News Articles and Essays About English Language Arts
Standards Realignment Before the Texas State Board of Education

Texas school board delays change to English curriculum

Move gives Texas teachers more time to offer opinions


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
July 23, 2007
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/4989341.html

AUSTIN -- Education groups have convinced the State Board of Education to slow down a plan to revamp the way schools teach English and writing to the state's 4.6 million public school children.

Instead of taking a preliminary vote in September and final action in November, the board agreed last week to hold off until February before approving new curriculum standards for English language arts.

It's been 10 years since the state last changed the curriculum for English and reading.

"Revisions are necessary because we learn more about how to better teach and because our world changes. When the textbooks were written, students weren't as well versed with technology as they are now," said Cynthia Tyroff, supervisor of secondary language arts for San Antonio's Northside Independent School District.

Like others, she appealed for the board to take more time so educators could provide input on how to best teach reading and writing skills. Tyroff spoke for the 16-member Coalition of Professional Associations of English and Reading Teachers, which, she said, represents 9,000 teachers and administrators.

Changing the curriculum is an important process "because it's going to determine what we teach. It will determine what students know and will be able to do," Tyroff said.

A flawed system

Most experts agree that the current English language arts curriculum isn't getting the job done.

Nearly one-third of all Texas 8th graders scored "below basic" on the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress for reading, with 44 percent of African-American students, 41 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of white students not able to read well enough for high school course work, said John Stevens, executive director for the Texas Business and Education Coalition.

"Poor reading translates into poor performance in every other academic discipline, and is a serious handicap in almost every aspect of a person's life," Stevens told the 15-member board.

"Kids coming into college do not have reading skills, comprehension skills -- and writing skills were just horrible," board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said.

He cited ACT results for the 2006 class, which showed 77 percent of African-American students, 72 percent of Hispanic students and 40 percent of white students scoring below 21 in reading. Researchers say 21 is the requirement for success in social studies among first year college students.

Educators want a curriculum that consolidates English and reading skills, and builds from one grade level to the next.

"You want to know exactly what should be taught, what was the prerequisite study before that and how that is leading into the next year's study as well. We call that 'spiraling the curriculum,'" said board member Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston. Allen also is director of special projects in the Houston Independent School District and a former principal at Jesse H. Jones High School.

Change by 2009-2010

It cost more than $9 million to rewrite the English language arts curriculum a decade ago.

"We recognize that this is going to be costly ... but we feel like the cost is well worth it because the end result is that kids will have higher achievement," said board member Terri Leo, R-Spring.

The board wants the new English language arts curriculum in place for the 2009-2010 school year, with new instruction materials to go along with the new standards and "end-of-course exams to follow so everything is aligned," Leo said.

Despite pleas from educators for more time to review the proposed new curriculum, board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, and Texas Education acting Commissioner Robert Scott wanted to push ahead for a preliminary vote on the plan in September.

But board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, said educators' appeals for time should be honored and taking action on "a document that has so many flaws in it right now is crazy."

During a break, Houston board member Allen called education experts, "constituents. It's important that I listen to the constituents."

gscharrer@express-news.net

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[No Title]
[No Author]
Dallas Morning News
July 20, 2007
[No URL]

AUSTIN - English teachers from across the state gave an "incomplete" to new curriculum standards for English and reading classes in Texas schools Thursday, prompting the State Board of Education to delay approval of the proposal until November.

After hearing complaints from a coalition of 16 groups representing thousands of English and reading teachers, board members agreed to send the proposed standards - specifying the knowledge and skills students are supposed to learn in school - back to the drawing board.

Although Texas Education Agency officials initially said they wanted to submit final standards to the board at its next meeting in September, several board members balked at that idea, citing the criticism from so many teachers.

"We need more time on this project," said board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth. "To say we are going to [take action] on a document that has so many flaws in it right now is crazy.

"We should leave it to the people who know what they're talking about - the English, language arts and reading people - to come back to us after we give
them a chance to study these proposals."

Board member Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, agreed that a delay was needed.

"Let's do it right," he said, suggesting that the board postpone action until its November meeting. Board members will hear further testimony on the standards at their next meeting in September.

Among several people who testified Thursday were members of a group of educators and experts who worked on the new curriculum standards for English, language arts and reading.

Most said more time was needed to work on the standards, which several described as incomplete.

Cindy Tyroff, secondary English supervisor for the Northside school district in San Antonio, said 16 organizations representing nearly 9,000 teachers and
administrators were united in their assessment that the proposed English standards needed to cover more skills.

"Not all of us in the coalition agree on all the details of how to teach reading and writing, but we have come together around the importance of ensuring a rigorous curriculum for our students," she said.

"We ask that you allow ample time for quality work."

In rewriting the curriculum standards, the working group appointed by the state board was instructed to consolidate the skills students are expected to learn in English and reading - eliminating all redundancies in the old standards.

But Ms. Tyroff and others who testified said too many skills - or "student expectations" - had been eliminated, leaving teachers, particularly those new to the profession, without the guidelines they need to educate their students.

Carol Revelle, a parent from Carrollton, told the board she was disappointed with the reduction in critical skills and the "ambiguous" expectations laid out in the proposed standards for middle schools. Her daughter is a seventh-grader at Blalack Middle School.

"We are selling our students short unless we add the rigor back into these expectations," she said. "Our students can do so much more than this."

When the English and reading curriculum standards are set, board members will turn their attention to the standards for science classes next year.

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Education board leader unhappy with proposed reading curriculum standards

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Monday, February 11, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/021208dntextextbooks.351c883.html

AUSTIN – The chairman of the State Board of Education said Monday that he is ready to junk a massive rewrite of the state's English and reading curriculum standards for public schools and replace it with an update of an alternative plan originally rejected by the board more than a decade ago.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said a proposed curriculum plan for English and reading classes – drafted by scores of teachers and curriculum experts over the last two years – is not acceptable and he will urge other board members to reject the plan at a meeting Wednesday.

He said he will seek board support for an alternative proposal that sets more specific guidelines for what English teachers should teach, including lists of books and passages that should be read by all students in those classes.

The alternative document is similar to a proposal that was rejected by the board in 1997 after the state's education commissioner said it was overly specific and would infringe on the ability of teachers to tailor classes for their students.

But Mr. McLeroy said the updated alternative plan is the best approach for Texas schools.

"It think it will lead to much better textbooks," he said.

The curriculum standards are supposed to lay out what students should be taught in English and reading classes. They also provide the basis for questions asked on student achievement tests – such as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills – and for material that must be included in textbooks purchased by the state.

Regarding the curriculum standards that have been drafted by panels of educators over the last two years – capped by the recent hiring of a consultant who was paid $85,000 by the state to complete the work – Mr. McLeroy said the results were "very disappointing."

"I was hoping it would be a lot better. But frankly, the standards they came up with are inadequate," he said.

Some board members questioned the 11th-hour effort to scuttle the original proposal on the eve of its possible adoption by the education board. The board has been discussing the English curriculum standards since last summer.

Board member Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, said it would be unfair to ask board members to vote on a lengthy proposal that they just received in the past few days.

"We've not had a chance to review, and our experts have not had a chance to review it," she said. "It basically disregards everything we've done over the past two years."

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Conservatives will revive rejected curriculum plan

Critics say the late language arts move would harm public education


By GARY SCHARRER and JENNIFER RADCLIFFE
Houston Chronicle
Feb. 13, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/5537026.html

AUSTIN -- A group of conservatives on the State Board of Education is expected to make an 11th-hour move today to scrap two years of work on a language arts curriculum revision in favor of a plan that was rejected more than a decade ago.

Some on the divided, 15-member board contend that the proposed curriculum backed by the Texas Education Agency is too vague and not worth the $85,000 the state paid the nonprofit group that developed it.

"It's unreadable. It's mangled. It's confusing," said board member David Bradley, who represents the Beaumont area.

Others contend that introducing the alternative curriculum at this late date is an attempt to push a "right-wing agenda" that will harm public education.

They say that, in addition to disregarding years of work by a board-appointed committee of Texas educators, introducing an alternative document gives teachers very little time to weigh in.

"What I'm upset about is, how could we involve teachers and then leave them out of the loop? This is absurd," said board member Mary Helen Berlanga, of Corpus Christi. "I want teachers to be outraged that they are not being heard."

Judy Wallis, the language arts director in the Spring Branch district, said she is stunned that this alternative curriculum has resurfaced.

"I don't know what to say. We're all troubled, a little mystified and surprised," said Wallis, who plans to testify at the meeting in Austin today.

The alternative curriculum puts more emphasis on handwriting, grammar, spelling and punctuation. It also includes a suggested reading list, a contentious point among many educators, Bradley said. Texas is revising all of its curricula, the documents that spell out what children are taught.

Up against a tight April deadline for approving the new language arts curriculum, the state asked for help last fall from StandardsWork, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group.

Some board members were dissatisfied with a draft that the group submitted in January.

"I think everybody just groaned," Bradley said.

He added that this alternative curriculum was nearly adopted in 1997, when conservatives were unhappy with the TEA's version. There was little they could do then, Bradley said, because then-Gov. George W. Bush and his political director, Karl Rove, "pushed it through because we had to reform education in Texas."

The principal author of the 1997 document is retired English teacher Donna Garner.

"We don't need input from a person who retired many years ago and thinks this document that she submitted 10 years ago is still good enough today," Berlanga said. "They are dictating what to read. They are not even saying, 'These are some examples.' They are saying, 'This is what you are going to read to them.'"

In an e-mail message to supporters last week, Garner complained that students no longer read traditional classics.

"They cannot write nor speak using correct grammar," she wrote. "Students' spelling and vocabulary skills have disintegrated. Multicultural authors have taken the place of time-honored classics in students' textbooks. Students spend class time reading teen genre which is replete with violence, sexual content and abusive language.

"Diversity now includes homosexuals. The gay lifestyle is being heavily promoted in our public schools," Garner wrote. "Schools cannot afford to hire enough policemen to control student violence."

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, criticized state board Chairman Don McLeroy for trying to cast aside two years of work.

Her organization, which offers itself as a counterbalance to religious conservatives, is a frequent critic of the state board.

Miller said McLeroy "is trying to do this with a last-minute bait-and-switch, offering a curriculum document that the board, parents and teachers haven't even discussed. The arrogance is breathtaking."

jennifer.radcliffe@chron.com
gscharrer@express-news.net

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Comments from Donna Garner
Houston Chronicle [from article above]
2.13.08

When the document that the present Texas teacher writing groups surfaced in October 2007 and they had produced such an "unreadable, mangled, confusing" mess, the leadership of the SBOE and the TEA decided an outside nonprofit group needed to be hired to straighten out the document. However it was the minority members of the SBOE who delayed that selection for another 30 days which cost Texas valuable time at the end of the process.

It was also the same minority group on the SBOE who insisted that the nonprofit group not REWRITE anything but only REORGANIZE the document. Junk in, junk out. When the nonprofit returned its document to Texas in January 2008 and the Texas teacher writing teams revised it yet again, the final document was worse than ever.

That was when the majority of the SBOE members began to look around for a solution, and they came up with the Substitute Amendment which is to be considered today at the SBOE meeting.

The majority of the Substitute Amendment was written by Texas teachers who were teaching "real kids in real classrooms." These teachers knew what it was that students could and should learn, and they also knew what it was that parents expected their children to master: reading, correct spelling, grammar, composition, penmanship, study and research skills, and time-management. The teachers who wrote the Substitute Amendment knew that parents wanted and expected the schools to teach children to read the wholesome, great, time-honored pieces of literature. These teachers knew that parents wanted their children to build a strong foundation of core content knowledge upon which to reason logically and analytically. That is what the Substitute Amendment offers -- a quality education which will get students ready for college and/or the workplace.

The Substitute Amendment is carefully organized to help teachers know what (NOW HOW) to teach at each grade level. The "how" is left up to the creativity of teachers. The document itself provides teachers with valuable and supportive information which will equip each teacher with direction, and school districts will no longer need to hire high-paid consultants and large numbers of curriculum directors. Schools will no longer have to buy expensive supplementary materials to try to "interpret" what it is that students are supposed to learn. The goals for each grade level are clearly spelled out in the Substitute Amendment, and a typical student can learn them in a year's time.

The best part about it is that the Substitute Amendment has been given free of charge to Texas. The teachers who wrote it have claimed no notoriety nor any reimbursement for their many hours of dedicated service.

This is Texas' chance to put its students on a track to success. In fact someone has suggested that the name of the Substitute Amendment needs to be changed to TEXAS SUCCESS STANDARDS. That is a great name.

The Substitute Amendment was written by Texas teachers with the help of some of this country's leading education experts. Many of their names are given right in the document.

Actually, I have only been out of the classroom for less than two years; and I am constantly in communication with teachers, parents, education experts, researchers, and education policymakers from all across America. I would say that I am very much aware of what is happening in today's classrooms.

I certainly stand by these statements on violence and the dangerous and unhealthy homosexual agenda which is penetrating our schools. All a person has to do is to pick up the daily newspapers to verify exactly what I have said.

Remember that Texas Freedom Network is part of a sisterhood: Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign, which is the largest homosexual organization in the country, and TFN. These three organizations talk from the same playbook because the leaders of these three organizations all came out of TFN. Their one desire in life is to destroy the conservative values upon which our country is based.

Yes, the "arrogance" is breathtaking. The courage that these SBOE members are showing to try to put our Texas schools back on track to real education reform is indeed "arrogant."

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Texas curriculum compromise in works

Education board will form subcommittee to hash out differences on language arts materials.


By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, February 14, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/02/14/0214curriculum.html

State officials revising language arts curriculum standards for Texas' 4.6 million public school students decided Wednesday to move forward with input from supporters of a controversial alternate plan that was rejected 10 years ago during the last revision process.

Wednesday's decision follows a recent effort by State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, to get fellow board members to scrap two years of work by a board-appointed committee of educators and education experts in favor of the alternate plan.

McLeroy said he was disappointed with the committee's standards because they lacked clear direction on the content of instruction. The alternative plan has a reading list, with an emphasis on the classics, in addition to instruction on spelling, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary.

Opponents said the standards preferred by McLeroy and other conservatives on the board are rigid and out of date. Critics of McLeroy's efforts included more than a dozen educators who testified in front of the board Wednesday that the alternate plan focuses only on isolated skills and limits students' reading experiences.

The board will now form a subcommittee that will consist of members who favor the alternate proposal, those who favor the proposal from the board's original appointed committee and education consultants StandardsWork, a Washington, D.C.-based group that was paid $85,000 for its help in developing the committee-based curriculum proposal.

"I think this is a good compromise that gives all people, all parties the right to have their voices heard," said board member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth.

The state's curriculum standards decide what is in Texas textbooks and define what is taught in the state's classrooms. They also have an impact on what is on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

McLeroy's alternate proposal, the primary author of which is retired teacher Donna Garner, was rejected by the state board about 10 years ago because it was too specific.

The alternate plan appears to have the support of as many as seven of the 15-member education board, several of whom said the committee's proposal was vague and repetitive.

Several board members seemed troubled that established processes for the development of curriculum standards were being changed. The board will also review the state's science curriculum, including how evolution will be taught in public schools, later this year.

"If we're doing it now, are we going to do it in science?" asked board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, one of three board members who voted against the compromise. "Are we going to do it in other subject matters?"

The board expects a final version of the new language arts requirements at the end of March and plans to vote on the standards at the end of May.

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Education board OKs compromise on curriculum

By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Feb. 13, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/5540606.html

AUSTIN -- A potential fight over a rewrite of the state's English and reading curriculum fizzled Wednesday with the State Board of Education simply agreeing to improve an existing proposal instead of junking it.

About 25 English and language arts teachers appealed to the board not to throw out two years of work already invested in the effort to modernize the English, language arts and reading curriculum for Texas public schools.

Conservative board members sent signals earlier in the week that they supported an alternative curriculum, rejected 11 years ago, that puts greater emphasis on handwriting, grammar, spelling and punctuation.

