The Texas Senate Nominations Committee will consider the reappointment of Barbara Cargill to another term as State Board of Education chair on Monday. Cargill is the third evolution-denier in a row appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to chair the board. The tenure of her two most recent predecessors — culture warriors Don McLeroy and Gail Lowe — were so controversial that they failed to win Senate confirmation. In fact, the Senate hasn’t confirmed a Perry-appointed board chair since 2005.
Senators should ask some hard questions before they vote on Cargill’s confirmation this year. Here’s a few that are begging for answers:
First, Cargill said last week that she wants publishers to “soften” their language on evolution and teach “another side” to this foundational scientific concept. As we have already explained, scientists have repeatedly told board members that there is no valid scientific evidence contradicting evolution. The SBOE will consider new science textbooks for adoption this year. Will Cargill use her position as chair to pressure publishers into basing their new textbooks on her personal beliefs rather than real science when it comes to evolution and other topics? How will she ensure that what students learn in their public schools will be based on sound scholarship instead of the demands of culture warriors?
Second, Cargill has praised the science and social studies curriculum standards passed during her time on the SBOE. But independent organizations, including the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, have criticized those standards as seriously flawed, heavily politicized and crafted so poorly that they will fail to prepare high school graduates for college-level work. (See here, here and here.) Will Cargill continue to dismiss the criticisms of independent organizations about the quality of the curriculum standards she helped developed?
Third, SBOE members have been notorious for making last-minute changes to curriculum standards, throwing out the work of teachers, scholars and education specialists who have spent months (even years) writing those standards. Board members often have little opportunity to vet these last-minute changes before a final vote. Will Cargill move to end this practice (a practice in which she, herself, has often indulged)? Also, board members have treated the recommendations of teachers and scholars with contempt — even derisively calling them “educrats.” How will Cargill use her leadership on the board to foster respect for real expertise?
The Senate Nominations Committee includes six members. Call and encourage these senators to ask these and other important questions during Monday’s hearing on Cargill’s nomination. Click on each name for contact information.
Texans deserve answers to these and other important questions before confirming Barbara Cargill as chair of the State Board of Education for the next two years.
The Texas Freedom Network will monitor the committee hearing on Monday, and we plan to offer testimony about Cargill and the SBOE. If Cargill is not confirmed before the end of this legislative session, she must step down as chair. Gov. Perry would then appoint a replacement, who would be subject to confirmation the next time the Senate is in session.