of, an order from the state to those darned secularists and atheists in the teaching biz, forcing them to teach the Bible to yearning-for-scripture chilluns.

But the story gets it almost exactly backwards:  Texas’s Attorney General ruled that schools do NOT need to offer special electives in the Bible under a new state law.

And to the consternation of Bible thumpers everywhere, it appears that instead of Bible study, tough academic courses that may include serious literary and history criticism of scripture will fill the bill.

The post here at the Bathtub was headlined, “Texas AG rules:  Bible classes not required.”  In the Houston Chronicle, religionists got what might be their most favorable headline, “‘Bible bill’ for Texas schools up for interpretation,” though the body of the story made things pretty clear, I thought.  The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was clear:  “Texas Schools don’t have to offer Bible class, attorney general says.”

The staid, conservative Dallas Morning News said “Bible study class optional for Texas schools, attorney general says.”  The Austin American-Statesman:  “Bible course not mandated, but instruction is.”

The opinion, over the signature of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot, includes this clue to reporters: ” . . . the Legislature did not mandate that this curriculum instruction be provided in independent courses.”

So, how did World Net Daily get a story almost completely perpendicular to the facts?  Perhaps they hope that some hapless Texas school district superintendent or board member will read their story, and not the AG’s decision, and order a Bible class.  Especially if that class is the academically-discount version suggested by WND, from National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools in Greensboro, North Carolina, there is likely to be litigation — the school district will get sued and lose its shirt.

Who wins then?  WND gets to report on the story and editorialize.

It’s interesting that at least two people who know better got suckered in, Ed Brayton and P. Z. Myers.  If they can be fooled by WND, what school superintendent in Texas can be safe? Heaven knows what schools in other states might do.

You may want to check out:

Read this: Teaching science is hard, made harder by religious claptrap

August 24, 2008

Page A1 of the New York Times on Sunday, August 24, 2008: “A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash.

Read it, and consider these questions:

  1. Would your local paper have the guts to report on this issue, for your local schools? (The Times went to Florida; heaven knows few Florida papers could cover the issue in Florida so well.)
  2. What is your local school board doing to support science education, especially for evolution, in your town? Or is your local school board making it harder for teachers to do their jobs?
  3. What is your state education authority doing to support science education, especially in evolution, in your state? Or is your state school board working to make it harder for teachers to do their jobs, and working to dumb down America’s kids?
  4. Do your school authorities know that they bet against your students when they short evolution, because knowledge about evolution is required for 25% of the AP biology test, and is useful for boosting scores on the SAT and ACT?
  5. Does your state science test test evolution?
  6. Do your school authorities understand they are throwing away taxpayer dollars when they encourage the teaching of voodoo science, like intelligent design?

It takes a good paper like the Times to lay it on the line:

The Dover decision in December of that year [2005] dealt a blow to “intelligent design,” which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution alone, and has been widely promoted by religious advocates since the Supreme Court’s 1987 ban on creationism in public schools. The federal judge in the case called the doctrine “creationism re-labeled,” and found the Dover school board had violated the constitutional separation of church and state by requiring teachers to mention it. The school district paid $1 million in legal costs.

That hasn’t slowed the Texas State Board of Education’s rush to get the state entangled in litigation over putting religious dogma in place of science. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is already embroiled in one suit, brought by the science-promoting science curriculum expert they fired for noting in an e-mail that science historian Barbara Forrest was speaking in a public event in Austin. TEA may well lose this case, and their side is not helped when State Board Chairman Don McLeroy cavorts with creationists in a session teaching illegal classroom tactics to teachers. Clearly Texas education officials are not reading the newspapers, the court decisions, or the science books.

Here’s one of the charts accompanied the article. While you read it, consider these items: The top 10% of science students in China outnumber all the science students in the U.S.; the U.S. last year graduated more engineers from foreign countries than from the U.S.; the largest portion were from China. China graduated several times the number of engineers the U.S. did, and almost all of them were from China.

Copyright 2008 by the New York Times

Copyright 2008 by the New York Times

Can we afford to dumb down any part of our science curriculum, for any reason? Is it unfair to consider creationism advocates, including intelligent design advocates, as “surrender monkeys in the trade and education wars with China?”

Update: 10:00 p.m. Central, this story is the most e-mailed from the New York Times site today; list below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Texas riddle indeed: Why is McLeroy hanging with creationists?

August 21, 2008

Here’s the post from über creationist Ken Ham’s site, in its entirety:

A Texas Riddle

Last week, AiG speaker Mike Riddle did a series of talks in Brenham, Texas. On the first day, Mike did four different sessions for 1st–6th graders. He usually speaks to young people on topics like “The Riddle of the Dinosaurs,” AiG’s well-known “7C’s of History,” and fossils.


On the next day, Mike did four special sessions for teachers. Each presentation was geared to help instructors be better prepared to teach origins in the public schools. In addition to speaking on what creationists believe, he spoke on understanding presuppositions and assumptions in the origins debate–and using critical thinking skills. Mike also had the opportunity to meet with the Chairman of the Texas State School Board, Don McLeroy (a biblical creationist), and gave presentations to an open audience at the Brenham High School auditorium.