But halfway through the meeting, board member David Bradley of Beaumont announced he would drop that idea and ask experts to review and improve the existing proposal.

His motion avoided "a full-blown war at this particular meeting," board member Mavis Knight of Dallas said.

Texas is in the process of revising all of its curriculums the documents that spell out what children across the state are taught. Facing a tight deadline, the state board plans to take a final vote on the new English, language arts and reading plan on May 22. Textbooks for the new curriculum must be ready for the 2009-10 school year.

"Texas teachers support this document because unlike the substitute amendment, this document will assure a quality education experience for our students," Northside Independent School District English teacher Cynthia Tyroff told the board.

But board member Cynthia Dunbar of Richmond complained that the proposal pushed by teachers does not give enough attention to grammar, which steers too many high school graduates into remedial classes when they reach college.

"What we're doing obviously does not work," she said.

The board voted 12-3 to stick with the existing proposal and to invite experts to improve it. Three Democrats opposed the motion: Rick Agosto of San Antonio, Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi and Rene Nunez of El Paso.

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BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK -- TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

By Donna Garner
TexasISD.com
Feb 14, 2008
http://www.texasisd.com/article_68010.shtml

The Texas State Board of Education ended its meeting today with a compromise. Basically, the motion said that the chairman of the SBOE would appoint a balanced subcommittee (i.e., Gail Lowe, Lawrence Allen, Tincy Miller, Don McLeroy, and Robert Scott) to work with the Texas Education Agency staff. They will consider the Standards Work document and input from all interested parties including the teacher work groups. A facilitator will be chosen to write the final English / Language Arts / Reading document which will include the work of the college-ready vertical teams. The final document will be reviewed by the Committee of the Full Board and presented for First Reading on March 27 and for Second Reading on May 22, 2008.

This sounds fair and equitable, doesn't it? However, let me tell you what this really means. Back in 1997 when the present ELAR/TEKS were adopted, it was the "Coalition" who pushed our schools into whole language (i.e., balanced literacy), process over content, performance-based projects, grade inflation, lack of attention to detail, holistic writing, no emphasis on grammar, and invented spelling. Today these Coalition people dusted off their same strategies and used them once again to browbeat the SBOE into submission.

Recently the SBOE conservatives realized that the Standards Work document was a muddle and could not be reorganized nor rewritten to produce a seamless delivery of curriculum to K-12 students.

Last week the Substitute Amendment was revamped and rewritten based in large part on the Texas Alternative Document which had been produced by Texas classroom teachers in 1997. They wanted to stem the tide of mediocrity in the schools and wrote a document which was clear, explicit, grade-level-specific, and doable in a year's time.

Because of Gov. Bush's race for the Presidency at the time, Karl Rove wanted no controversy in Texas; and the Coalition was allowed to prevail, costing ten years of Texas children a quality educational background in English / Language Arts / Reading. Hence, we have Texas students doing progressively worse on the SAT Writing section and on the ACT, and over 50% of Texas graduates have to take remedial classes in college.

I listened online to the testimony given at the SBOE meeting today, and I took careful notes. Nearly all of the 25+ testifiers were members of the "Coalition." Their sole intent was to cast aspersions on the Substitute Amendment and on me personally, stating frequently that I was the lone author which is absolutely not true. A list of contributors and a bibliography are attached to the Substitute Amendment which clearly show that many educators and experts from across Texas and the country had input into the document.

Yes, of course, I was the lead writer; but someone has to be. A document does not just hop out of a computer all by itself! After all, Thomas Jefferson was the writer of the Declaration of Independence; yet no one credits him alone for that document. It was written by a group of dedicated people just as the Substitute Amendment was.

Interestingly enough, in the course of the testimonies given by the Coalition members, they accidentally revealed that the Standards Work document has serious flaws, particularly taken together as a group. These flaws seem very significant to me:

Ironically after this litany of complaints against the Standards Work document which were given in passing by the Coalition testifiers, they always ended on the same note. "It is more important to spare the feelings of the teacher groups who spent two years creating this inferior Standards Work document than to consider the superior Substitute Document."

In essence, these Coalition members decided the process of writing the standards became more important than what was in the actual document itself. Unfortunately, Texas children could care less about whether a few English teachers get their feelings hurt. The important thing for these students is what is found in the standards document which determines what type of education they are going to receive.

During the course of the day, it was revealed that the teacher work groups who worked on the draft with Standards Work did not meet longitudinally K-12 but instead met in small grade-level groups. That is why the final document is so disjointed and full of gaps. The right hand did not know what the left hand was doing, yet the student is supposed to navigate the chasms with ease. For instance, Grade 2 students are expected to "identify and use progressive, past progressive tense, and irregular verbs" even though they have not had careful instruction on how to locate a verb.

The Standards Work document emphasizes process over content with the New Jersey Writing Project dominating the classroom. The Substitute Amendment emphasizes content and the students' acquiring a strong knowledge base of foundational skills.

Nothing is going to change in our state's public schools until all teachers know what it is that they are supposed to teach at each grade level, and they should not have to run to a consultant or curriculum director to find out. Students' skills are not going to improve until they can mentally connect new concepts with previously learned concepts. The Substitute Amendment does both; it gives clear, systematic direction to teachers and students.

What will happen now to the ELAR standards? I honestly do not know. I guess anything is possible.

Donna Garner
wgarner1@hot.rr.com

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Texas Education Agency
February 28, 2008

Thank you for your inquiry about the very important process that is ongoing regarding revising the English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).  Below you will find responses to your questions.

What is the planned work schedule for the committee?  Will subcommittee meetings be open to the public?
The subcommittee appointed to this task is scheduled to meet on February 29, 2008 at 2:00pm in Room 1-140 of the John H. Reagan State Office Building located at 105 West 15th Street in Austin, Texas.  This meeting will be open to the public but oral public testimony is not scheduled to be heard at this meeting.  At this meeting the subcommittee will address the appointment of an expert review committee and will discuss preliminary changes/suggestions to the most recent draft of the revised ELAR TEKS, which will be the version which was presented at the February 13 meeting.

How do teachers and organizations provide additional input? What is the process for submitting the additional input?
Additional input prior to the meeting of the expert reviewers may be sent to Dr. Sharon Jackson, Associate Commissioner for Standards and Programs at the Texas Education Agency, via e-mail at sharon.jackson@tea.state.tx.us or via fax at (512) 475-3667.  The official public comment period will begin when the revisions are published as proposed in the Texas Register.  The board is scheduled to consider the revisions to the ELAR TEKS for first reading and filing authorization at the March 27-28 meeting.

Will work group members and other interested parties be able to address the subcommittee in person? What is the schedule for soliciting the additional input? Will work group members be allowed to give additional input once the subcommittee has completed its work?  If so, when and how will this occur?

Oral public testimony will not be heard at the February 29th meeting.  A public hearing regarding the draft ELAR TEKS is scheduled for March 26, 2008. However, there will be additional opportunities for the writing teams to have additional input into the final draft.

Will suggestions made during the Feb. 13 testimony be incorporated into this process?
Yes, as appropriate.  StandardsWorks was provided copies of all of the public comments and the document that Ms. Hardy presented to the board at the February meeting.

When will the expert reviewers be contacted?
Expert reviewers will be contacted very soon after they are identified by the SBOE subcommittee.

What criteria has been set to select the experts?
The selection criteria is being developed at this time.

Will experts from Texas be included as recommended by SBOE member Pat Hardy?
All information submitted to TEA pertaining to recommendations for experts will be reviewed by the subcommittee at the February 29 meeting.

What role will StandardsWork play in this final stage?
StandardsWork will continue to revise the document.

Clarification of the distinction between the March 26 public hearing date and the March 27 first reading date:
March 26 has been set aside for the SBOE to hear public testimony regarding the proposed revised TEKS for ELAR.  March 27 is the date that the SBOE Committee of the Full Board will consider the revisions for first reading and filing authorization.

We believe that the ELAR TEKS revision process outlined above is an open and transparent process that gives consideration to all comments and suggestions received. If you have questions or need additional information, feel free to contact Dr. Sharon Jackson, Associate Commissioner for Standards and Programs at the Texas Education Agency, at the e-mail address shown above.

Sincerely,

Robert Scott
Commissioner of Education

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Is this reform or regression?

By Betsy Oney
Opinion
Special to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Thu, Feb. 28, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/245/story/500677.html

Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel, wrote about reforming education in the Jan. 23 edition of Forbes.com. We should, he said, "shift from knowledge acquisition, which limits learning to rote memorization and parroting back facts." He said we need "knowledge creation," which involves "learning how to learn."

Learning how to learn, says this former university professor, "cultivates skills that are vital for today's knowledge economy -- [skills that include] critical thinking, collaboration, analysis, problem solving, communication and innovation."

Several State Board of Education members, if they go unchecked, will have Texas children spending 13 years on rote memorization and parroting back facts instead of learning. They will lead children out of the future of technology and innovation and take them down a dead-end road.

Not only that, but these SBOE members will recklessly waste the $85,000-plus in taxpayers' money that has been spent to ensure that Texas children get the education, knowledge and skills that Barrett says they will need.

More than two years ago, the state board commissioned the development of a new set of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. A group of highly qualified and successful teachers collaborated and came up with a document that outlines a rigorous curriculum for Texas' K-12 students. It focuses on what Barrett called "knowledge creation" and "learning how to learn."

It was a huge undertaking, and the product is essentially sound. It was still undergoing final editing for language and organization when the board received a close-to-final draft in January.

But at the last hour, board Chairman Don McLeroy introduced a substitute amendment for the document because, he said, the commissioned draft was unacceptable. This proposal, supported by board members Gail Lowe and David Bradley, had been rejected 10 years earlier by the board because it was not viable or relevant even then.

The amendment, written by a narrow interest group and questionable in its validity, was re-introduced without significant changes, if any. It is a sterling example of "rote memorization and parroting back facts." It is not education reform -- it is education regression.

First, it fails to take into account the needs of a diverse student population with a suggested reading list that is unnecessarily limited in its range. Children who are not yet accomplished and sophisticated readers want and need to see themselves in stories.

The amendment's methods and materials fail to teach "learning how to learn," a skill that becomes increasingly necessary as technology moves us ever faster into the future.

Research has shown time and again that process is what successful teachers teach, and what unsuccessful teachers don't teach. Process is at the core of the commissioned TEKS.

Another basic difference involves the roles of the teacher and students. Under the amendment, the classroom is teacher-centered, with the teacher feeding information and pupils passively receiving it. The commissioned TEKS assumes a student-centered classroom, where the teacher creates or designs a learning situation and the students actively engage in their learning: consuming information, thinking, questioning, analyzing, innovating, creating. The teacher then serves as role model, support or coach.

McLeroy's last-minute introduction of the amendment required teachers, who had been reviewing the commissioned document and were preparing to recommend edits, to spend the little remaining time focusing instead on convincing board members that they are asking for disaster.

Twenty-five teachers testified -- teachers who know firsthand the need for education reform. Their voices were essentially one in their message: The amendment is so flawed, so backward, that it does not warrant consideration. They said that the commissioned proposal should be refined in its language and organization and then adopted.

Even though these teachers were articulate, eloquent and passionate, some SBOE members ignored the testimony, demonstrating that they were uninterested in learning from the experts' knowledge and experience. One member seemed angered by an exceptionally eloquent testimony by one teacher, and she stunned observers when she launched into an unwarranted personal attack on the speaker.

It is one thing for individuals to choose to home-school their children and in so doing to choose methods and materials that they find relevant for themselves. But it is quite another to use these same materials and methods in public school classrooms when Texas teachers know that they will exclude the majority of children.

Texas, now rich in diversity of races, religions and socioeconomic levels, needs education reform that is inclusive and teaches knowledge creation.

An SBOE subcommittee will meet Friday to discuss this issue again.

Texans may have no greater responsibility at this time than to make sure our curriculum is inclusive, not exclusive, and that our children learn skills that will serve them in the future.

Write to sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us and ask board members to reject the ideas from the amendment and to decide in favor of education reform that will serve all the children of Texas.

Betsy Oney of Fort Worth holds a master of education degree and is a Master Reading Teacher (and English-as-a-second-language teacher) in the Arlington school district.

==============

State official: classroom materials may exclude minorities

Jennifer L. Berghom
Brownsville Monitor
March 18, 2008
http://www.themonitor.com/news/berlanga_10030___article.html/board_books.html

BROWNSVILLE - Mary Helen Berlanga expects to clash with other Texas education board members this year as they work on updating the state's classroom lesson guidelines.

She anticipates debating with conservative members on issues like whether to include intelligent design in science textbooks and whether history books include enough information about minorities.

Berlanga, the state board's senior member, spoke to students and faculty at the University of Texas-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on Tuesday.

She asked her constituents to travel to Austin next week to speak out against proposed amendments outside consultants are pushing for that she says exclude Hispanics and other minorities from classroom instruction.

Intelligent design is the school of thought that says there are parts of nature too complex to be dismissed as random chance and that evolution must have been guided by a higher power. In previous interviews, Berlanga said schools should stick to teaching evolution because intelligent design too close to teaching religion in school.

The guidelines are laid out in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum- which establishes what students need to know at every grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade - earlier this year.

It is the first time the board has sought to update the TEKS since 1997.

What concerns Berlanga, in particular, is a list of books that private education consultants are touting as suggested reading for children.

She says no books written by or about minority groups are included on the list.

Though the consultants say the books listed are just examples, Berlanga said she fears they would become the required reading.

"I've been on the state board long enough to know what happens when you give examples. It becomes the law, it becomes the bible," said Berlanga, who has served on the board since 1983.

By listing specific books it would deprive teachers of their ability to choose books to which their students would better relate. Not offering books written by or about Hispanics and Latinos, she says, would alienate the state's largest student population.

There are more than 2.1 million Hispanic students in the state, making them the largest ethnic group the public education system serves.

"Folks, we're going back in time instead of forward," Berlanga said. "I don't think anybody should be put on the back burner."

Professors and students said they were glad Berlanga came down to talk to them about the TEKS proposed updates and were disappointed to learn that Hispanics and Latinos don't appear to have a say in the updates.

"It's clear (that this is) a deliberate attempt to exclude us from History, ELA and all areas of teaching," said Julio Noboa, a professor of curriculum and instruction at UTB who specializes in history and social studies.

He said he and other Hispanic educators have had to fight to ensure minorities are represented in school subjects.

The board of education plans to hold a public hearing about the amendments on March 26.

Berlanga said she is working with UTB faculty and others to charter a bus to take people to that hearing.

The final vote is expected in May.
_____

Jennifer L. Berghom covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4462.

===========

Legislators say education panel lacks Hispanic

By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau
El Paso Times
03/18/2008
http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_8606934

AUSTIN -- A group of Mexican-American legislators said state education leaders made a short-sighted mistake in failing to select anyone with Hispanic expertise or anyone from West or South Texas to help update Texas English and reading standards.

"The fate of the Hispanic/Latino population in Texas will greatly influence the future competitive development of this state," state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, wrote in a letter Friday to the State Board of Education.

The board is in the final stages of a three-year review of the English and reading curriculum and is expected to adopt final changes this spring. The four members of the committee that helped draft the updated standards are from Central Texas, Houston and Dallas.

Don McLeroy, board chairman, responded with a letter to Gallego in which he agreed the new curriculum should drive success for all students, including Hispanic students.

Gallego and others, he wrote, would have a chance to comment on the curriculum at two upcoming meetings before it is adopted by the full education board and during a public comment period before the requirements are finalized.

"All input is welcome," McLeroy wrote.

Statewide, 46 percent of Texas public school students are Hispanic, and 16 percent have limited English proficiency, according to Texas Education Agency data.

More than 88 percent of students in El Paso are Hispanic, and 28 percent have limited English ability.

Hispanic students are the future leaders of Texas, said state Rep. Chente Quintanilla, D-El Paso, and the state cannot afford to leave them behind in the classroom.

Quintanilla said he didn't favor bilingual education but believed the curriculum should account for the needs of students who come from homes where English is not the dominant language.

