Mixed Signals from the Texas State Board of Education

We saw signs at today’s State Board of Education meeting that the pendulum might finally be swinging back toward the center on the body that decides what 5 million students learn in Texas public schools. If borne out in coming months, those signs are encouraging for the adoption of science and social studies textbooks over the next two years. But we also saw a red flag that could signal another “culture war” battle ahead.

Perhaps the clearest sign that the board’s creationist faction is weaker after the 2010 and 2012 elections is that board members rejected the nomination of Ken “Dog-Cat” Mercer, R-San Antonio, as vice chair. Mercer got just six of the board’s 15 votes. The board then elected Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, as vice chair. Ratliff defeated arch-creationist Don McLeroy in the 2010 Republican primary and has emerged as a leader of the board’s moderates. We’ve already seen one anguished email blasted out on the Intertubes by a religious-right activist upset over Mercer’s defeat. (Board members elected Democrat Mavis Knight of Dallas as secretary, giving moderates a 2-1 edge on the executive committee.)

In addition, board members voted unanimously to require that amendments to proposed curriculum standards be filed, in most cases, by 5 p.m. the day before the board takes a final vote on those standards. Efforts to pass a similar requirement failed twice in the past two years. This new rule could limit a tactic some board members have used in the past to undermine the work of curriculum writing teams made up of teachers and scholars. During highly controversial debates over curriculum standards in recent years — especially on language arts, science and social studies — board members have offered amendments up to just minutes before the final vote. Board colleagues had no time to vet those last-minute amendments with teachers, scholars and other experts. Not surprisingly, those amendments have caused much mischief, inserting attacks on evolution and promoting other personal and political views in standards that will be in place for a generation of Texas students.

The new rule won’t necessarily stop the board from adopting such nonsense in future debates over curriculum standards. But outside scholars and other experts will at least have the opportunity to advise board members before a vote is taken. That’s a step in the right direction.

We noted at least one red flag today that shows the state board is still sensitive to right-wing scare fantasies that slither out of the fever swamps. A number of board members expressed concerns about CSCOPE, the curriculum management tool that right-wing activists have been screaming about for months. Even the fringe-right website WorldNetDaily (a breeding ground for “birther” and other absurd Obama conspiracies) has helped stir the anti-CSCOPE pot.

Anti-CSCOPE activists claim the program, which was developed through a collaboration of state Education Service Centers, is a secretive curriculum filled with “humanistic,” Marxist and pro-Islamic propaganda. Many examples they provide — when they bother to offer specific examples — have appeared to us as bizarre, out-of-context distortions that twist the meaning and thrust of CSCOPE lessons. A State Board of Education committee heard testimony from the public about CSCOPE last November, with many board members doing a pretty good job of separating legitimate concerns (such as transparency) from the fever-swamp fantasies. But the far right’s attacks on CSCOPE popped up again at today’s state board meeting, with several members noting concerns they have heard from constituents. This manufactured controversy is also being fueled by a public hearing scheduled by the Texas Senate Education Committee on Thursday. We hope the newly seated state board members won’t allow themselves to become engulfed in yet another divisive and unnecessary “culture war” battle. But it’s clear that some activists are determined to have one.

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5 Comments

  1. M L Stice
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Oh doodlebugger — I laughed so wonderfully this morning. Thank you.

  2. doodlebugger
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    The religious right is so very vocal and their views are represented more than their numbers dictate at SBOE. I am however, quite sorry to hear that “Cat-Rat” Mercer got slammed.(Its not Dog-Cat TFN, as his quote was
    “Have you ever seen a cat rat” is an incredibly coherent statement by a scientists and thinker of the first order.
    Ken is undoubtedly, one of the most highly edumacated and deeply intellectual creationists left at SBOE(with the possible exception of the highly learned and pleasant David Bradley, the doggie Supply Officer with asteroids. Its too bad Ken and David “I ain’t no kin to no monkey” Bradley still haven’t gotten as much press as they have so dutifully earned. Its also a shame San Antonio/Beaumont voters haven’t thought more about just what a deeply intelligent and thoughtful pair they are. This intelligence and respect for logic and reason is why Ken and Dave can ignore that most mainstream Christian denominations denounce creationism and support evolution(NCSE website,church statements), that the Supreme and Federal Courts have ruled that it is not science and that all credible science and education organizations in the US denounce creationism.
    They have been sitting at home in the ole wing chair reading some good Dishonesty Institute gibberish the past few months.
    In Ken and David’s support, we also need to remmber that since they have research and data disproving evolution (and by inference ALL of the other sciences like geology,paleontology,physics and astronomy),and that this data can be used to offer up a credible scientific alternative theory to all of the laws and theories those scinces have established, they should be encouraged to write their work down, submit it to an accreditted science journal, and collect their Nobel Prize.
    They could title the paper ” The Mercer/Bradley algorithm redefining the scientific method, all laws and theories and substituting oogity-boogity in science”.
    Marvel comics is certain to publish such a learned and deeply intellectual research paper by these astonishingly bright guys .I’m happy to hear that Ken and David
    are still such standouts. In the end they are doing Western Civilization a favor by describing their ideas in science. Ken ! You already know this but “you don’t need laws to teach critical thinking in science. Thats what science is. You need laws to teach creationism however. So lets see some more history and scince rewrites in that good old revisionary style of yours! Your work is so fantastically entertaining and you are so very well thought of by those capable of logical thought. Thank you for your honorable service Ken and David. Its truly inspiring as a Lutheran to see you guys using your religious perspectives to support the incredibly valuable creationsim viewpoint and all that it has done for man.
    No one knew before you began your work that magic is why elctricity works, that the earth is actually flat after all, and that earth scince can be broken down into a series of miraculous events. Its good not to have to think anymore:)
    An appreciative nbserver and admirer guys! :)

  3. breckenridge
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The Texas School Board documentary aired here last night. My impressions…Don McLeroy is a happy-go-lucky fool….Terri Leo has the IQ of turnip….Cynthia Dunbar is a truly nasty piece of work who repeatedly tells blatant lies and then insists she’s not lying.

    There were a number of offensive things in the program. The most offensive was the inclusion of John Calvin as a political thinker. Calvin was a backwards, exclusionary pile of garbage. I was also offended when “Jesus our Savior” was mentioned during the prayer to start the meeting. We Unitarians simply don’t cotton to the savior stuff.

  4. abb3w
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Which board members indicated CSCOPE was an object of concern?

  5. Posted January 30, 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Not good enough. Mock these fools into the ground. Make their business backers known and embarrassed to appear in public to openly support these fools. The bigger and more powerful an ego is, the easier to shame and make it cower.

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