Former state board member (and chairman) Don McLeroy contacted our office this morning to dispute the accuracy of information in this post. Specifically, Dr. McLeroy claims that the substitute English/language arts TEKS document given to board members only hours before the final vote was not – as we (and the Associated Press) maintained – a “new” document. Dr. McLeroy claims that it incorporated elements of earlier versions that the board had previously considered during the marathon two-year review process.
We appreciate Dr. McLeroy’s courtesy and concern for accuracy. However, even granting the argument that the board had at various times seen all the elements in the final standards document, we believe it is fair to characterize this last-minute substitute document as a “new” version – or even a “never-before-seen” version, as the AP article states. A 100+ page document that cobbles together bits from more than one source – even if the sources themselves had been reviewed earlier – is a substantially new set of standards.
And semantics aside, our larger point stands: forcing board members to vote on something this important after only a few hours of review is simply not a reasonable way to write curriculum standards. That’s precisely why we support Rep. Strama’s bill to require a modest amount of time for consideration before the board makes these once-a-decade curriculum decisions.
More than once this legislative session, the far-right supporters of the status quo at the Texas State Board of Education have argued that it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it. They usually say the SBOE process is top-notch and the envy of other states.
How soon we forget.
Let’s first go back to Tuesday night when the House Committee on Public Education heard testimony (including TFN’s own) on HB 3257 by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin. The legislation would require that any amendments to public school curriculum standards be made available for public review at least three business days prior to a vote. It also mandates that the final version of the complete standards be posted for at least 24 hours before the board votes on final adoption.
The legislation is designed to give the board a simple breather, and to allow time for experts and the public to make certain that any changes are accurate and adequately prepare students for college and the workforce.
Strama’s bill was left pending in committee.
Now let’s go back a little further, all the way back to May 2008, to review one particularly galling example of why Strama’s bill is a desperately needed — and simple — change to the broken SBOE.
In May 2008, the SBOE was nearing the end of the process of updating the curriculum standards for English/language arts that teachers and scholars spent more than 2 1/2 years writing. In the end all that work was for naught. Their work was swiftly thrown away, only an hour before a final vote to adopt the new standards.
That’s right, after going through the whole review process — a process than can take years — the board’s conservative bloc pulled an all-nighter and re-wrote the English/language standards, slipping new copies under the hotel room doors of the other board members barely an hour before the final vote in which, not surprisingly, the far-right conservatives prevailed.
Of course, no one had any real time to review the re-write, including the team of experts who spent lots of time and effort coming up with the new standards. And neither did the public. The best any of us got was “a quick run-through” of the new document lead by then board chair Don McLeroy in what was surely one of his stands against experts.
How bad was it? We’ll let Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, tell you:
“I find it’s really wild that we can work for three years on a project and then the board is so qualified they can pull it out of their hat overnight.”
Another other the board’s Republican members agreed — Bob Craig, R-Lubbock:
“I’m appalled by the process that we’ve taken part in. [There’s been] no opportunity to review it, no teacher group is involved, not even the [Texas Education Agency] staff was involved or had seen it.”
It didn’t get much better in 2009 and 2010 when the SBOE undertook revisions to science and social studies standards and made hundreds of amendments at the last moment before a final vote on adoption. Again, neither scholars nor the general public had a chance to speak out.
Does anyone really believe a rush job is the best way to make education policy? Neither do we.
We support Rep. Strama’s bill because we feel it’s not asking much of the board to post proposed changes to the curriculum standards a few days in advance, giving the experts and the public a chance to weigh in.
And it’s also not much to ask to be able to tell the board, “Hey, those changes you just made? Just sleep on it.”