Mike and Don McLeroy (Chairman, Texas State School Board)

“Special sessions for teachers?” Oy vey.

1. I’ll wager, if those were real, public school teachers, they were given continuing education credits for attending. That would be illegal, especially if Riddle did not preface his presentations with a legal disclaimer that what he urges is contrary to Texas science standards and contrary to the Constitution. Want to wager whether he did?

2. What’s McLeroy doing there? Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to maintain antiseptic separation from such controversial stuff? They fire people from the TEA for attending sessions that are legal and support the Texas standards. What sort of Quisling action is this on McLeroy’s part?

3. Is Rick Perry watching? The state’s legal fees will rise dramatically as a result of this kind of bad judgment at the SBOE. Can Texas taxpayers afford this?

4. Why does Don McLeroy hate Texas’s smarter, college-bound children so?

It takes a particular form of chutzpah to stand idly by while qualified science teachers are fired from the state’s education agency for promoting science, and then go cavort with creationists. It may not be cowardice exactly, but courage is its antonym.

That shudder was Texas thinking about really teaching the Bible in public schools

August 8, 2008

Among other issues I’ve not followed closely on the blog due to a way too-busy summer is the issue of teaching the Bible in Texas public schools. The Texas Lege, failing to get a contract with Comedy Central, passed a law that says every public school district in Texas “may” teach a course in the Bible if kids petition for it.

The bill had fancier, slightly more legal language, but was just about that ambiguous (having drafted my first federal law <cough>34</cough> years ago, and having written many amendments to state, federal and local laws, and having survived the rigorous legislative drafting course at George Washington, I feel qualified to complain about the problems in the law’s language).

Left hanging were answers to these questions:

  • Who or what determines the curriculum for such a course?
  • Does the law require the district to offer the class, when a request is made? For one student? For ten?
  • Will the state provide money to offer the class, since every district in the state is under-funded?
  • Will the State School Board authorize texts for the class, so individual districts don’t have to spring to buy the texts, even though the state fund is grossly underfunded and text purchases in core areas like mathematics, science and English go begging?

The question about whether the law requires a course to be offered was bucked over to the Texas Attorney General’s office, but so far they have ducked the issue (if Greg Abbott were alive today, I’m sure they would have given a quicker answer so schools could prepare).

The question on whether the SBOE would offer guidance on curriculum was also answered in July. No.

About three dozen school districts in Texas’s 254 counties already offer courses in the Bible. Some have been sued for offering more of a Sunday school class, and they lost, or settled, by requiring real academic rigor.

What are the stakes?

Well, consider that Texas also has among the highest teen-age, school-girl pregnancy rates in the nation, which contributes mightily to a staggering drop out rate. Shouldn’t Texans be happy that kids can get instruction on Biblical history and its use as literature?

Well, have you read the Bible?

Christian Beyer, who blogs at Sharp Iron, noted in comments at John Shore’s blog, Suddenly Christian, in a thread about whether God cares if one is married or unmarried:

You know, I think you just might be right.

Anita over on her blog [Grace Unfolding] wrote an interesting article related to what you are saying, and she surprised the heck out of me with a new Biblical revelation (for me, anyway). The dude and the chick in Song of Songs (Song of Solomon?), even though they ended up in the sack, were NOT MARRIED! [bolding and link added]

I never really cared for the Song of Songs before – too many Christian guys quoting it to me when they bragged about how ‘Godly’ their marriage was and how the Holy Spirit was giving their sex life a boost. Puh-leese! Breasts like fawns? What’s next – thigh’s like calves? (Wait a minute… )

How will this play in Crawford, Beaumont, Pleasant Grove, Crockett or Paris? Oh, my.

So far the SBOE has gone with a “teach the controversy” philosophy in science. Turnabout is fair play, no?

Additional resources:

Thank God, and the Courts, for Charles Darwin

July 6, 2008

Rev. Michael Dowd has a book out, ThankGod for Evolution, and he wrote an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News on July 1 (as I understand it — wasn’t in Dallas that day).

I don’t vouch for the book — yet, at least. I’ve not read it. I find the study of science, and especially of evolution, offers no barrier to my faith, nor does my faith offer any barrier to my study of science. My faith, which requires an ethical life, offers barriers to creationism — a subject of other posts. But thank God for Charles Darwin? Sure. 

“Thank God for Charles Darwin.” T-shirt design from Redbubble


We also need to thank the federal courts, where the First Amendment is enforced, keeping unreasonable fables from diluting science education in public schools.

Which gets us to this: Chris Comer, the former science curriculum expert for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) who was fired for sending out an e-mail seen as supportive of evolution, is suing TEA, to get her job back (it’s illegal to fire public employees for bad religious reasons).

Watch that suit.

Rev. Dowd’s essay, courtesy of Sam Hodges and the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

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