"I don't think it's a racial issue," said Quintanilla, a former Socorro Independent School District administrator, who is also a member of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. "I think it's an issue we have to come to grasp, and people have to understand. We'd better educate the children of the future."

Patricia Gomez, who has four school-age children and lives in the Northeast, said she grew up speaking Spanish at home and remembers being shocked and intimidated when she was immersed in English at school.

As a tutor in El Paso schools, she said, she has seen that same look of fear on her students' faces.

Educators, she said, must account for language barriers to help ensure that students who are very bright but not fluent in English can learn along with their classmates.

"Otherwise, it isolates a child from wanting to learn," Gomez said, "and it makes them feel like, 'Well, I can't do that.' "

Brandi Grissom may be reached at bgrissom@elpasotimes.com;512-479-6606.

==============

State panel rejects Latino call for input on curriculum

No more time to alter policy for English and reading, state chair insists


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
March 20, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5634125.html

[Download the Mexican American Legislative Caucus Letter (2.2 MB PDF) to SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy.]

AUSTIN -- There is neither time nor a reason to slow down a plan to update the English language arts and reading curriculum for public schools, State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy said Wednesday after a Texas lawmaker pleaded for input from Hispanic experts.

Hispanic children now make up a large plurality of the 4.7 million students attending Texas public schools.

"There is no way that ignoring such a sizable chunk of this population from consideration of education policy will do anything but harm the opportunity of a generation," Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, told McLeroy and a four-member board subcommittee.

Herrero represented the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which has asked McLeroy to include experts in Latino culture before adopting a final document. He and other advocates did not have specific examples of how a lack of such experts may have resulted in omissions in the newly released document.

Preliminary vote coming

The board plans a public hearing Wednesday and will take a preliminary vote March 27 on new curriculum standards that will influence new textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

Mary Helen Berlanga, the senior member of the State Board of Education, said the refusal of her colleagues to include Latino experts in developing the new curriculum amounted to malice.

"It's ignorance on their part," Berlanga said after the subcommittee signaled its intent to stick to a schedule and not call in Hispanic experts.

"We're trying to teach (minority children) English language arts, and all we want is someone who has researched these children and their learning styles to find out where they are deficient and where we can help them," Berlanga, of Corpus Christi, said. "We can save a whole population of children.

"It makes no sense except that there is malice and individuals who want to see that the Texas public (school) system fails individuals (and) who are not interested in seeing minorities progress," she said.

McLeroy, of Bryan, said he was shocked by accusations that he and some board members are trying to shortchange Hispanic students.

"There's no malice at all, none, zip, nada. There's just no time to get another expert in," he said after the meeting. "None of us would do anything to hurt any group of children or any (individual) child. What we want is for them to be successful in the English language because it's so important."

No wholesale changes

Of the 4.7 million children attending Texas public schools this year, Hispanics make up 47 percent, Anglos 35 percent and African-Americans 14 percent, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The number of Hispanic children will continue to increase. Among the 1.5 million children enrolled in kindergarten through third grades, Hispanics make up 49.6 percent and whites 33 percent.

Teachers and other English language and reading experts can offer comments on the 78-page proposal at the public hearing next week. There has been plenty of opportunity for various experts to provide input earlier, McLeroy said.

"If there's something that could cause a certain group to stumble, I think we ought to fix it," he said.

But a wholesale substitution or even major changes no longer are possible, McLeroy said, adding, "We should have had this done a long time ago."

Lawrence Allen Jr., of Houston, the only minority member on the subcommittee, supported the call for experts in Latino culture to review the document.

"It's a simple request, one that we need to meet to satisfy such a large population of our state," he said.

Cindy Tyroff, an English language arts and reading expert in San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, said it will take some time to assess the proposal.

But she said it is not an exaggeration "to say it's always prudent to have lots of eyes and people with lots of expertise" involving in writing a new curriculum.

gscharrer@express-news.net

============

Austin LULAC Leader: Education Board Never Sought Hispanic Input

3/20/2008
http://www.590klbj.com/News/Story.aspx?ID=87277
Newsroom

Rita Gonzales-Garza, Co-director of Austin's LULAC office, says the State Board of Education's decision, not to allow input from Hispanic experts on new curriculum standards for public schools, will have a negative impact on Hispanic children. She says it will lead to a higher drop-out rate among students. She adds that it will also result in fewer students being prepared to meet the demands of our labor market and college.

Gonzales-Garza says the board never sought input from Hispanics. But she says "It's incumbent on the State Board of Education to receive that input and to make time for it." She says "If it delays the approval of the curriculum by a month, but in the end the state's better off for it, that's what they should do."

Hispanic children make up 47 percent of the 4.7 million students in Texas public classrooms. The board is scheduled to take a preliminary vote March 27th on new standards for curriculum in reading and writing.

============

Educators rip book list in English plan

Michelle De La Rosa
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/21/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA032208.01A.curriculum.387c08a.html

Many Texas educators are incensed by the latest version of the state's proposed English language arts and reading curriculum, which includes hardly any books portraying Hispanic culture in a state where nearly half the schoolchildren are Hispanic.

A draft of the curriculum, released Wednesday, includes more than 150 literary works that Texas public school teachers should consider using for their courses. Only four of them reflect the Hispanic culture, a woefully low figure they fear will limit the exposure of the state's 4.7 million schoolchildren to cultural diversity.

Educators, consultants and advocacy groups are referring to the recommendations as a "book list," which the state has shied away from in the past. They predict that textbook publishers, hoping to have their book adopted by the state, will include in their text revisions only the literary works that appear on the list.

That worries educators such as Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in the Northside Independent School District, where about 60 percent of students are Hispanic.

"A lot of these are classic pieces of literature, and there's certainly nothing wrong with classic pieces of literature," she said. "But I also think that one of the ways that we help, in particular, struggling readers access text is by giving them materials where they see themselves."

The State Board of Education is scheduled to hold a public hearing about the proposed curriculum changes Wednesday and is expected to take a preliminary vote the next day. A final vote is scheduled for May 23.

The new standards, which affect kindergarten through 12th grades, will influence textbooks for the 2009-2010 school year.

Don McLeroy, board chairman, said Friday he couldn't comment about the list because he hadn't reviewed which books made it into the document.

However, McLeroy said he directed a group of experts to add examples of "good literature" to the list. He said students should spend their time in English class learning English and reading literature that will help prepare them for college.

"What good does it do to put a Chinese story in an English book?" he said. "You learn all these Chinese words, OK. That's not going to help you master ... English. So you really don't want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them. Why should you take a child's time trying to learn a word that they'll never ever use again?"

He added that some words -- such as chow mein -- might be useful.

Educators say they don't have a problem with the classics, such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "The Great Gatsby." However, they say, the recommendations on the table are heavy on classics and short on contemporary and cultural works to which students can relate.

The books by Hispanic authors included on the list are: "Love in the Time of Cholera," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; "Becoming Naomi Leon" by Pam Muñoz Ryan; "The Jumping Tree" by Rene Saldaña; and "El Pajaro Cu," or "The Coo Bird," a collection of fables.

Tyroff said missing from the list is local author Sandra Cisneros' book "House on Mango Street." However, Cisneros said Friday she doesn't think there should be a recommended list at all. Instead, educators should choose books to which students can relate.

"I feel it's just important that we select books that might speak to young people at whatever age that reader is," Cisneros said. "A lot of times, people who aren't used to books aren't going to read ... books that they find intimidating."

The proposed curriculum states that teachers should "consider reading" specific books, but critics say educators and textbook publishers will interpret whatever is in the curriculum as a requirement.

"The minute they say an example would be this book, or consider this book, that's it," said Mary Helen Berlanga, a state board member from Corpus Christi. "They take it as, 'Oh, we should be reading this.'"

The curriculum currently used in Texas classrooms includes no book recommendations. Instead, school districts or individual campuses develop their own reading lists.

And an initial draft of the curriculum rewrite, developed by a teacher work group over the past two years, also didn't include specific titles.

However, last month, a group of state board members tried to introduce a separate curriculum proposal, one that had been rejected by the state board a decade ago. The effort failed but the board voted to appoint a subcommittee of members -- McLeroy, Gail Lowe, Geraldine Miller and Lawrence Allen -- to review the document the teacher group developed.

The book recommendations are a result of that review, for which the board members recruited experts.

Ken Mercer, one of two state board members who represent San Antonio, said the books included in the curriculum are merely suggestions -- not requirements. San Antonio's other state board representative, Rick Agosto, told a reporter he would return a telephone call on Friday but did not.

David Bradley, state board vice chairman, said teachers and other educators are unhappy because they didn't get to develop the recommended list.

"You've got to establish some guidelines," he said. "Ultimately, the debate comes down to who gets to decide on the list, and it falls to the 15 folks who were elected."

mdelarosa@express-news.net

=============

TEKS Realignment

Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts

March 21, 2008
https://www.tctela.org/TEKS_Realignment.php

URGENT CALL TO AUSTIN

Your presence is greatly needed at an important press conference and the final public hearing on the revised
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for English Language Arts and Reading at noon on Wednesday, March 26. The press conference begins at noon in the lobby, and the public hearing follows at 1 p.m. in Room 1-111 of the William B. Travis Building, 1701 North Congress Avenue, Austin, TX.

TCTELA will join other literacy organizations in calling for the following revision of the March 19 draft: the reinstatement of the reading comprehension standards for grades 4-12,

* the elimination of suggested authors and literary works within the TEKS,
* the rejection of a suggested authors’ list,
* the reinstatement of the Oral and Written Conventions Strand as a sub-strand of the Writing Strand, rather than a separate, isolated strand,
* the increase in the rigor of the expectations for the primary grades (alignment with pre-K standards), and
* the alignment of expectations across grade levels.

Helpful Links
K-12 aligned version of the 03.19.08 TEKS: table of contents, reading, writing, research, listening and speaking,
oral and written conventions
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/index.html, Hot Topics, 03.19.08 TEKS and the prekindergarten guidelines
http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/op_rules.html, information on testifying
sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us, SBOE representatives’ e-mail address
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/, link to learn who represents you

The time to act is now. Come to Austin on March 26.

Links to Recent News Articles
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA032208.01A.curriculum.387c08a.html “Educators Rip Book List in English Plan”
http://www.star-telegram.com/local/story/542257.html “State Board, Teachers Clash on English Curriculum”

Updated Time Line [snipped; go to website]

March 19 TEKS Subcommittee Meeting

Chair Don McLeroy delayed the anticipated subcommittee approval of the revised Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for English Language Arts and Reading when the document was not available until nearly 3:30 p.m., one and one-half hours after the subcommittee meeting was slated to begin. Echoing subcommittee member Lawrence Allen’s reluctance to sign off on a document he had not yet reviewed, McLeroy announced the subcommittee would give its approval on Thursday, March 27, the day after the public hearing. (Please note that while McLeroy said the subcommittee would meet at 8:30 a.m. on March 27, the SBOE schedule does not reflect this. It appears the subcommittee approval will come at the same time as that of the full board.)

During the subcommittee meeting, Mary Helen Berlanga repeated the call for input from teacher work group members as stated in the compromise motion from February 13. When McLeroy said the input given by work group members when they met one year ago as well as the input that they gave to StandardsWork in January was considered in the writing of the final document, Berlanga charged the chair with “misleading” both the public and fellow board members whom she claimed understood the motion to refer to future, not past, events.

Representative Abel Herrero, District 34, led the charge for Berlanga’s other concern, the inclusion of input from Hispanic experts. “It’s not about numbers. . .This is about effectively educating the future work force of this state and providing a prosperity and hope for all of our sons and daughters, no matter what their birthright. . . It is about the reality that we are bound into a single community as citizens of this state. No matter what our views, policies that affect nearly half of our school-aged children will certainly affect the other half. As we all know, none of us live in a vacuum. When a community fails, all suffer. On the other hand, when an integrated community prospers, all of us benefit.”

In response, Allen agreed that the board should meet what he characterized as Herrera’s “simple request” to ensure “a person who has the cultural experience and knowledge as an expert look at the document and determine if it has any conceivable flaws that might be a disadvantage to our Hispanic population.”

Though not a member of the subcommittee, Mavis Knight closed this portion of the discussion by reminding subcommittee members that “nobody has asked for an Afro-centric curriculum. Nobody has asked for an Hispanic-centric curriculum.” Rather, she said they were simply asking for some attention to be paid to these
populations. Referring to the February 29 creation of two tiers of experts (see article below), Knight added, “I don’t think we have been as diligent about serving our students through the use of researchers. We could have put all on the first tier if we weren’t so busy plugging our own researchers.”

Along with the TEKS document, the subcommittee received talking points from StandardsWork during the meeting. The entire audio file of the meeting can be found at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/audio_archived.html.

New Related Links
TCTELA Letter to Superintendents and English Language Arts Reading Coordinators
National Council of Teachers of English letter
http://www.star-telegram.com/story/500677.html, op-ed piece (When the page opens, search for Betsy Oney. The article is entitled, "Is this reform or regression?" Thu, Feb 20, 2008
www.tabe.org, Texas Association for Bilingual Educators web site, International Reading Association letter of support
http://texscience.org/documents/ela-standards-realignment.htm, op-ed piece

Other Related Links
Response from SBOE Commissioner's Office--emailed Thursday, February 28, 12:40 P.M.
Request for Information, Submitted Twice to SBOE, with Response (but No Information) from Chair Don McLeroy
Recommended List of Experts, provided to the SBOE on Feb. 21
Recommended Revisions, Provided to the SBOE on Feb. 13
Substitute amendment, considered at Feb. 13 meeting
www.coe.unt.edu/northstar/teks_info.htm, standards of a quality curriculum
www.cresteducators.com, web site of the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors in Texas

March 14 Subcommittee Update

State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy yielded to appeals by members Mavis Knight, Mary Helen Berlanga, and Pat Hardy and approved the sending of the TEKS document to teacher work group members, Dr. Judith Wallis of Spring Branch ISD, and an individual with expertise in second-language learners. When these individuals will receive the document, whether they will receive the document with or without the recommendations of the experts who convened in Dallas on March 13 and 14, and how their feedback will be used was unclear. Details will be provided as they become available.

Discussed changes to the TEKS included separating grammar from within the writing strand. The new strand, “Oral and Written Language Conventions,” contains three standards: grammatical conventions, legibility and capitalization and punctuation conventions, and spelling.

In addition, the media literacy strand will be placed within the reading strand, so there will now be comprehension of literary text, comprehension of informational text, and comprehension of media.

While Sue Pimental of StandardsWork reported that the experts spent less time on writing than they did on reading and oral and written conventions, they did agree that the stages of the writing process needed to be consistent across grade levels and that references to writing assignments in grades 6 through 12 would be changed to singular, rather than plural, references (an analytical essay as opposed to analytical essays). Pimental also said the experts unanimously agreed to the need for a recommended author list.

The subcommittee is slated to approve the TEKS document on March 19 at 2 p.m. in Room 1-104, William B. Travis Building, 1701 North Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas. The document will be posted to the TEA web site on this date.

The public hearing is scheduled on March 26.

===========

State board, teachers clash on English curriculum

By Katherine Cromer Brock
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Posted on Sat, Mar. 22, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/local/story/542257.html

The group of teachers whose revisions to the state's public school curriculum for English and language arts were rejected now objects to the standards that the State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on next week.

Members of the group said they oppose the inclusion of a reading list or suggested titles within the curriculum. They also disagree with the organization of the curriculum, also called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, particularly the instruction of grammar in its own section.

The chairman of the state board said further revisions were necessary because the teachers' recommendations weren't acceptable.

"Nobody liked them," said Don McLeroy, who was appointed the board's chairman in July. At that time, McLeroy suggested that the board hire an outside curriculum writer to move the process along. StandardsWorks, based in Washington, D.C., got the job in November.

Grammar should be integrated into the curriculum for reading and writing rather than in a separate section, said Pat Jacoby, an Austin-area teacher who has 38 years of experience working with academically challenged and gifted students.

