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The Austin American-Statesman
March 18, 2011
Three powerful members of the Texas House of Representatives have added their voices to critics of the history and social studies curriculum guidelines adopted last year by the State Board of Education.
While the board majority might dismiss other critics, it will find it difficult to ignore Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie; Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands; and Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. Pitts chairs the House Appropriations Committee; Eissler chairs the Public Education Committee; and Geren chairs the House Administration Committee. They joined Democrats in urging the board to re-open discussion of the curriculum standards.
Noting a blistering critique of the Texas history and social studies curriculum standards by the Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank in Washington, Eissler told the San Antonio Express-News: "When groups like the Fordham Institute call our standards Ďa politicized distortion of history' and Ďan unwieldy tangle of social studies categories,' we have a problem."
Indeed, but it isn't a problem that came out of nowhere. Academics, members of the public and newspaper editorial boards all warned that the heavily politicized curriculum standards would damage the state's educational product. The members of the board waved away the criticism and adopted standards that Fordham researchers rated with a D.
The willingness of the three GOP chairmen to speak out is a clear message of dissatisfaction with the board's performance.
"These standards and the way they were developed just don't pass the common-sense test," Geren told the Express-News. "The law has a process laid out for how to write our state's curriculum, and they thumbed their nose at it and wrote standards themselves. ... "
Beyond that, it's a hint to the board that the money won't be there to buy textbooks that follow those flawed standards. The price tag for new social studies texts is $900 million. "It's not realistic," Pitts said.
So far, the board majority has tuned out disagreements, but Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, faces a rocky Senate confirmation. There are increasing doubts that she can win confirmation.
Should her confirmation be denied, Lowe would become the second SBOE chair to flunk the Senate. Gov. Rick Perry's choice of Don McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, was not confirmed. Perry then picked Lowe to lead the 15-member board, and she has made every effort to follow McLeroy over a cliff. Lowe presided over the messy, ideological approach that the board took to adopting curriculum standards.
McLeroy and two other incumbent board members lost GOP primary races ó a clear indication of voter dissatisfaction with the status quo.
So the board majority has heard from academics, the public, researchers and now leading legislators that it is moving in the wrong direction. To continue to ignore legitimate criticisms continues to put the state education product in peril.
This isn't about liberal versus conservative. This is about the difference between teaching history or politicized fiction to the Texas students.
The board should reconsider the standards. If it doesn't, the Senate should feel obliged to reject that nomination. Maybe then Perry finally will get the message the board continues to ignore.