Senate Bill 2275 Will Remove Texas State Board of Education Authority
Over Curriculum Standards and Textbook Selection

by Steven D. Schafersman
President, Texas Citizens for Science
2009 April 13
[Originally written as a Press Release]

Texas Citizens for Science strongly supports Senate Bill 2275 which transfers authority for curriculum standards and textbook selection from the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) to the Texas Commissioner of Education. Senate Bill 2275 is bipartisan and has three Republicans and one Democrat as authors.

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

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

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

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

Although largely successful in the past, only this past month TCS and its partners were unable to prevent the State Board of Education from using their amendment powers to weaken the excellent science standards produced by science teachers, professors, and scientists. The State Board's amendment of the original standards created several flawed standards that, while not overtly unscientific, are nevertheless confusing, unnecessary, poorly-written, and opened the door to insertion of pseudoscientific information, including bogus arguments supporting Intelligent Design Creationism. The new science standards and the process by which this was conducted seriously damage the science reputation of Texas. Among others things the Board accomplished during this exercise in pseudoscience was to remove the e-word and the ancient age of the universe from the standards. These "accomplishments" were petty, disgraceful, and clear proof of the anti-scientific and pro-Fundamentalist bias of most of the Board members. A modern, technologically-advanced state such as Texas does not need such anti-science activity from a state board.

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

Update, 2009 April 14

The bill's primary author, Senator Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, offered a committee substitute today so the version of the bill originally filed is no longer relevant.

The bill was left pending in committee today because the authors are considering further changes to the bill, including:

One of the bill's authors, Senator Kip Averitt, R-Waco, had this to say about the bill:

Senator Seliger offers a completely logical alternative to that position, and whether or not these people are experts or not, I can tell you there are people on the SBOE who vilify public education as the work of the devil. And I wonder how they can have a sincere interest in advancing the education of our school-age children with an attitude that public education is an evil entity. So I believe that this represents a very logical and tangible alternative to what we currently have.

We certainly have to weigh the fact that these were elected folks. So maybe they, maybe we, have elected them for the wrong mission, and I think Senator Seliger’s alternative here is putting that part of the mission back to where educators have a significant say and professionals in the education field are engaged in the process of determining what our children are reading in their textbooks.

Another note: Donna Howard's bill (House Joint Resolution 77) that removes authority over the Permanent School Fund from the SBOE was reported favorably out of House Public Education Committee. This bill creates a Permanent School Fund Management Council and requires a constitutional amendment to become law. It is further evidence that legislators have had enough of the State Board's embarrassing, counter-productive, and anti-educational activities. The SBOE has made itself so obnoxious in its efforts to further a radical religious-right agenda that even the conservative Republicans in the Texas Legislature are opposed to it. This is legacy of radical religious-right paymaster James Leininger and Governor Rick Perry and their effort to radicalize the State Board of Education after their effort to do the same to the Texas Legislature failed.


News Reports

Texas lawmakers debate stripping education board of authority over curriculum, textbooks

By Terrence Stutz
The Dallas Morning News
tstutz@dallasnews.com
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/DN-sboe_15tex.ART.State.Edition1.4acfccf.html

AUSTIN – Four state senators, fed up with curriculum and textbook battles at the State Board of Education, pitched legislation Tuesday that would strip the board of its authority over curriculum and textbooks and transfer it to the commissioner of education.

Sens. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Kip Averitt, R-Waco, told the Senate Education Committee that the state board has become too politicized and is not always focused on what is best for schoolchildren.

Debate on the bill comes just weeks after the board clashed over science curriculum standards and how evolution should be taught in high school biology classes. Social conservatives on the board unsuccessfully pushed to require that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and other scientific theories.

Seliger said the "political nature" of the elected board often "results in infighting and partisan beliefs becoming part of the public school curriculum" – as exemplified in the battle over science standards.

"The debate went on with almost no discussion of children," he said. "The fact is there is nothing that makes the board particularly qualified to choose curriculum materials and textbooks."

Averitt was more blunt, saying the board "has been nothing but the worst example of partisan bickering and fighting, Republicans and Democrats alike." There are 10 Republicans and five Democrats on the education board.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was the only committee member defending the authority of the education board to approve curriculum standards and textbooks.

Noting that the 15 board members are elected from their regions of the state, Patrick suggested that stripping the board of its authority would take away residents' ability to have a say over the textbooks used in public schools.

"Aren't you concerned that you're taking this out of the hands of the people?" he asked Seliger. "Because the State Board of Education is elected, the people of Texas now have a direct say."

Patrick also questioned the wisdom of transferring authority over textbooks to the education commissioner and textbook review panels made up of teachers and academics – as called for in Seliger's bill.

Seliger said the bill would allow the state board to overrule the commissioner on curriculum and textbooks, but only with a super-majority – four-fifths of the members. Other board powers – such as setting passing standards for student tests and approving charter schools – would not be affected by the bill, he added.

The committee did not vote on the legislation Tuesday.

=========

Bill would limit education board's power to set policy

Because of bickering, Senate authors say, most authority would shift to appointed commissioner.

By Kate Alexander
Austin American-Statesman
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/04/15/0415stateboard.html

The pitched political battles over several recent State Board of Education decisions could lead the Legislature to strip the board of most of its authority to set curriculum standards and choose textbooks for public schools.

"I'm not sure that we're serving the best interests of our children at this time," said Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, an author of the bill, which the Senate Education Committee considered Tuesday. The committee did not vote on the proposal.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the 15-member elected State Board of Education are equally at fault for the "partisan bickering and fighting" that has marked recent debates over science and language arts curriculum standards, Averitt said.

"All I hear is that the Republicans want to push their religious views into the curriculum, and the Democrats want to teach our children how to masturbate," Averitt said during the committee hearing Tuesday.

Senate Bill 2275 would give the state's education commissioner, who is appointed by the governor, the authority to approve the curriculum standards and textbooks based on the recommendations of a group of educators. The board members, however, could override the commissioner's decision with a four-fifths vote.

State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, said that under the proposal, only the "education establishment" would shape curriculum and textbook decisions and that the board would simply become a rubber stamp.

"There is nobody to question them if this bill is passed," McLeroy said. "What is wrong with having a debate?"

The political process ensures that parents and Texas voters have a voice in what students learn, he said.

"Regular people have a say-so with the State Board of Education because they elect us," McLeroy said.

But students' needs are overwhelmed by the controversy, said Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, another author of the bipartisan bill.

The proposed approach would ensure educators with experience and expertise in teaching the academic subjects can shape the curriculum and pick the textbooks without political interference, he said.

Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said he was concerned that the change would mean the people of Texas would no longer have a hand in such critical decisions if the elected state board were essentially removed from the process.

Last month, the board stirred controversy with new science curriculum standards that critics say open the door to attacks on teaching evolution.

University of Texas biology professor David Hillis said the result of that decision is: "Texas students now have a weakened science curriculum, and the science reputation of the state has been seriously injured." This bill will "keep the focus of education on education, rather than on politics," Hillis said.

kalexander@statesman.com; 445-3618


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2009 April 15