The teachers are organizing a meeting in Houston on Monday and Tuesday to compose suggestions for "fixing" the document and will present them to a state board subcommittee Wednesday.

The curriculum determines the content of textbooks and what is taught in the classroom. It also determines what is tested on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

StandardsWorks presented its version in February. The state board then appointed a five-member panel of national education experts to review the curriculum, which has been posted online. After a public hearing Wednesday, the subcommittee is expected to vote on the curriculum Thursday, with an approval on first reading by the full board expected by the end of next week.

Politics has split the board into two camps: social conservatives, who favor a more rigid curriculum that includes a reading list and a separate section for teaching grammar; and moderate Republicans and Democrats, who believe that schools should maintain local control over instruction and should determine which books should be read.

A teacher who was on the team that began reworking the curriculum almost three years ago requested Wednesday that her name not be placed on the document as an author or consultant.

"I have a strong reputation as a good teacher, a knowledgeable curriculum writer and an experienced educator," wrote Cheryl Garrett, who has taught in Fort Worth and Arlington schools, in an e-mail to board members. "None of that is reflected in this document."

Cindy Tyroff is an instructional specialist with the Northside school district in San Antonio and a director of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.

She has asked the state board to allow more time for the teachers to work on the curriculum, saying they haven't had enough time or enough input.

McLeroy takes issue with that comment.

"The writing teams had more input than anybody," McLeroy said. But textbook publishers, who usually get content direction from the state in November, have now been waiting almost six months for Texas to adopt its standards, McLeroy said.

He said that there isn't enough time to stretch out the process but that he is willing to consider content changes.

"This is not a done deal," he said.

What's next

Here's the schedule for the approval of the state's public school English language arts and reading curriculum:

Wednesday: State Board of Education subcommittee has scheduled a public hearing at 1 p.m. in Austin.

Thursday: Subcommittee to consider approving the curriculum, 8:30 a.m. The full board convenes and considers the curriculum on a first vote, 9 a.m.

April 18-May 18: The public can submit comments.

May 22-23: State board's second reading and final vote.

Source: Texas Education Agency
KATHERINE CROMER BROCK 817-685-3813
kcromer@star-telegram.com

============

English, reading: Texas curriculum must be inclusive

El Paso Times Staff
03/23/2008
http://www.elpasotimes.com/opinion/ci_8664247

In the state of Texas, 47 percent of the more than 4.6 million public-school students are Hispanic.

In El Paso County, 89 percent of the 173,000 students are Hispanic.

Yet, the four-member subcommittee of the State Board of Education that worked on updating the state's English and reading curriculum requirements had no one of Hispanic descent or anyone from South or West Texas on the panel.

How could that possibly be fair and representative of student needs throughout the state? The answer is, it's not. It's blatantly disenfranchising a significant and growing part of this state's public-school student population.

What's worse is that state education officials don't seem inclined to fix the problem. State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy said it was too late to make major changes to the curriculum plan, saying, "Our document is going to be pretty much finalized."

The board is scheduled to have a public hearing on the new standards Wednesday, and then take a vote on the standards Thursday. The very fact that the hearing is one day and the vote the next day indicates that the board doesn't intend to take any public input very seriously and has already made up its mind.

Protests about this process are growing, and if education officials can see through their arrogance, they should listen to the protests and delay a vote.

McLeroy said that the curriculum has to be voted on and approved so that new textbooks can be printed and be ready for students in the 2009-2010 school year.

Why the rush? It's taken three years already. What's the problem with waiting and making sure this is done fairly?

What we cannot afford to have is the perception voiced by Texas State School Board member Mary Helen Berlanga as she noted her concerns that the new curriculum could lead to failure for thousands of students with limited English ability: "We can save a whole population of children, thousands of children that we can save. I mean, it makes no sense except that there is malice ... an individual that is not interested in seeing minorities progress."

Giving Texas students the best possible education is of utmost importance. It's a moral obligation to the students and their families, and it's a practical imperative for the state. Those students are this state's future.

What's happening with the English and reading curriculum is not fair to the students or to the state. Should this have been brought up earlier in the three-year process?

Sure. But it's not too late to fix it now.

We agree with Elena Izquierdo, associate professor of linguistics and bilingual education at the University of Texas at El Paso, who recommended that the process be slowed down and revisited to consider the needs of English learners.

"It is important that we don't speed through this," she said. "You see, reading is everything to the success of any kid."

==========

EDITORIAL: Bad Move

Education board ignores need to assimilate Hispanic students


Lufkin Daily News
Monday, March 24, 2008
http://www.lufkindailynews.com/opin/content/news/opinion/stories/2008/03/25/eddy.html

Regardless of what you might think about the issue of immigration -- legal and otherwise -- one thing that almost everyone would agree upon is that cultural assimilation is a good thing.

The first step toward cultural assimilation is learning the language.

We would not tell those who are native Spanish speakers to give that up, just as we would encourage those who are English speakers not to give up study of another language. But it is essential to success for people to know the language of the country in which they are living.

For older people, this is problematic. There are few systems in place for Spanish-speaking adults to learn the language.

But for school-age students -- especially in the younger grades -- there are well-vetted programs that take children from speaking Spanish to speaking and understanding English.

The process is not perfect and we cannot expect it to be, but it actually works fairly well.

Most students make the transition fairly quickly and go into mainstream English classes where they are taught the same curriculum as everyone else.

And here is where we can do better. Our regular English curriculum could be studied to find ways that make it more accessible to Hispanic students.

We are not talking about "dumbing" it down, or favoring Hispanics at the expense of others. There are ways that all groups can be accommodated.

Why? Because the large plurality of students in Texas' public schools are Hispanic.

Hispanics account for 47 percent of the 4.7 million students in Texas schools, according to an Associated Press story.

While most of those students are not recent immigrants, but they still come from a specific cultural heritage and might benefit from a targeted curriculum.

Although this seems to be a fairly straightforward and simple concept, nothing is simple when it comes to our woeful State Board of Education.

The board voted last week not to seek input from Hispanic experts before new reading and writing curriculum standards for Texas schools are adopted.

Getting input would not necessarily mean changes -- though we suspect that it would -- but it would at least arm the board with vital information.

That could be the rub. If the board had information it might be duty-bound to make changes in ways some members do not wish to go.

If the information isn't available no such changes are needed.

This would be a surprise coming from any organization other than the board of education, which is perhaps the most political and least effective -- or should we say most counter-productive -- governmental entity at the state level.

Unfortunately, there is no recourse that we know of for Texas citizens. We are stuck with the decision of the board, no matter how bad it might be. Perhaps the courts might offer some relief. At least it could be worth an effort.

Normally we would never suggest such an action, but the stakes are simply too high. It is truly sad when you can't trust education in the hands of the state's board of education.

==========

John Adams a textbook example of why foreign should be familiar

Jaime Castillo
San Antonio Express-News
03/25/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/columnists/jcastillo/stories/MYSA032508.01B.Castillo.3538380.html

As riveting as the HBO miniseries "John Adams" is as a drama, the biographical story of the American Revolutionary War figure could do wonders for the close-minded folks on Texas' State Board of Education.

The contrasting way Adams and Benjamin Franklin were received in 1770s France -- a time when a fledgling union of colonies was desperately seeking a powerful ally against Great Britain -- demonstrated what happens when we don't understand the world around us.

Franklin, who took the time to learn French and to absorb himself in the country's political culture, was more successful in negotiating an alliance.

Adams, while the more aggressive advocate for American independence, was continually frustrated by his inability to speak the language. More important, though, it was his inability to understand French customs that undercut his effectiveness in dealing with the crown.

More than 230 years have passed since those seminal moments in our country's formation, but this much is clear:

The world has become more, not less, global.

Whether it be business, politics or communication, those who see through barriers of culture and language are the most successful.

But, yet, right here at home in Texas, our schoolchildren are being led headfirst into the sand of provincial thinking by the state's education leadership.

The recent comments of Don McLeroy, chairman of the State Board of Education, regarding a public school reading curriculum weren't appropriate in 1778, much less 2008.

"What good does it do to put a Chinese story in an English book?" he told reporter Michelle De La Rosa. "You learn all these Chinese words, OK. That's not going to help you master ... English.

"So you really don't want Chinese books with a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them. Why should you take a child's time trying to learn a word that they'll never ever use again?"

McLeroy, heaven help us, did relent that some words like "chow mein" might be useful.

To think that it might be useful to know how to pronounce the name of a Chinese dish is to say that Adams might have been treated differently in 18th-century France had he been able to expound on the "soufflé."

It's much more than that.

Children should be exposed to great literary works from all countries and cultures to equip them to understand a world where physical boundaries are blurring in a high-tech age.

It is a red herring to say that the monocultural reading list recommended by the Board of Education is about helping students learn English. The world hasn't produced a living being who wasn't smarter after having read "Don Quixote" in any language.

McLeroy and the rest of the board probably did yeoman's work in preparing a curriculum with more than 150 literary works for Texas public school teachers to consider using in their classes.

Yet they could only find four works that reflect Hispanic culture in a state where nearly half the schoolchildren are Hispanic?

That is more than an oversight; it's a blind spot.

And it's one with a potentially profound impact because it will influence textbooks in every classroom from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The knee-jerk reaction to calls for a more diverse reading list will inevitably stoke fears about bilingualism, multiculturalism and other -isms.

What it should be about is preparing children -- all children -- for a new frontier.

Two centuries ago, John Adams didn't retreat from France and insulate himself in the worldview of his parents.

Rather, he made sure his son, John Quincy Adams, became fluent in the language and, better yet, the culture of a powerful global partner.

To contact Jaime Castillo, call (210) 250-3174 or e-mail jscastillo@express-news.net.

============

English plan slammed ahead of vote

Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News Austin Bureau
3/26/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA032708.01B.englishcurriculum.4cf732.html

AUSTIN -- A preliminary vote on a new English and reading curriculum is expected today after scores of teachers, language experts and civil rights leaders blasted it Wednesday at a public hearing before the State Board of Education.

Board leaders contend they are under strict deadlines to approve the new English language arts and reading curriculum for the state's 4.7 million public school children and say the critics are misguided.

English teachers complained their expertise went ignored and told the 15-member board the proposal falls far short on reading comprehension and grammar. It also fails, they said, to provide a smooth transition from grade to grade and ties teachers' hands by recommending what books students should read.

They begged for more time to perfect the plan. Others complained bitterly of the lack of Hispanic experts involved in the three-year process of writing the new curriculum.

None of the 65 people who signed up to speak during the public hearing defended the proposal.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy of Bryan, who supports the plan, could not speculate on how the board will act.

"I want to clarify some of the mischaracterization," McLeroy said. "They are just inaccurate to say that we haven't had any Hispanic input."

Part of the disagreement revolves around "teacher-centered versus students-centered approaches," McLeroy said.

Some of the critics suggested that board members would trigger a firestorm if they adopt the curriculum.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, opened the hearing by warning that the exclusion of Hispanic experts in developing the new curriculum will shortchange Texas.

Nearly half the state's public school children are Hispanic, and the percentage of Hispanic first-graders in cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston tops 60 percent, Shapleigh said.

The most important priority is developing the academic vocabulary of students, Shapleigh said, "and to not gather input (from Hispanic experts) at this very important junction puts at risk public education in the state of Texas."

State education officials face deadline pressures to adopt a new English curriculum by this summer. Textbook publishers need time to develop textbooks for the 2009-10 school year. The new curriculum will last 10 years.

Shapleigh urged the board to take more time.

"Somehow, I think the publishers will accommodate you. Do it over, if you are not going to do it right," Shapleigh said.

Later, board member Terri Leo of Spring said, "I want to get it right, but I'm not so sure that the answer is more time to get it right."

Two former national presidents of the League of United Latin American Citizens scolded the board for excluding Hispanic experts in the rewriting of the English and reading standards and urged more revision.

"We are very dissatisfied," Hector Flores of Dallas said.

Tony Bonilla of Corpus Christi warned the board that its action would make state education officials look "ignorant or indifferent to a constituency that needs more help than ever before because of the high (number of) dropouts."

"What you end up with is creating a perception that this board is controlled by the right-wing element in politics in the state of Texas, and what we need from this board is some balance where you become inclusive rather than exclusive," Bonilla said. McLeroy is a Republican.

"That's so ridiculous," Leo, also a Republican, said during a break. "What is Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal about English ... about math?"

Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, is considered an expert on the issue.

"We want to be able to teach children to read," Tyroff said. "We want to be able to teach grammar within the writing because that's where it matters. We want to make certain that when you go from one grade to the next it makes sense. We want to be able to make the decision about what literature, what nonfiction our students should read because we best know our students."

gscharrer@express-news.net

============

Critics lambaste education board on English curriculum

Leaders defend program, set for vote today, despite calls for revisions


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
March 26, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5651807.html

AUSTIN -- A preliminary vote on a new English and reading curriculum is expected today after scores of teachers, language experts and civil rights leaders blasted it Wednesday at a public hearing before the State Board of Education.

Board leaders contend they are under strict deadlines to approve a new English language arts and reading curriculum for the state's 4.7 million public schoolchildren and say the critics are misguided.

English teachers complained their expertise went ignored and told the 15-member board the proposal falls far short on reading comprehension and grammar. It also fails, they said, to provide a transition from grade to grade and ties teachers' hands by recommending what books students should read.

They begged for more time to perfect the plan. Others complained bitterly of the lack of Hispanic experts involved in the three-year process of writing the new curriculum.

None of the 65 people who signed up to speak during the hearing defended the plan.

Hispanic input

Board Chairman Don McLeroy of Bryan, who supports the plan, could not speculate on how the board will act.

"I want to clarify some of the mischaracterization," McLeroy, a Republican, said. "They are just inaccurate to say that we haven't had any Hispanic input."

Part of the disagreement revolves around "teacher-centered versus students-centered approaches," McLeroy said.

Some of the critics suggested that board members would trigger a firestorm if they adopt the curriculum.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, opened the hearing by warning the exclusion of Hispanic experts in developing the new curriculum will short-change Texas.

Nearly half of the state's 4.7 million public schoolchildren are Hispanic, and the percentage of Hispanic first-graders in cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston top 60 percent, Shapleigh said.

The most important priority is developing the academic vocabulary of students, Shapleigh said, "and to not gather input (from Hispanic experts) at this very important junction puts at risk public education in the state of Texas."

State education officials face deadline pressures to adopt an English curriculum by this summer. Textbook publishers need time to develop textbooks for the 2009-10 school year. The curriculum will last 10 years.

Shapleigh urged the board to take more time.

"Somehow, I think the publishers will accommodate you. Do it over if you are not going to do it right," Shapleigh said.

The standing-room-only crowd applauded, which drew a rebuke from McLeroy, who told the audience: "If everyone continues to applaud, I will have the room emptied out. We're here to conduct business. We're not here for a pep rally."

Later, board member Terri Leo of Spring said, "I want to get it right, but I'm not so sure that the answer is more time to get it right."

'Very dissatisfied'

Two former national presidents of the League of United Latin American Citizens scolded the board for excluding Hispanic experts in the rewriting of the English and reading standards and urged revisions.

"We are very dissatisfied," Hector Flores of Dallas said.

Tony Bonilla of Corpus Christi warned the board that its action would make state education officials look "ignorant or indifferent to a constituency that needs more help than ever before because of the high (number of) dropouts."

"What you end up with is creating a perception that this board is controlled by the right-wing element in politics in the state of Texas, and what we need from this board is some balance where you become inclusive rather than exclusive," Bonilla said.

"That's so ridiculous," Leo, a Republican, said during a break. "What is Democrat, Republican, conservative or liberal about English ... about math?"

The critics should bring specific complaints instead of saying, "I want the document changed," Leo said.

Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, is considered an expert.

"We want to be able to teach children to read," Tyroff said. "We want to be able to teach grammar within the writing because that's where it matters. We want to make certain that when you go from one grade to the next it makes sense. We want to be able to make the decision about what literature, what non-fiction our students should read because we best know our students."

