Testimony about the Proposed Process for Review and Revision of
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)
Texas State Board of Education
November 15, 2007
Written Testimony of
Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
The State Board of Education (SBOE) has a proposal before it to hire a "facilitator" or "standards writing consultant" to write the standards document after workgroup members consisting of master teachers and university professors have initially written the initial standards document and after additional university professor experts review that standards document. One wonders why the initial writing and review are necessary when the facilitator will have complete freedom to write whatever he or she wants at the conclusion of the process.
The facilitator idea was first proposed in a "September Surprise" two months ago. Almost all State Board members objected to the proposal because they had not received prior briefing on the idea, there were many unknowns and ambiguities about the facilitator concept, many were unsure why a facilitator was necessary, and the $85,000 a month salary seemed a bit steep. Today, the proposal is back and nothing has changed. The facilitator idea is still fraught with unknowns and ambiguities, contains no definitions or safeguards, and is obviously unnecessary if the work of the writing panels composed of teachers and professors and the expert university reviewers proceeds as usual. I urge the members of this State Board to reject this proposal as written. (Item 12, the relevant new section of the TEKS process revision proposal, is copied below. This is from Attachment II, p. I-98, in the SBOE Agenda of November 16, 2007, which can be found in its entirety at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/schedule/2007/november/full_board/attachments/thur_5_teks_a2.pdf.)
The proposal contains all sorts of red flags: (1) The qualifications of the facilitator are not specified. (2) The identity of the person or persons who actually choose the facilitator is not specified. (3) The facilitator is asked to engage and incorporate the views of the SBOE Review Committee, content experts familiar with the research, other content standards already in existence, other interested stakeholders such as leadership organizations, parents, community leaders, and the business community; in short, everyone EXCEPT the original standards-writing workgroup composed of actual teachers and professors. Of course, the original workgroup could also do all these things. (4) Amazingly, the content review experts are scheduled in the proposal to review the written standards BEFORE the facilitator gets them, not AFTER the facilitator writes them, which would seem the appropriate way to do this. (5) Finally, the facilitator will have the power to ignore all of the stakeholders, instructors, content experts, and expert reviewers and write the final version of the standards any way he or she wants.
There are other problems with the proposal. At several places in the document, the terms "experts" and "expert reviewers" are used. In the past, these experts have been professors in university science departments contracted by the neutral and nonpartisan TEA staff to review science textbook content and standards after the versions vetted by the detailed TEA process are written. These individuals have always performed professionally and done a good job of discovering factual errors of science content, illustrations and graphs, figure captions, and question answers. They have never injected a partisan, ideological, religious, or political bias into the process, as contrasted with State Board members, who have repeatedly done all these things. Nevertheless, in the new climate of State Board ideological activism, even the past expertise and neutrality of expert reviewers cannot be assumed, so the qualifications and attributes of expert reviewers and who actually chooses them to review science documents must be spelled out in a public document. Also, as noted above, the new proposed TEKS revision process sequence calls for the expert reviewers to review the standards BEFORE the facilitator gets to revise them, not AFTER, which obviates the purpose of the expert review process. The proposal assumes that the facilitator will not introduce factual scientific errors into the science standards, so an expert review is unnecessary, but this is an unwarranted assumption after three decades of State Board manipulation and censorship of science content in textbook and standards.
Of course, the final wording of any science standards document (or textbook) depends on the pleasure of the members of the State Board of Education. They have a right to reject or put on a non-conforming list any textbook that does not meet the TEKS. Likewise, they will have full control of the final wording of the science standards. For better or worse, Texas statutory law gives these publicly-elected officials that power. Their long history of abusing that power notwithstanding, nothing can be done to change this in the near future. The State Board members have taken the liberty of defining what a "factual error" is, even when no rational person would agree with their definitions. They have maliciously rejected high quality textbooks in defiance of their own rules and the law, and gotten away with it due to the lack of effective litigation and weak court rulings. They have so intimidated publishers, that science books are still pre-censored to avoid negative scrutiny and rejection by State Board members. The only thing that protects citizens and limits the State Board's abuse of power is press reports of the abuses and revulsion of citizens, scientists, and especially business leaders, who need workers educated properly in science and technological fields. Ultimately, the Texas Legislature will have to act to limit the power of the State Board of Education, as it has done in the past. The best thing the Legislature can do is remove all power from the State Board to modify textbook content and curriculum standards, and turn both processes over to a neutral, unbiased, and professional third party, such as the TEA staff. But even this is now problematic, since pressure from State Board members has begun a purge of qualified and professional TEA staff members who understand science and refuse to compromise scientific accuracy and integrity.