Alana Morris of Houston, president of the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas, also served on a working group that the board appointed to help craft the new curriculum. But that effort has been wasted, she said.

"Those of us on the work group have been discounted, disregarded and disrespected by those who should be the most supportive," she said. "Please do not tie our hands any longer."

gscharrer@express-news.net

-------------------

Comment

wg1 [Donna Garner] wrote:

I think it is interesting that all of the people who testified at yesterday's Texas State Board of Education meeting spoke out of the same playbook. All represented the education establishment who basically want to keep teaching the way they have been teaching for the last ten to fifteen years.

As I listened to their testimonies, it was obvious that they had all planned their presentations based upon the same talking points; and the entire meeting had been totally orchestrated by the Coalition.

The Coalition (the name they gave themselves) is a group of eleven powerful whole-language/holistic scoring/bilingual organizations which have state and national ties. The testifiers yesterday were basically playing off each other as they put forth their talking points, many of which were blatant untruths.

Over and over they faulted the SBOE's ELAR-TEKS document for mandating certain literary selections. The document only offers suggested pieces of literature and mandates no specific authors/titles.

The Coalition frequently faulted the teaching of grammar with endless worksheets. The document absolutely never dictates HOW teachers are to teach but only tells WHAT concepts need to be taught. Teachers are free to teach grammar any way they so choose, but the SBOE members want to make sure grammar and correct spelling are definitely taught.

The testifiers used the race card frequently to fault the SBOE. The truth is that the experts the SBOE utilized had expertise in both bilingual education and special education, and the teacher work groups who had input into the final draft document came from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Many of the suggested literary selections in the SBOE document have been written by diverse authors, yet the people who testified yesterday made it appear that the document had been crafted to alienate all minority groups.

It does not bother the Coalition that Texas' colleges and universities are turning out very few Spanish teachers because majoring in Spanish takes a solid grasp of English grammar. It is ironic then that these same Coalition members are the first to complain when there are not enough bilingual teachers to fill the teaching positions around the state.

I also found it interesting that none of the Coalition testifiers seems to feel any remorse or feels any guilt or responsibility for the huge number of students who have dropped out of school. The newspapers are full of the dropout statistics which verify the problem.

Again, the Coalition accepts no blame for the fact that data from THECB indicates 50% of college freshmen in Texas are enrolled in remedial or developmental education compared to 28% nationally. It also does not seem to bother the Coalition that students' writing skills are deplorable as judged by college/university professors and employers.

The Coalition members do not seem to accept any blame for the fact that businesses are forced to spend more than $3 Billion a year to train their employees in good communication skills -- the skills they should have learned in K-12.

It is as if the Coalition wants to keep on doing the same things that have not worked for the last ten+ years. They simply cannot grasp the fact that parents are worried sick about their children's lack of good communication skills. Parents who have the means are pulling their children out of the public schools and either home schooling or placing them in private schools, but what about all the parents who do not have the financial resources to do so?

The education establishment as represented by the Coalition members absolutely sees no need for change and is quite comfortable staying in the safe confines of the status quo. Not to be overlooked is the fact that many of the testifiers have vested interests in products, companies, and jobs that live off the present education system. Change is not what these people want!

The Coalition does not seem to feel that it is important to expect students to speak correct English either; and that is why customers are having trouble communicating with clerks, telemarketers, salespeople, neighbors, and mall employees. Poor communication skills both in written and spoken form are driving a wedge among people of diverse backgrounds, yet the Coalition refuses to accept any blame nor feels any compunction to try to change public-school instruction.

The SBOE is under siege while the rest of us go about our daily business seemingly uninterested. The decision that the SBOE makes about the ELAR-TEKS will affect every person in our state, and we better wake up and make our voices heard.

============

Texas English teachers fight board-mandated reading lists

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/032708dntexsboe.2a2ecac.html

AUSTIN -- Scores of English teachers urged the State Board of Education on Wednesday to reject proposed curriculum standards that would spell out what literary works their students should read, insisting they are best suited to make those decisions.

Educators from North Texas and across the state said board members should listen to teachers before they adopt curriculum standards for English that will remain in place for the next decade, influencing not only what is taught in the classroom but also providing the basis for state tests and textbooks used in public schools.

Carrollton-Farmers Branch English teacher Elsa Anderson said a board proposal to establish reading lists for English and reading classes is a mistake and would “tie teachers’ hands and deprive them of making decisions about books that are best for their students.”

Ms. Anderson, representing the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, said the book titles included in the board proposal -- most of them classics -- are “extremely limited in diversity” and would have a negative impact on the reading achievement of minority students.

Cynthia Tyroff of the Northside school district in San Antonio, also representing the council of English teachers, said an alternative curriculum plan embraced by social conservatives on the board -- which includes reading lists -- would represent a step back for education in Texas.

“It is a very dated document that seems to indicate that [its supporters] want to go back in time, perhaps to Happy Days,” she said, referring to the television series. “They don’t want to face the changing times, that we are now a global society and need to communicate with diverse people.”

Others charged that the needs of minority students -- particularly Hispanics -- were largely ignored when the curriculum proposal was drafted.

One of the few to testify in favor of the board proposal was Brooke Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been involved in key education issues. “Unfortunately our public schools are not doing a good job of teaching these skills,” she said, pointing to the large number of high school graduates in Texas who need remedial classes when they get to college. “Our public schools need to focus on teaching the basics of reading and writing. We believe the proposed English-language arts standards will help schools improve,” she said.

Social conservative groups have generally supported the reading lists, although some have criticized a few of the books on the proposed list, including J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

Board members listened to several hours of testimony on Wednesday in preparation for board consideration of the curriculum standards on Thursday.

===========

C-3P-Ow

Editorial
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Posted on Wed, Mar. 26, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/225/story/547297.html

Maybe we should just fire all the teachers. If a faction of the State Board of Education gets its way, we won't need teachers any more. What we'll need is "classroom facilitators," and we should be able to get them to work for even less than we pay teachers.

Come to think of it, robots might do the job. On Day 73 of the school year, they'd just play a recording of exactly what the state board says the students are supposed to be told on Day 73, and that would be it. Automation -- that's the key.

Don't laugh. We're heading in that direction.

Today, a board subcommittee will consider a revision to state curriculum standards for English, language arts and reading instruction in grades K-12. The full board will take a preliminary vote on the standards Thursday, with a final vote set for next month.

A team of Texas teachers named by the board spent almost three years compiling a set of curriculum standards, but that's not what the board will consider. Board Chairman Don McLeroy, who has been in his post for all of four months, says that "nobody" liked what the teachers put together.

Rather, the board will vote on a set of standards developed by a facilitator. Doesn't that just warm your heart?

This is very important stuff. The curriculum standards adopted by the board become enshrined as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. The TEKS determine what criteria are used in developing the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests. Kids in some grades can't move to the next grade unless they pass the TAKS tests (with some exceptions), and no one can get a high school diploma without passing TAKS.

The teachers have a number of objections to the standards that will be considered by the board. Kylene Beers of Houston, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English, wrote to board members saying that the proposals don't place enough emphasis on teaching reading comprehension, give no attention to media literacy, over-emphasize grammar taught in isolation and lack enough multicultural literature.

But the loudest objection has been to the inclusion in the standards of something that Texas does not currently have: a state-adopted reading list. It's not that the teachers think the books on the list are bad -- in fact, they're all good, and most teachers use them. But once the state starts mandating a list, it becomes a limit on teachers' freedom to pick the best tools to use for teaching the unique students in front of them.

Texas public school students are a diverse group. A book that might grab the interest of a sixth-grade class in a minority neighborhood of Fort Worth might not be the best to use in suburban Southlake or the Rio Grande Valley.

That's where school district administrators, principals and teachers come in. They need the freedom to tailor their work to the needs of their own students, who should be learning the skill of reading more than what was said in any particular book.

Curriculum standards should outline the concepts that are to be taught and give clear, achievable objectives to guide the work of teachers during each school year. But for goodness' sake, teachers are not robots. If they are forced to act like they are, Texas education will be the worse for it.

===========

State education board mulls controversial English curriculum plan

AP
March 27, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_Curriculum_Debate.html

AUSTIN -- The State Board of Education is considering a new English and reading curriculum that has come under sharp fire from teachers, education experts and Latino leaders, who say it would hurt minority students.

At a public hearing on Wednesday, dozens of English teachers urged the board to reject the proposed curriculum, which would establish statewide reading lists for English and reading classes, newspapers reported.

The 15-member board is expected to vote Thursday on the proposed curriculum, which would remain in place for the next decade and would set standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as classroom teaching.

State education officials are under pressure to adopt an English curriculum by this summer, because publishers need time to develop textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

However, teachers testifying at the hearing urged the board to take more time to correct the plan, saying the current proposal would limit their ability to decide which books to assign students.

"We want to be able to teach children to read," said Cindy Tyroff, of San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, who represented the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. "We want to be able to teach grammar within the writing because that's where it matters. We want to make certain that when you go from one grade to the next it makes sense. We want to be able to make the decision about what literature, what nonfiction our students should read because we best know our students."

Opponents also charged that book titles included in the proposal lack diversity, which could harm minority students.

Many of those speaking at Wednesday's hearing complained that needs of Hispanic students and other minorities were overlooked when the proposal was drafted.

About half of the state's 4.7 million public schoolchildren are Hispanic, and more than 60 percent of first-graders in cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston are Hispanic, said State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.

"To not gather input (from Hispanic experts) at this very important junction puts at risk public education in the state of Texas," Shapleigh said.

Brooke Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, was one of the few to testify in favor of the plan.

"Our public schools need to focus on teaching the basics of reading and writing." she said. "We believe the proposed English-language arts standards will help schools improve."

============

Teachers rally against curriculum proposal

By R.A. DYER
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Posted on Thu, Mar. 27, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/548490.html

AUSTIN -- A group of about 50 sign-waving educators complained Wednesday about proposed changes in the state's English and reading curriculum that are under consideration this week by the State Board of Education.

During a rally, the teachers said a nonmandatory reading list included in a new proposed curriculum would tie their hands.

They also differed on teaching techniques outlined in the curriculum, which covers English, language-arts and reading standards for kindergarten through 12th grade.

The board is expected to take an initial vote on a proposed curriculum overhaul today.

However, a coalition of education groups is pushing an alternative plan that they say would address their concerns.

The background

Controversy has flared at the board in recent weeks. The divisions are largely between social conservatives on one side and moderate Republicans and Democrats on the other.

Conservative activist and retired educator Donna Garner says a reading list includes what she describes as several objectionable books, including J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, according to reports.

On the other hand, some educators say the state board should not promulgate a reading list, and they disagree with the plan's specific teaching practices for grammar and reading comprehension.

They're pushing an alternative plan that the board may take up.

The English and language-arts curriculum was last rewritten when the state's entire curriculum was changed in 1997.

The rancor over the proposed English standards could foreshadow more infighting when the board takes up the science curriculum at the end of the year.

What they're saying

Cynthia Katz Tyroff, a representative of the Texas Council of Teachers of Language Arts, said the procedure for devising the new curriculum was flawed. She said a board subcommittee ignored teacher recommendations.

"Gaps in learning are not easily remedied, so rather than tying teachers' hands with a less-than-adequate document, the time to heed teacher expertise has come," Tyroff said.

The plan's suggested reading list would turn literature and reading classes into "culture war battlegrounds," said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes religious conservatives on the board.

"Teachers already know what they need to educate Texas schoolchildren. We should listen to them and keep the personal agendas of politicians and fringe activists out of the classroom," Miller said.

Board member Pat Hardy, a Weatherford Republican not aligned with the social conservatives, said she supports the education groups' alternative curriculum, put forward Wednesday.

"I think we've heard a lot of good testimony, and I'm thinking that [board members] might be amenable to this document," said Hardy, whose district includes Fort Worth. "They might be able to say, 'Gee whiz, these people have a good idea.'"

Key dates

Today: A proposed curriculum overhaul is expected to get an initial board vote.

Friday: The board is expected to vote again on the curriculum.

April 18-May 18: Public comment.

May 22-23: The board is scheduled to give final approval to the new curriculum.

rdyer@star-telegram.com
R.A. Dyer reports from the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau. 512-476-4294

============

State board tentatively approves English curriculum plan

By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press Writer
March 27, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/5654588.html
http://www.star-telegram.com/448/story/548930.html

AUSTIN — The State Board of Education tentatively approved a new English and reading curriculum for public schools on Thursday, but made one sought-after change and left the door open for further improvements after the document came under fire from teachers, education experts and Hispanic leaders.

Before the 15-member board unanimously approved the document, they agreed to remove book titles and names of authors that were inserted as examples of works students should read.

The curriculum, which still faces several hurdles, would remain in place for the next decade and would set standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as classroom teaching.

Earlier this week, teachers urged the board to reject the curriculum, and lambasted the books in the list as limiting their flexibility in the classroom.

"Lets let the teachers use their abilities, what they've learned, and I'm willing to bet that they will do a good job," said board member Bob Craig, of Lubbock. "We don't need examples. We don't need lists. Let's let the teachers teach and do a good job."

The measure approved Thursday also directed a panel of experts charged with drafting the curriculum to continue to tweak the plan to address other concerns of teachers before the board's next meeting in May.

The board also yielded to the emotional pleas of member Mary Helen Berlanga, who wanted bilingual education experts added to the panel of experts that has been charged with drafting the curriculum.

She argued that thousands of non-English-speaking students are being taught in classrooms that the curriculum affects, rather than specialized bilingual classrooms, and should be taken into consideration in the draft.

She noted the high dropout and retention rates among Hispanic students.

"They say that retention is due to not having a good reading program," Berlanga said. "And if they don't do good at reading, then they're not going to be successful."

State education officials are under pressure to adopt an English curriculum by this summer to comply with the state budget and publishers need time to develop textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

The board, which sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund, is split almost evenly between social conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans and Democrats.

==========

English curriculum OK'd by state board

But board removes reading lists, adds bilingual expert to standards panel


By April Castro
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Friday, March 28, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/03/28/0328english.html

The State Board of Education tentatively approved a new English and reading curriculum for public schools on Thursday, but it made one sought-after change and left the door open for further changes after the document came under fire from teachers, education experts and Hispanic leaders.

Before the board unanimously approved the document, members agreed to remove book titles and names of authors that were inserted as examples of works students should read.

The curriculum, which still faces several hurdles, would remain in place for the next decade and would set standards for state tests and textbooks as well as classroom teaching.

Earlier this week, teachers urged the board to reject the curriculum, saying the books on the list limited their flexibility in the classroom.

"Let's let the teachers use their abilities, what they've learned, and I'm willing to bet that they will do a good job," said board member Bob Craig of Lubbock.

The board also yielded to the pleas of member Mary Helen Berlanga, who wanted bilingual education experts added to the panel of experts that has been charged with drafting the curriculum.

===========

State finds compromise on teaching English

Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 03/27/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA032808.01B.Englishvote.37e9226.html

AUSTIN — The State Board of Education avoided a firestorm from Texas English teachers Thursday by voting unanimously for a tentative new English and reading curriculum.

The vote came only after a compromise allowing teachers and Hispanic experts to improve the plan before the board takes a final vote in late May.

"Maybe now we can really get a good document that will reach out to all children," said board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi.

She has been urging the board to include experts who understand the culture and learning habits of Hispanic children, who now make up 47 percent of the state's 4.7 million public school students.

She tearfully implored her colleagues to help teachers with growing numbers of Hispanic students filling classrooms, many of whom are struggling.

More than 13,000 Hispanic children had to repeat first grade after the 2005-06 school year, according to the most current statistics kept by the Texas Education Agency. Berlanga complained that her pleas for the inclusion of Hispanic experts have been ignored.

School board member Geraldine Miller of Dallas agreed to invite two Hispanic experts in the writing of the final draft and said suggestions that she did not care for Hispanic children "hurt me deeply."

"I can cry, too. I feel just as emotional," she said.

The board must adopt a new English language arts and reading curriculum before summer so publishers can produce new textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

The board risked alienating thousands of English language arts teachers had it adopted a document supported by seven social conservative members, which included a recommended reading list for students.

Though the compromise briefly united the fractious board, English teacher leaders emphasized they remain wary about the work in progress because their previous recommendations have been ignored.

"We're wary, without a doubt," said Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in San Antonio's' Northside Independent School District. "This is the third time that we have provided the board with specific recommendations. I just don't know how the outcome will be."

The plan proposed by teachers incorporates the current research on the teaching of English, including reading comprehension and teaching grammar in the context of writing.

The board rejected the new curriculum prepared largely by teachers on an 8-7 vote before shifting to Miller's compromise.

Teachers complained that a document coordinated by a Washington, D.C.-based company did not include a focus on comprehension and taught grammar in isolation instead of in the practice of writing.

"This is the process," San Antonio board member Ken Mercer said. "This is the way it's supposed to be. We speak with passion. This is what it's all about — coming to a compromise solution."

But the contentious debate is "not very admirable in the eyes of the population, especially in the district I represent," said board member Rick Agosto, also of San Antonio. "We didn't need to get to that point where we're begging for representation. It's really unfortunate. I hope that we can all come together. We need to."

===========

English curriculum, minus reading list, gets Texas education board's initial OK

Unanimous vote, however, doesn't end contention


By R.A. DYER
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Posted on Fri, Mar. 28, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/389/story/549985.html

AUSTIN -- The State Board of Education gave unanimous approval Thursday to a new English and reading curriculum for Texas' 4.6 million public school students, although the contentious battle over what gets included in language arts textbooks and what gets taught in classrooms is far from finished.

The product of nearly three years of work, the new curriculum will affect the teaching of reading, writing and grammar in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as the content of the state's high-stakes standardized tests. The 15-member board will take another vote on the plan today and then a final vote in May.

Besides giving the initial green light to the curriculum plan, the board on Thursday also voted not to include a suggested reading list in the new curriculum.

The state board has been deeply split over the issues, with the panel's bloc of seven social conservatives largely divided from eight more moderate Republicans and Democrats. Those factions have been bickering for weeks, with the social conservatives favoring a more rigid curriculum that includes a separate section for teaching grammar, and other members saying schools should maintain more local control over instruction.

The conservatives initially pushed for the reading list, while the moderates said the reading list would tie educators' hands.

Member David Bradley, one of the conservatives, said that despite the 15-0 vote, the panel still remains divided. He predicted more fights ahead.

"All we have done is postponed a decision until May -- we'll have the same debate and the same concerns, we'll receive the same documents back again," said Bradley, R-Beaumont.

But board member Pat Hardy, a Weatherford Republican, said Thursday's vote marked a step forward.

"We wanted to honor the teachers and their work and expertise and I think ... it'll work -- I feel pretty good about it," said Hardy, whose district includes much of Fort Worth.

In response to a tearful plea from member Mary Helen Berlanga, the state board agreed to add two education experts with knowledge of Hispanic culture to the panel that will continue working on the curriculum.

Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, argued that about 2 million public school students are Hispanic -- the most of any demographic group in Texas schools -- and yet the expert panel has not included anyone with expertise in their specific education needs. "I had asked [earlier] for an expert and y'all had deaf ears to my request," an emotional Berlanga said.

The vote Thursday marks another milestone on a politically treacherous road taken by the education board as it attempts its first revision since 1997 of the state's English and language arts curriculum. A Washington, D.C.-based company, StandardWorks, has acted as a facilitator since November, and after working with experts presented a curriculum plan to the board in February.

It was a variation of that plan that received the initial OK. However, the state board also voted Thursday to keep the door open to a competing plan that was unveiled this week by a coalition of education groups.

The competing plan has more emphasis on reading comprehension. The original plan appeared to stress the use of phonics, in which kids learn to read by sounding out words.

The education groups had complained about being shut out of the state board's curriculum-development process. In response to those complaints, the State Board directed its panel of experts to review the competing plan and to merge any useful elements into the final document that comes up for a vote in May.

The rancor over the English and reading curriculum likely foreshadows even more friction at the end of the year, when the State Board of Education overhauls the state's science curriculum.

Staff writer Katherine Cromer-Brock contributed to this report.

Why is it important?

The state's curriculum determines the content of textbooks and what is taught in the classroom.

It also determines what is tested on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills and, beginning in 2011, what will be included on high school end-of-course examinations.

In their own words

"My hope is that the State Board of Education will keep in mind that we need to build teachers up and strengthen teachers, not strengthen rules. Allow teachers to practice their craft. That will allow teachers to strengthen students. That's what we're about every day."

-- Twyla Tasker, middle school literacy coach in the Grapevine-Colleyville school district and mother of three

"We're really pleased that the State Board of Education listened to the teachers from across the state and took their recommendations into consideration. That's the democratic process at work. Folks will be watching very closely."

-- Michael Sorum, Fort Worth chief academics officer

"It has been a very sobering process to watch over the last three years as the school board has discounted the work and opinions of teachers and instead followed their own agenda. There is still time to have a good document that teachers can live with that will be good for kids."

-- Lisa Rowlette, secondary language arts coordinator, Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district

What's next

April 18-May 18: The public can submit comments on the English language arts and reading curriculum.

May 23: The state board takes a final vote.

R.A. DYER REPORTS FROM THE STAR-TELEGRAM'S AUSTIN BUREAU. 512 476-4294
rdyer@star-telegram.com

=============

Texas educators split over teaching English basics

By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
April 20, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5716392.html

AUSTIN — The inability of many Texas students to write and speak good English is like a dreadful disease requiring aggressive treatment, say some education advocates who want to use different teaching approaches.

Social conservatives on the State Board of Education, influenced in part by a retired teacher, are backing a new curriculum that increases the focus on basics, including grammar.

They've met fierce resistance from teachers and educators who warn this emphasis will prepare students for the 1950s, not the 21st century, and embarrass Texas in the process.

They fear the state's proposed new standards for reading and English language arts contradict established research and will only make things worse.

"The results will be bloody," predicted one of those language experts, former English professor Joyce Armstrong Carroll.

A fight over the board's perceived exclusion of Hispanic experts from development of the curriculum has overshadowed this larger struggle.

A public comment period on the proposed curriculum will end May 18, and the 15-member board is to take final action on May 22. If approved, it will guide how the state's 4.7 million public schoolchildren learn English and reading over the next decade.

Much of the debate focuses on grammar and reading comprehension. The controversy is being fanned, in part, by Donna Garner, a retired English and Spanish teacher in Hewitt. Garner writes education-related e-mails and contributes to My StudyHall.com.

Students must learn precise communication skills, and grammar requirements must be spelled out with explicit language, she argues.

"We have a disease in Texas — our students do not know how to write and speak English well," Garner said. "We need to treat the disease aggressively.

"The skills need to build upon each other as the student progresses from one grade level to the next. Learning the basics of the English language will provide students with a strong foundation upon which to write sophisticated papers and upon which to base clear communication," she said.

The integration of grammar with writing has been taught in Texas for the past 15 years without much success, Garner said, citing statistics showing half of Texas college freshmen are in need of remedial education, compared to only 28 percent nationally.

Teachers, parents and employers are appalled by the lack of speaking and writing skills, she said.

Ignoring research

But some experts warn of dire consequences of teaching grammar separately from writing and skimping on reading comprehension.

Standardized tests like TAKS and the SAT don't examine grammar skills in isolation — they test comprehension, said Carroll, a former professor of English and writing at McMurry University, author and co-director of Abydos Learning International in Texas.

Carroll was part of a professional educators' coalition that offered input during the three-year process of writing standards for the state's proposed English curriculum.

Some coalition members take a dim view of State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, and board member David Bradley of Beaumont, who have helped lead the push for a back-to-basics approach.

"Would anyone believe that the coalition's research is bogus, but a dentist from Bryan is right ... and a man without a degree from Beaumont is right?" Carroll said.

Bradley says he and McLeroy "are eminently qualified because, first of all, we're parents, we're businesspeople and we're taxpayers."

Many parents, he said, complain that the current curriculum standards are "so confusing, so vague, so mushy that nobody can understand them, so we have this industry to help people interpret and explain and develop strategies and techniques to teach this mush."

The proposed standards ignore at least 50 years of research on grammar instruction, counters Kylene Beers of The Woodlands, president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English and a senior reading adviser to secondary schools in the Reading Writing Project at Teachers College at Columbia University.

People who yearn for a return to the basics usually attended school in the 1950s, and by the end of that decade only 20 percent of the best paying jobs required at least some college, she said, in contrast to today's figure of 56 percent.

"When we talk about getting back to the basics in literacy education, the first thing that smart people have to do is to realize that literacy demands have shifted. What's basic now isn't the same as what was basic when middle-aged adults of today were in school," she said.

Both sides view the fight over reading comprehension as bigger than the one over grammar.

"They have renamed 'whole language' as comprehension. It's down to the classic debate of phonics versus whole language," Bradley said.

Keeping it professional

Decades of research into how children learn shows that drilling the basics does not achieve desired results, said Alana Morris, language arts program director of the Aldine school district and president of the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas.

"If you drill the basics on handouts and worksheets, then that's where kids will be able to apply them," she said. "The bottom line is that drilling doesn't transfer into solid writing."

Teaching grammar is important, "but we want to teach it clearly so that kids can actually transfer it into their writing," Morris said. "Teaching grammar in drills makes no sense, whatsoever, to them."

The proposal calls for students to learn how to infer the importance of a setting in a story in one grade level, visualize the setting in the next grade and then summarizing the setting two grade levels later, she said.

"It's the most ludicrous thing I have ever seen in my entire life," Morris said. "Each year with higher level text you should learn how to draw inferences, how to ask questions, how to synthesize information, how to summarize."

Teachers will remain professional if the State Board of Education approves the pending document, Morris said.

"Teachers are not the type that will march on Austin," she said, adding that experienced teachers will simply ignore the new English textbooks.

============

Education board member unloads on the chairman

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 05/20/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA.052108.METRO5BEducationBoard.39776a8.html

Don McLeroy “has created havoc” as chairman of the State Board of Education and should be replaced, the senior member of the board has said in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry.

“It is such a shame that after all these years of trying to improve public education in Texas, we are taking steps backwards because of Don McElroy,” Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi said in her letter to Perry, misspelling McLeroy's name.

Berlanga, who has been on the 15-member board since 1984, said McLeroy's leadership has been a disaster and asked Perry to replace him with “a moderate conservative who can work with all members of the State Board of Education and the citizens of this state.”

McLeroy, a Bryan-based dentist, declined to comment because he had not seen the letter. Perry said he fully supports him.

Berlanga faults McLeroy for the way he has engineered the rewriting of the state's English language arts and reading curriculum, which will go to the board for a final vote Thursday.

She said McLeroy has ignored board instructions to Texas Education Agency staff by issuing separate dictates and deceived public school teachers, ignoring their recommendations in favor of out-of-state teachers in the development of new English language arts and reading standards.

And she renewed earlier criticisms of McLeroy for inviting experts in topics ranging from special education and dyslexia to African Americans to help develop the English and reading standards, but not including Hispanic experts.

“Any intelligent, logical person would have named an expert who had dealt with Hispanic children and language minority children since more than (47 percent) of the 4.5 million students in our public schools are Hispanic,” Berlanga wrote.

Even after the board voted two months ago to require Hispanic experts to evaluate the proposed standards, those experts were isolated instead of being invited to work with the agency's staff, she complained.

Berlanga said frustration led her to ask the governor to name a new chairman for the board that oversees Texas public education.

She does not expect Perry to accede to her request, but the governor should at least speak to McLeroy about her complaints, she said.

“He can certainly encourage him to change his behavior ... (and) tell him that he can't behave this way anymore,” Berlanga said Tuesday. “His tactics, I don't think anyone can change, but he's got to let the teachers speak and don't yell at them and don't be rude.”

Berlanga should take her objections to the full board, Perry said, “and the board will appropriately make the right decision.”

“I would suggest focusing on the issues that are important to the people of the state of Texas — not on whether I particularly like someone's personality,” Perry said. “We all deal with people every day that we may not want to go out and go fishing with or commune in some other way. But the fact is, Texas is more important than to get bogged down with personalities.”

In her letter to Perry, Berlanga mentioned Perry's interest in running for re-election in 2010 as a reason he should appoint a new chairman.

“Texas has a large population of Hispanics, and (McLeroy) seems bent on alienating this very significant group of voters,” she wrote. “He has managed to alienate our Texas teachers. For the sake of our great state do not allow this Master of Deceit to continue his very dangerous game.”

===========

Board member wants education chief replaced

Plan to rewrite English standards prompts criticism


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
May 21, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5793570.html

AUSTIN — Don McLeroy "has created havoc" as chairman of the State Board of Education and should be replaced, the senior member of the board said in a letter to Gov. Rick Perry.

"It is such a shame that after all these years of trying to improve public education in Texas, we are taking steps backwards because of Don McElroy," Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi said in her letter to Perry, misspelling McLeroy's name.

Berlanga, who has been on the 15-member board since 1984, said McLeroy's leadership has been a disaster and asked Perry to replace him with "a moderate conservative who can work with all members of the State Board of Education and the citizens of this state."

McLeroy, a Bryan-based dentist, declined to comment because he had not seen the letter. Perry said he fully supports him.

Berlanga faults McLeroy for the way he has engineered the rewriting of the state's English language arts and reading curriculum, which will go to the board for a final vote on Thursday.

She said McLeroy has ignored board instructions to Texas Education Agency staff by issuing separate dictates and deceived public school teachers, ignoring their recommendations in favor of out-of-state teachers in the development of new English language arts and reading standards.

And she renewed earlier criticisms of McLeroy for inviting experts in topics ranging from special education and dyslexia, but not including Hispanic experts in the development of English standards. "Any intelligent, logical person would have named an expert who had dealt with Hispanic children and language minority children since more than (47 percent) of the 4.5 million students in our public schools are Hispanic," Berlanga wrote.

Even after the board voted two months ago to require Hispanic experts to evaluate the proposed standards, those experts were isolated instead of being invited to work with agency staff, she complained.

Berlanga said frustration led her to ask the governor to name a new chairman for the board that oversees Texas education.

She does not expect Perry to accede to her request, but the governor should, at least, speak to McLeroy about her complaints, she said.

"He can certainly encourage him to change his behavior ... (and) tell him that he can't behave this way anymore," Berlanga said Tuesday. "His tactics, I don't think anyone can change, but he's got to let the teachers speak and don't yell at them and don't be rude."

Berlanga should take her objections to the full board, Perry said, "and the board will appropriately make the right decision."

"I would suggest focusing on the issues that are important to the people of the state of Texas, not on whether I particularly like someone's personality," Perry said.

In her letter to Perry, Berlanga mentioned Perry's interest in running for re-election in 2010 as a reason he should appoint a new chairman.

"Texas has a large population of Hispanics, and (McLeroy) seems bent on alienating this very significant group of voters," she wrote. "He has managed to alienate our Texas teachers. For the sake of our great state do not allow this Master of Deceit to continue his very dangerous game."

gscharrer@express-news.net

===========

State Board of Education

State board to make final decision on English and reading curriculum

The board will meet today, Thursday and Friday to discuss standards for state's public school students.


By Laura Heinauer
AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/05/22/0522sboe.html

Days away from what is expected to be the final salvo in the State Board of Education's three-year effort to rewrite the state's language arts and reading curriculum standards, disappointment, wariness and anxiety persists among educators and politicians involved.

The new standards, which will determine everything from what is taught in Texas classrooms to what textbooks will say for the next 10 years, are scheduled for public testimony this afternoon. A preliminary vote could come on Thursday and a final vote on Friday. Today's public hearing will be broadcast live on the Web at http://at1.tea.state.tx.us/sboeaudio.

The standards, last updated 10 years ago, would affect all of Texas' 4.6 million public school students.

Several issues on the ideologically split board appear have been resolved — at least for the time being — according to various interested parties, including a suggested reading list, an idea promoted by several social conservative members of the board that many educators feared would amount to book censorship and fail to include a diverse list of authors.