The Texas Legislature created a Commission for a College Ready Texas to produce a high-quality set of curriculum standards, the Texas College Readiness Standards, to help improve Texas education results and student performance. I reviewed the science standards from this project elsewhere and found them to be generally excellent, despite being slightly affected by continuing pre-censorship. What are the chances that these excellent science standards will be adopted by the State Board, despite the fact that a conservative Republican Legislature mandated them and conservative and highly professional experts wrote them? The answer is that they will almost certainly be ignored, as similar attempts by the Legislature to improve our state's education system have been ignored by the State Board. A significant number of State Board members, perhaps a majority, want to use their official powers to impose their ideological views on science education standards and textbooks, even in defiance of the law.
Certain members of the State Board want to have standards, especially science standards, presented to them in a form that already incorporates their controversial ideological goals, such as suppressing information about biological evolution, the natural origin of life, human population growth, pollution, and global warming problems, and the ancient age of the Earth and universe, and replace these with unscientific topics that "teach the controversy," or "teach both sides of the origins question," or "teach the weaknesses and problems of evolution," and even possibly "teach the evidence for intelligent design." Several State Board members are happiest when textbooks or standards are presented to them pre-censored, as the health education textbooks were three years ago and as biology textbooks were in the early 1980s. Secret negotiations between publishers and State Board leaders in the past led to many abuses, and the current leaders wish to continue this practice. Their intention may be to hire a facilitator who will facilitate the pre-censorship of science standards. Then these State Board members can simply adopt the standards and not engage in the messy and very public process of amending standards along ideological lines. Of course, some State Board members are not averse to publicly amending, censoring, and rejecting science textbooks and standards, since they believe the majority of voters in their districts agree with their anti-science attitude.
I originally thought that this was the main purpose of the facilitator proposal, with all of its ambiguities and uncertainties that give the leaders of the State Board freedom to choose the facilitator and ultimately attempt to manipulate the science content of the standards. It may still be. But I am now unsure since the State Board hired a professional facilitator to handle the English Language Arts and Reading standards. This individual gave a presentation at the November 15 meeting that explained how the role of a facilitator is someone who respects the efforts of the writing teams and expert reviewers, and strives to mainly improve the formatting, specificity, progression, and written clarity of standards, things which I agree could be improved by a professional facilitator who is knowledgeable about standards writing, which is, after all, not a usual task of most people, including teachers and professors.
Nevertheless, the dangers and ambiguities are still present in the TEKS revision and facilitator proposal. The proposal will not be acceptable until limits and safeguards are placed on the power of the facilitator to make changes that affect science content and damage the accuracy and reliability of scientific topics that have been damaged in the past by political manipulation. The specifications and role of a facilitator need to be carefully specified, especially to not be able to add or remove science content that science professionals and instructors agreed should be present in the standards. A facilitator has no stake in the accuracy and integrity of science content as do, for example, scientists, science teachers, and business leaders who companies depend on workers having accurate and reliable scientific knowledge. The wording of the proposal (below) and the RFQ to hire a science TEKS facilitator need to be carefully rewritten to prevent science content manipulation and censorship as has occurred in the past.
Proposed Process for Review and Revision of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)
12. Upon recommendation of staff, in conjunction with the Review Committee, the SBOE, with assistance from the TEA, would issue an RFQ to hire a professional facilitator/standards writing consultant to conduct a process by which subsequent TEKS content is written.The RFQ would undergo an approval process, similar to that conducted by the School Finance/Permanent School Fund committee for selection of consultants, by the Committee on Instruction and the Department of Curriculum prior to being issued.
•The purpose of the consultant is to assist the SBOE and the agency to implement a process for developing and writing the new TEKS, including but not limited to:
1. Engaging and incorporating, as appropriate, the SBOE Review Committee and its recommendations in the development and writing of the new TEKS;
2. Working with the SBOE to identify, engage and incorporate the know-how of content experts familiar with the research, other content standards already in existence and available documentation including standards crosswalks and gaps analyses in the development and writing of the new TEKS;
3. Soliciting input from other interested stakeholders, including the leadership organizations representing the education field, parents, community leaders and the business community;
4. Convening meetings as appropriate to ensure buy-in and support for the development and writing of the new TEKS; and
5. Writing the standards document for review and adoption by the SBOE.