But other issues still remain, including fundamental disagreements about the best way to teach reading comprehension and grammar.

Don McLeroy, chair of the 15-member board, said a proposal by a committee of teachers and education experts still doesn't given enough emphasis to basic grammar skills, is repetitive in some areas and not specific enough in others.

In particular, McLeroy said he'd like to see the grammar requirements separated from those for writing and said he'd like to see less of a focus on teaching strategies for reading comprehension. Instead, he wants more emphasis placed on specific subject matter and content.

McLeroy also said he was disappointed that the committee removed some specific requirements from the draft curriculum, including a requirement that children learn about "moral lessons as themes" and another requirement that "well-known fables and stories" and "traditional folk and fairy tails" be taught.

"That (draft) was rich, full of specific examples," McLeroy said. "Is it so controversial to ask kids to learn moral lessons and read well-known fables and stories?"

McLeroy said he hadn't determined whether he'd request to replace the latest version of the curriculum completely with an earlier version or make amendments. He said while there were some positive changes made in the document prepared by the group, there are sections from other versions — particularly in the reading section — he liked better.

"I'd like to swap that out completely," he said.

Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in the Northside school district in San Antonio, said several members of the committee are concerned that many of the compromises achieved since the state board's last controversial meeting on the subject will unravel.

Those compromises include linking reading comprehension to specific types of writing and making several references to classic and traditional literature. Grammar, Tyroff said, "was strengthened and put with writing, which is where you need to teach it."

"There were a lot of concessions made. And what we've ended up with is a document with more rigor and better progression across grade levels," she said. "What might be a little frustrating is that people seem to be repeating the same points as though we are in the same place we were before they asked for the teachers' help."

McLeroy said he is confident that the board will make a final decision on the standards this week.

In the meantime, Tyroff said, she and other educators are preparing for the fallout.

"Whichever document gets adopted, teachers will be figuring out what that means and what kinds of staff development will be needed," she said.

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

Reading and language arts curriculum changes

A public hearing on English, language arts and reading curriculum standards begins after 12:30 p.m. today at the Texas Education Agency headquarters, William B. Travis Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave. Board deliberations on the issues expected to begin at 9 a.m. on Thursday and 9 a.m. on Friday. For more information, visit www.tea.state.tx.us.

===========

State board nears final vote on language-arts curriculum

By R.A. DYER
Fort Worth Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/655726.html

AUSTIN -- The contentious battle over English and reading curriculum takes center stage again this week with an expected final decision by the State Board of Education over language arts for the state's for 4.6 million public school students.

The 15-member panel plans to hold a public hearing today and take final votes on Thursday and Friday. The actions will mark the last milestones on the politically treacherous road that has divided the board's social conservatives and moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The background

The state board gave the initial OK to the new English and language-arts curriculum during a meeting in March. However, the board also voted to keep the door open to a competing plan pushed by a coalition of education groups that had support from moderate board members.

A Washington, D.C.-based company, StandardWorks, has acted as a facilitator, and this week will present to the board possible modifications to the curriculum for final approval.

The board has not adopted a new English and language-arts curriculum since 1997. The panel is expected to complete an overhaul of the state's science curriculum by year's end.

A different curriculum

The new curriculum will affect the teaching of reading, writing and grammar in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as the content of the state's high-stakes standardized tests.

Social conservatives favor a more rigid curriculum that includes a separate section for teaching grammar.

Some of the more moderate members have pushed an approach whereby schools maintain more local control over instruction. They also have supported a proposal to put more emphasis on reading comprehension.

The board gave its initial OK to a curriculum plan in March, but also signaled its intent to consider suggested changes from the coalition of education experts during this week's vote.

Competing methods

Board member David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont, said he favors a back-to-basics approach to the English curriculum. The social conservative said many current techniques don't work and that he supports more traditional techniques, including more rote memorization, more sentence diagramming and the teaching of grammar as a stand-alone objective.

Board member Pat Hardy, a Republican from Weatherford who typically sides with moderate board members, said it's important to create a curriculum based on the expert advice of teachers. She said she'll push for suggestions from professional educators when the board makes its final decision.

R.A. Dyer reports from the Austin bureau. 512 476-4294
rdyer@star-telegram.com

============

English curriculum headed for a showdown

Houston Chronicle Blogs
May 21, 2008
http://blogs.chron.com/texaspolitics/archives/2008/05/english_curricu.html

Texas educators pleaded with the State Board of Education Wednesday not to ignore their recommendations when voting for new English language arts and reading standards.

The 15-member board is scheduled to take a final vote Thursday on the new curriculum standards that will lead to new textbooks.

Board members appear divided.

"I feel very, very confident that the majority of the people in the state are in favor of what the teachers worked on," said board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth. "I'm not voting for anything that the teachers didn't have input on."

The three-year effort to write new English language arts and reading standards has been a contentious process. Board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, has asked Gov. Rick Perry to replace board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, because of her dissatisfaction with McLeroy's handling of the curriculum rewrite.

"We have two different approaches," McLeroy said Wednesday during a break in a lengthy public hearing. "One is process vs content; traditional vs. progressive."

And one is not necessarily wrong and the other right, he said: "But you are going to vote for the one you believe in."

He could not speculate on how the board would vote.

The educators emphasized a curriculum that focuses more on comprehension.

"I urge all board members to support the teachers' document," said Carol Bedard, a University of Houston professor and president of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.

The board's social conservatives favor a back-to-the-basics curriculum and appreciated the testimony of Linda Moore-Lanning, a former teacher from Crystal Beach.

"Use those flash cards until they learn it," she said amid groans from current educators.

The board likely will incorporate "some of the work of the teacher groups," David Bradley, R-Beaumont, speculated. "Everybody gets a buy-in."

==========

Board tentatively approves English language arts curriculum

By APRIL CASTRO
Associated Press Writer
Thu, May. 22, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/448/story/660096.html

AUSTIN - The State Board of Education preliminarily approved new English language arts curriculum standards Thursday, rejecting another proposal crafted by a working group of Texas teachers appointed by the board.

If given final approval on Friday, the curriculum will remain in place for the next decade and sets standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as classroom teaching.

"We had hoped that they would listen to the voices of the teachers and trust the work that they had produced," said Jennifer Canaday, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. The curriculum standards adopted Thursday are "not reflective of input of Texas teachers even though the board selected teachers from their various districts to serve on these work groups charged with the task of making recommendations."

The standards approved were developed by StandardsWork, a company hired to facilitate the revision process, which incorporated input from experts selected by a subcommittee of the board.

Teachers had pushed for the standards to include reading comprehension as a major component and to include grammar as a separate section rather than embedding it elsewhere.

Board Vice Chairman David Bradley indicated that he would bring amendments from the teacher's document to be considered on Friday.

Critics called the adopted standards a patchwork, without cohesive and fluid lessons for teachers to follow. Canaday called the approach harmful to students.

The version "was perceived to have a number of gaps and to lack necessary alignment from grade to grade and that is what the teachers attempted to fix," she said.

In one amendment adopted Thursday, the board approved adding language that would encourage certain concessions for English language learners.

State education officials had been under pressure to adopt an English curriculum by this summer to comply with the state budget and give publishers enough time to develop textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

The board, which sets school curricula, selects textbooks and manages the $25 billion Permanent School Fund, is split almost evenly between social conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans and Democrats.

============

Education board OKs English plan

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
05/22/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA.0523008.METRO1BEnglishLanguage.360433e.html

AUSTIN — A bitterly divided State Board of Education voted Thursday on new English language arts and reading standards that angered teacher groups whose recommendations were cast aside.

The board's social conservatives, joined by Republican moderate Geraldine Miller of Dallas and San Antonio Democrat Rick Agosto, prevailed, 9-6, adopting a plan that features a back-to-basics approach for grammar and reading comprehension. The new standards will dictate English language arts and reading textbooks for about a decade, beginning with the 2009-10 school year.

“Most of the teachers in this state are going to be furious,” said Alana Morris, language arts program director in Aldine Independent School District and a member of the work group that recommended new standards.

“The kids in Texas won't have comprehension in their textbooks, so they won't be taught the skills they need to comprehend text — so we will continue to have boards like this with people who can't comprehend simple things like teacher input,” Morris said.

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, said, “It's a very sad day in Texas when we support a document that has no input from teachers ... It's really a disgrace and sad for our children.”

For some board members, though, it came down to process and a different educational approach.

The board majority wants grammar taught separately instead of incorporating grammar instruction in the context of writing.

“We believe you need to know those skills first, and then you can incorporate them into your writing,” said member Terri Leo, R-Spring. “We feel the other side thinks that you are going to learn things by osmosis — by just writing. We think they have to be specifically taught.”

The current approach is not adequately preparing students for college, Leo said, noting the significant need for remedial work before college students acquire basic writing skills.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, said neither approach is particularly wrong or right.

“But you are going to vote for the one you believe in,” he said.

The board voted unanimously in March on a tentative plan, calling for teachers and others to improve a document published in the Texas Register, the official bulletin of state agency rulemaking.

Some members accused teacher groups of hijacking the process by pushing their own document instead of the one tentatively approved by the board.

“The process has become a joke and a mockery,” said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, calling it “contaminated and a circus.”

But the narrow vote should leave Texans without confidence in the new curriculum, said board member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth.

“I don't think it bodes well for the state board to be split on these issues. It's a really heavy ideological thing, and the frustrating thing is I don't know why,” she said.

Educators from 17 literacy organizations representing 13,000 English teachers worked on the new standards.

“And in the end it was completely discounted,” said Cindy Tyroff of San Antonio's Northside Independent School District and the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. “Teachers are going to be offended.”

Along with questioning the plan's method of grammar instruction, teacher groups also object to its de-emphasis of reading comprehension.

Agosto, the lone Democrat voting for the plan, said the board could improve the document before its final vote today with amendments incorporating some of the teachers' recommendations.

“I'm just trying to salvage what work has been done with those teachers,” he said, emphasizing that his was not the decisive vote.

Board Vice Chair David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he would offer amendments reflecting some of the suggestions by teachers and education groups.

But proposed changes are not likely to attract support from many on the board, predicted member Lawrence Allen Jr. of Houston, who stressed the importance of teacher input.

============

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Just days before vote, board isn't of one mind on new curriculum

Board members still fundamentally disagree in some areas in effort to rewrite Texas' language arts and reading curriculum standards.


By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, May 22, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/05/22/0522sboe.html

Days away from what is expected to be the final salvo in the State Board of Education's three-year effort to rewrite Texas' language arts and reading curriculum standards, disappointment, wariness and anxiety persist among some educators and politicians involved.

The board held a public hearing Wednesday on the new standards, which will determine everything from what is taught in Texas classrooms to what textbooks will say for the next 10 years. A preliminary vote could come today, with a final vote on Friday.

The ideologically split board seems to have settled several issues, at least for the time being. For example, it rejected a controversial suggested reading list — promoted by several social conservative members of the board — that many educators feared would amount to book censorship and fail to include a diverse list of authors.

But other issues remain unresolved, including fundamental disagreements about the best way to teach reading comprehension and grammar.

Don McLeroy, chairman of the 15-member board, said a proposal by a committee of teachers and education experts doesn't put enough emphasis on basic grammar skills, is repetitive in some areas and not specific enough in others.

McLeroy said he would like grammar requirements separated from those for writing, and would prefer less of a focus on teaching strategies for reading comprehension. Instead, he would like more emphasis on specific subject matter and content.

McLeroy said he was disappointed that the committee removed some specific requirements from the draft curriculum, including a requirement that children learn about "moral lessons as themes" and another requirement that "well-known fables and stories" and "traditional folk and fairy tales" be taught.

"That (draft) was rich, full of specific examples," McLeroy said. "Is it so controversial to ask kids to learn moral lessons and read well-known fables and stories?"

McLeroy said he hadn't determined whether he would ask to replace the latest version of the curriculum completely with an earlier version or make amendments. Though the document prepared by the group had some positive changes, he said, there are sections from other versions — particularly in the reading section — that he liked better.

"I'd like to swap that out completely," he said.

Cindy Tyroff, a secondary language arts instructional specialist in the Northside school district in San Antonio, said several members of the committee are concerned that many of the compromises achieved since the state board's last controversial meeting on the subject will unravel.

Those compromises include linking reading comprehension to specific types of writing and making several references to classic and traditional literature. Grammar, Tyroff said, "was strengthened and put with writing, which is where you need to teach it."

"There were a lot of concessions made. And what we've ended up with is a document with more rigor and better progression across grade levels," she said. "What might be a little frustrating is that people seem to be repeating the same points as though we are in the same place we were before they asked for the teachers' help."

McLeroy said he is confident that the board will make a final decision on the standards this week.

In the meantime, Tyroff said, she and other educators are preparing for the fallout.

"Whichever document gets adopted, teachers will be figuring out what that means and what kinds of staff development will be needed," she said.

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

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Texas Education Board rejects English teachers' input on new curriculum standards

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Thursday, May 22, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/052308dntexcurriculum.1baec677.html

AUSTIN – State Board of Education members, casting aside months of work by English teachers across the state, tentatively approved new curriculum standards Thursday for English and reading classes that will be used in Texas schools for the next decade.

Led by its social conservative bloc, the board rejected a curriculum proposal written and backed by several teacher associations – including those representing English teachers – and instead adopted a Washington, D.C.-based consultant's plan that changes the way grammar is taught..

The teacher-backed proposal was rejected on a 9-6 vote, before board members approved their consultant's plan by the same 9-6 split. Voting with the seven social conservatives on the board – all Republicans – were Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio.

Key differences in the two plans centered on how grammar should be covered and the best methods for teaching reading comprehension.

A majority of the board wanted grammar taught by itself, while teachers wanted it taught in writing classes as is currently done in most schools. The board majority also discarded widely used teaching strategies for reading that were favored by teacher groups.

"It is disheartening that the board has completely discounted the recommendations of teachers who are in the classroom teaching these subjects," said Cynthia Tyroff of Texas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, one of 17 teacher associations that worked on the teacher-backed plan.

But board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, said some teachers and their supporters "subverted" the process of writing the curriculum standards by working behind the scenes to influence the final version of the plan.

"We don't want to say we're not listening to teachers, but I am very frustrated," she said. "This process has become a joke and mockery."

The standards adopted by the board will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in English classes in all elementary and secondary schools, and also providing the basis for state tests and textbooks used in the schools.

===========

State's English, reading curriculum debated

Austin News KXAN
Posted: May 22, 2008
http://www.kxan.com/Global/story.asp?S=8366822&nav=0s3dWm0R

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) -- A final vote is expected Friday that will determine how English and language arts should be taught to four million Texas schoolchildren next fall.

In a preliminary vote, the State Board of Education approved curriculum that dictates what textbooks children will use and how their teachers will go about teaching English and language arts.

Getting to the final vote today has not been easy, and especially now, many teacher groups are furious about the curriculum that preliminarily passed Thursday and is likely to pass Friday.

The document that the majority of the state board members support is one that many teacher groups said is an "old school" way of teaching.

For example, the curriculum doesn't include information about the media.

State board members though claim the curriculum revised by teachers doesn't include enough information on things like grammar, and that's why they preliminarily passed the original document Thursday with a 9-6 vote.

So with the final vote expected to be the same as the preliminary vote Thursday, KXAN Austin News wanted to know how teachers will adapt to the curriculum that many are not excited about teaching.

"Certainly when this document is finalized, if there are gaps or holes, we'll try our best to fill them at the district level, but when it comes down to it, teachers are held accountable for what's in this document, and students are held accountable for what's in this document," said Secondary Language Arts Specialist Cindy Tyroff.

It has been 10 years since English and reading curriculums for Texas public schools have been revamped.

A revised curriculum must be adopted or else children will not have textbooks for grades kindergarten through 12 in the fall for reading and English.

Teacher representatives at the meeting Thursday said children, students and taxpayers will suffer if the board passes the document that was not revised after teachers gave their input.

============

Board OKs English curriculum

COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
Friday, May 23, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/05/23/0523texdigest.html

Curriculum tentatively approved

The State Board of Education preliminarily approved new English language arts curriculum standards Thursday, rejecting a proposal crafted by a working group of Texas teachers appointed by the board.

If given final approval today, the curriculum will remain in place for the next decade; it sets standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as classroom teaching.

The standards were developed by StandardsWork, a company hired to facilitate the revision process, which incorporated input from experts selected by a subcommittee of the board.

Teachers had pushed for the standards to include reading comprehension as a major component and to include grammar as a separate section.

Board Vice Chairman David Bradley indicated that he would bring amendments from the teachers' document to be considered today.

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English standards head back to basics

Teachers bitter as divided board expected to alter curriculum today


By GARY SCHARRER
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
May 23, 2008
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5797667.html
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/5797667.html

• 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.

AUSTIN — A bitterly divided State Board of Education voted Thursday on new English language arts and reading standards that infuriated teacher groups whose recommendations were cast aside.

The board's social conservatives, joined by Republican moderate Geraldine Miller of Dallas and San Antonio Democrat Rick Agosto, prevailed, 9-6, for a plan that features a back-to-the-basics approach for grammar and reading comprehension. A final vote on the plan is scheduled for today.

The standards will dictate English language arts and reading textbooks starting in the 2009-10 school year and will last for about a decade.

"Most of the teachers in this state are going to be furious," said Alana Morris, past president of CREST (Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas).

"The kids in Texas won't have comprehension in their textbooks so they won't be taught the skills they need to comprehend text — so we will continue to have boards like this with people who can't comprehend simple things like teacher input," Morris said.

Board member Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, said: "It's a very sad day in Texas when we support a document that has no input from teachers ... It's really a disgrace and sad for our children."

For some board members, though, it came down to process and a different educational approach. The prevailing side wants grammar taught separately instead of incorporating it in the context of writing.

"We believe you need to know those skills first, and then you can incorporate them into your writing," said member Terri Leo, R-Spring. "We feel the other side thinks that you are going to learn things by osmosis, by just writing."

The existing approach is not adequately preparing students for college, Leo said, noting the significant need for remedial work necessary before college students acquire basic writing skills.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, said neither approach is particularly wrong nor right. "But you are going to vote for the one you believe in," he said.

Leo said she and other board members represent more than teacher groups.

"My district, for the most part, supports going back to those basic skills," she said.

The board voted unanimously in March on a tentative plan, calling for teachers and others to improve a document published in the Texas Register, which serves as the official bulletin of state agency rule-making.

Was process tainted?

Some board members accused teacher groups of hijacking the process by pushing their own document instead of the one tentatively approved by the board.

"The process has become a joke and a mockery," said Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond , calling it "contaminated and a circus."

But the narrow vote should leave Texans without any confidence in the new curriculum, said Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth.

"I don't think it bodes well for the state board to be split on these issues. It's a really heavy ideological thing, and the frustrating thing is I don't know why," she said.

Educators from 17 literacy organizations representing 13,000 English language arts and reading teachers worked on the new curriculum standards.

"And, in the end, it was completely discounted," said Cindy Tyroff from San Antonio's Northside ISD and the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. "Teachers are going to be offended."

Less comprehension

In addition to the problems with grammar instruction, teacher groups also object to the de-emphasis of reading comprehension in the proposed plan.

"There are few standards sprinkled throughout the reading portion of the document, but it's a very haphazard approach," she said.

Agosto, the lone Democrat voting for the plan, said the board could improve the document before the final vote today with amendments incorporating some of the teachers' recommendations.

"I'm just trying to salvage what work has been done with those teachers," he said, emphasizing that his was not the decisive vote. "We still have some more work to do."

Board Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said he would offer amendments reflecting some of the suggestions by teachers and education groups.

But any changes are not likely to budge many members from their votes, said board member Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Houston

"If you are going to affect the educational process in the state of Texas, the most important people included in that should be the teachers of the state of Texas," Allen aid. "We heard excellent testimony from a number of individuals from across the state, but it fell on deaf ears, I believe."

gscharrer@express-news.net

============

State education board sides with consultant on English, grammar curriculum

By TERRENCE STUTZ
The Dallas Morning News
Friday, May 23, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/DN-sboe_23tex.ART.State.Edition1.46e97ec.html

AUSTIN – State Board of Education members, casting aside months of work by English teachers, tentatively adopted new curriculum standards for English and reading classes Thursday that will revamp the way grammar is taught in Texas schools.

Led by its social conservative bloc, the board rejected a curriculum proposal written and backed by several teacher associations – including those representing English teachers – and instead adopted a plan drafted by a Washington, D.C.-based consultant.

The teacher-backed proposal was rejected on a 9-6 vote, before board members approved their consultant's plan by the same 9-6 split. Voting with the seven social conservatives on the board – all Republicans – were Geraldine Miller, R-Dallas, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio.

Key differences in the two plans centered on how grammar should be covered and the best methods for teaching reading comprehension.

A majority of the board wanted grammar taught by itself, while teachers wanted it taught in writing classes as is currently done in most public schools. The board majority also discarded widely used teaching strategies for reading that were favored by teacher groups.

"It is disheartening that the board has completely discounted the recommendations of teachers who are in the classroom teaching these subjects," said Cynthia Tyroff of Texas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts, one of 17 educator associations that worked on the teacher-backed plan.

But board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, said some teachers and their supporters "subverted" the process of writing the curriculum standards by working behind the scenes to influence the final version of the plan.

"We don't want to say we're not listening to teachers, but I am very frustrated," she said. "This process has become a joke and mockery."

The standards adopted by the board will remain in place for the next decade, dictating what is taught in English classes in all elementary and secondary schools, and also providing the basis for state tests and textbooks used in the schools.

English teachers scored a victory on the curriculum standards in March when the board backed away from a proposal that would have "suggested" what literary works students should read in English classes.

The board has been debating the English curriculum plan since last summer, and hired a consultant – StandardsWork Inc. – to help resolve differences among board members and come up with a compromise acceptable both to the board and to teachers.

In moving to approve the StandardsWork proposal Thursday, board member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, said he was looking for "stronger" grammar instruction in English classes – a goal that would be met by covering rules of grammar separately from writing.

Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, said it was best to side with teachers, who want to continue teaching grammar as students learn to write. "This plan won't be successful unless we have buy-in from teachers," she said.

===========

Texas education board passes new English, reading standards

By APRIL CASTRO
Associated Press Writer
Austin American-Statesman
May 23, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_SBOE_English_Curriculum.html

Texas education board passes new standard with 'no opportunity to review it'

Associated Press
Dallas Morning News
May 24, 2008
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/052408dntexenglish.44861e2.html

AUSTIN — The State Board of Education's debate on new English and reading standards took another rowdy turn Friday as members approved a never-before-seen version of the lengthy document which materialized less than an hour before the board was to take a final vote.

After a wacky and terse debate on the new curriculum, the board voted 9-6 in favor of the new version, which will remain in place for the next decade and sets standards for state tests and textbooks, as well as classroom teaching.

Experts and teachers have been working on the new curriculum standards for two and a half years.

"I find it's really wild that we can work for three years on a project and then the board is so qualified they can pull it out of their hat overnight," said board member Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican who, like other board members, received the substituted document when it was slipped under her hotel door less than an hour before their meeting was set to convene Friday morning.

Some social conservatives on the board prepared the latest version overnight.

"I'm appalled by the process that we've taken part in," said board member Bob Craig, a Republican from Lubbock. There's been "no opportunity to review it, no teacher group is involved, not even the (Texas Education Agency) staff was involved or had seen it."

A day earlier, the board gave tentative approval to a version of the curriculum created largely by StandardsWork, a company hired to facilitate the revision process. The move angered teachers and more moderate board members who preferred a version crafted by a working group of teachers appointed by the board.

The primary disagreements between the two factions were on how grammar and reading comprehension should be taught in schools.

The new version was presented to board members as a compromise, which addressed some of the teacher's concerns. Still, critics on the board were reticent to accept the explanation.

"How am I supposed to vote on a document when I've had it in my hands for slightly over an hour?" asked angered board member Mary Helen Berlanga, a Democrat from Corpus Christi. "How are we supposed to reply to our constituents? I don't understand that. I can't support a document that I haven't had a chance to read."

Teacher groups complained that the curriculum was a patchwork and poorly written, but largely withheld judgment.

"It's really hard to say since nobody has seen it," said Jennifer Canaday, a lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "They were rushed by the chairman through a review of the changes. We were told by the authors of the document that it is supposed to contain sections from the teachers work group version and others from the StandardsWork version ... but again nobody's seen it, so it's hard to say for sure what's in there."

After first saying he would not give board members time to go over the new document during the meeting, Chairman Don McLeroy, a Republican from College Station, eventually relented, allowing a quick run through of the new document with an explanation of the changes.

But the squabbling did not end there.

"Mr. Chair you're going so fast ... you're moving so fast we can't find it in the other document," Berlanga said, shortly after the page-by-page explanation began.

After more complaints, McLeroy declared that he would continue at the fast pace.

"The ruling is you're being dilatory in dragging this out," McLeroy said.

"I'm voting against it. I'm sick of this," replied board member Mavis Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, moments after the discussion started.

Critics said Friday's display illustrated long-simmering dysfunction on the board.

"The state board is split between members who respect the opinions of teachers and education experts and ... other members who clearly don't," said Kathy Miller, president of the education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "So this board is increasingly unable to complete tasks with efficiency and a respect for informed debate and expert opinion.

"This is not how you develop smart education policies."

Conservatives lauded the new curriculum.

"It is obvious that too many Texas public school students aren't learning the basics with our current curriculum," said Brooke Terry, education policy analyst for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. "We are glad the new curriculum will emphasize grammar and writing skills."

Science curriculum, which includes the divisive teaching of evolution, is next up for review by the board.

"It does not bode well for any of us with the science (curriculum) review coming up," Canaday said. "Everyone I spoke to about this week's meetings asked me why on earth would English be considered a controversial subject. If it's this difficult to change the English curriculum, it's just going to be a war when it comes time for them to try to agree on science standards."

Take a look at the state board's meeting materials: http://www.tea.state.tx..us/sboe/mtg_mat_current.html

=============

Revised English plan OK'D

By Gary Scharrer
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted: 05/23/2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/stories/MYSA.052408.METRO1BEnglishVote.37bc311.html

AUSTIN — A three-year effort to rewrite English language arts and reading standards for the state's public schools came down to a last-minute cut-and-paste job Friday.

But the final document didn't change any minds as the State Board of Education voted, 9-6, to approve a plan that teacher groups again rejected. And educators who criticized the curriculum found fresh ammunition in the last-minute process the board employed.

Socially conservative board members produced a new document Friday that they said included some of the best elements of a separate plan advocated by English language arts and reading teachers.

“We wanted, in good faith, to pull out what was best from what the teacher work group had done,” Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said.

The new standards are understandable and measurable, she said, “which means that I will know what my child might be tested on the TEKS test.”

This, she said, is in contrast to part of the current curriculum that says, “Students will understand the effect of media on their own perception of reality.”

Although teachers' representatives dismissed the final curriculum as illogical, Cargill said rank-and-file teachers whom she heard from favor it.

But Houston's Alana Morris, past president of the Coalition of Reading and English Supervisors of Texas, accused Cargill of patronizing teachers “by pretending that their plucking our document apart is the same as including our input and validating our experience.”

She noted that educators will not get another opportunity to create an English language arts and reading standards document for at least a decade.

“Our one hope is that some of these arrogant board members, who align with special interest groups, who have no interest in the success of public education, will have been unseated by that time,” Morris said.

The board narrowly rejected, 8-7, an 11th-hour bid to create a suggested “author's list” for teachers to use in assigning reading books.

Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, was the only Democrat voting with the board's social conservatives for the final document.

“This is a better and improved document based on our board's initiative,” Agosto said.

But some members were offended that they didn't see the final version until Friday's meeting.

“I don't trust the people who have worked behind the scenes in secret,” Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, said.

Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth, wondered what made some board members so qualified “to pull something out of the hat at the last minute. It's amazing.”

“The process stinks. ... No leadership from anywhere,” Hardy said later. “The sane six have spoken. We stand by what the teachers developed, and we wanted the teachers to be heard.”

The new curriculum standards that will show up in textbooks in the 2009-10 school year were marked by the same disagreements over grammar instruction and reading comprehension that have divided the board for months.

“I really can't understand from a board that professes back-to-the-basics and college readiness that they don't want to make it crystal clear and easy for teachers to know what standards they need to meet in terms of reading comprehension,” said Cindy Tyroff from Northside ISD and the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. “It smells. It doesn't pass any test of logic.”

But Cargill said reading comprehension is embedded throughout the document.

“We did not want overlap. We did not want repetition,” she said.

The new curriculum standards also will keep grammar as a separate teaching strand instead of teaching grammar to students while they develop writing skills.

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.”

But the Texas Freedom Network, which supports public education, religious freedom and individual liberties, called the board divisive and dysfunctional.

“The state board is split between members who respect the opinions of teachers and education experts and, on the other side, Chairman (Don) McLeroy and other members who clearly don't,” said Kathy Miller, Freedom Network president.

=============

After two years of fits and starts, board approves new language-arts standards

By R.A. DYER
Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer, Austin bureau
Sat, May. 24, 2008
http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/661689.html

AUSTIN -- After more than two years of behind-the-scenes cajoling, public bickering, charges and countercharges, the bitterly divided State Board of Education settled Friday on new English and reading curriculum standards for the state's 4.6 million schoolchildren.

The result is a patchwork document, with pieces pulled from a plan adopted by the board Thursday, plus segments submitted by teacher work groups.

Many board members complained that even after the drawn-out process, the latest document was sprung on them Friday with almost no notice.

The final vote was 9-6, with Democrats and some moderate Republicans joining in opposition.

Social conservatives backed the plan, along with Democrat Rick Agosto of San Antonio and swing-vote Republican Geraldine Miller of Dallas.

"I'm very disappointed. What it boils down to is the teachers were not respected enough to have their opinions count," said board member Pat Hardy, a Republican from Weatherford who voted against the new standards.

The background

The new standards roughly track those that won initial board approval Thursday. However, the board incorporated some changes recommended by teams of educators that also had support from some of the board's moderate Republicans and Democrats.

Changes included adding a section in the appendix on reading comprehension. The board also voted to align grammar instruction more closely with writing instruction.

The board rejected an attempt by social conservatives to add a recommended reading list. Instead, the board agreed to create a reading-resource Web site.

Board member Barbara Cargill, a social conservative who helped craft the plan adopted Friday, said she took the best elements from previous proposals.

"We tried to come up with something that might work and would make both sides happy," said Cargill, R-The Woodlands.

But Hardy said that while the plan represents an improvement over a version adopted Thursday, it is flawed nonetheless.

She noted that the guidelines lack sufficient integration between grade levels, meaning that children could end up with gaps in their education.

Plan supporters "did attempt to put in some [improvements], but that was more of a political move than anything else," Hardy said.

The Texas Education Agency must begin putting the new standards in place for the 2009-10 school year. The new curriculum, which also affects textbooks, is the first language-arts overhaul since 1997.

A divided board

The curriculum decision is important because it will affect the teaching of reading, writing and grammar in kindergarten through 12th grade as well as the content of the state's high-stakes standardized tests.

But the process has been anything but smooth, with board factions complaining that they had little time to review the technical proposals or that they were being railroaded by their opponents.

On Friday, for instance, many members complained that the nearly 100-page document had been distributed to them just before the meeting.

"How am I supposed to vote on a document when I've had it in my hands for slightly over an hour?" asked board member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi.

But the day before, opposing board members complained that a plan favored by Berlanga and her allies was created in violation of previous board instructions.

Looking ahead

The board will oversee an effort to create parallel standards for Spanish speakers and vote on them in July. The board will consider science curriculum standards next year.

R.A. DYER, rdyer@star-telegram.com, 512-476-4294

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Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 May 24