Live Blogging the McLeroy Hearing

by TFN

The Senate Nominations Committee is considering Don McLeroy’s appointment as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. Gov. Rick Perry appointed McLeroy as chairman in July 2007, after the last legislative session. The Senate now has the chance to confirm or reject McLeroy’s appointment.

4:55 – Dr. McLeroy, a Bryan dentist, is now before the Senate Nominations Committee. The committee will ask him questions about his role as Texas State Board of Education chairman and then take testimony from others wanting to speak out his appointment.

5:01 – Dr. McLeroy is defending the state board’s role in the curriculum and textbook adoption process. The Legislature is considering a slew of bills — including Senate Bill 2275 — that would strip the board of that authority. Dr. McLeroy argues that the state board has ensured that Texas has better curriculum standards.

5:05 – “We have much better textbooks because of the process of going through the State Board of Education.” Really, Dr. McLeroy? Will we have better science textbooks if they teach junk science because you reject evolution and want publishers to do the same?

5:07 – Dr. McLeroy calls the science curriculum revision “phenomenal” and praises the “compromise” standards adopted.

5:16 – Dr. McLeroy is crowing about the state board’s rejection of a mathematics textbook in 2007. The board, in fact, violated state law in rejecting the textbook. The law requires the board to approve textbooks that meet curriculum standards, are free of factual errors and meet manufacturing standards. The textbook met all of those, but the McLeroy majority rejected it without giving a reason. Dr. McLeroy later said the vote “set a precedent” for how the board could pressure publishers on other textbooks.

5:31 – Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, is now asking Dr. McLeroy questions. “Is it your mission on this board to take all students in the state of Texas down the path of your religious beliefs?”

5:33 – McLeroy: My purpose has never been religious indoctrination.

5:34 – Sen. Shapleigh asks about a previous statement by McLeroy that only “orthodox” Christians — like him — on the state board had opposed biology textbooks that didn’t challenge evolution.

5:34 – McLeroy: I also complimented other board members as fine Christians. He’s missing the point of the question: if McLeroy’s opposition to evolution in science classrooms has nothing to do with religion, then why would he say only “orthodox” Christians oppose biology textbooks that challenge evolution?

5:36 – Sen. Shapleigh asks about McLeroy’s beliefs about evolution. McLeroy acknowledges that is is his personal belief that Earth is only 6,000 years old.

5:37 -McLeroy says almost everyone in his church rejects evolution and supports creationism. He describes himself as a young Earth creationist. He says he tells reporters that he wants to be up front and honest about his beliefs. “I think it’s a pretty rational view.”

5:39 – Sen. Shapleigh: Educators and experts worked for months to revise the science curriculum. “You decided to ignore those experts and pushed for changes in those documents that scientists said were entirely unscientific.” He asks why McLeroy did so.

5:40 – Dr. McLeroy says board rules didn’t allow further testimony from science experts. That’s very misleading. Dr. McLeroy has asked board members in the past to allow testimony at any time.

5:41 – Sen. Shapleigh: What about your statements that scientific consensus means nothing? That someone needs to challenge experts?

5:42 – McLeroy suggests that consensus is overrated — it takes only one fact to overturn something: “People come to a consensus and then seem to hold on to it.”

5:43 – Sen. Shapleigh: Why did you reject the opinions and advice from the country’s science organizations — which collectively included Nobel laureates.

5:44 – McLeroy: I looked at the scientific evidence. He says evidence in the fossil record argues against the concept of common ancestry. “I quoted from scientists!”

5:45 – McLeroy: “I think what we’re doing is destroying America’s soul in science.” He’s talking about why evolution should be challenged in science classrooms.

5:46 – Sen. Shapleigh: The state’s best scientists say McLeroy is promoting religion, not science. What do you tell them?

5:47 – Dr. McLeroy: “I have to say there was nothing religious about” my amendments during the debate over new science standards.

5:48 – Sen. Shapleigh: Goes after McLeroy’s statement last year language arts students don’t need to be learning books with “a bunch of crazy Chinese words in them.” He asks what that says about his cultural sensitivity.

5:49 – McLeroy says he’s embarrassed that he said it and that it came across the wrong way.

5:50 – Obviously, Sen. Shapleigh has McLeroy very much on the defensive. Thank goodness someone is finally holding Dr. McLeroy accountable for his own statements.

5:51 – Sen. Shapleigh: “You’ve created a hornets’ nest like I’ve never seen before” over the state board.

5:52 – McLeroy: We have to stand up to the education establishment to make sure our children learn. I’m glad if that means I have to stir up a hornets’ nest.

5:54 – McLeroy: “I don’t see any way I’m imposing my religious views in anything I’ve done on the State Board of Education.”

5:55 – Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, is now asking questions. He says the appearance is that he is pursuing a narrow personal agenda and not listening to expert and scientific opinion.

5:57 – McLeroy: He rejects the suggestion that evolution is the foundation for studying all the biological sciences. “Genetics is the foundation. . . for studying biology. . . . Genetics is good solid science.”

6:00 – Sen. Watson: “Do you at least perceive that your role as chair of the State Board of Education has created controversy and questions about the role you’re playing in the education of our children?” “Do you at least get that you’re a point of significant controversy in the state of Texas?”

6:02 – Sen. Watson asks about McLeroy’s endorsement of Sowing Atheism, a book that characterizes clergy as morons if they believe faith and science aren’t in conflict and argues that parents who want to teach their children about evolution are monsters.

6:03 – McLeroy: I didn’t say that stuff. “I didn’t recommend it (the book) for that. I wish I hadn’t recommended it.”

6:05 – Sen. Watson’s sharp and incisive questions are clearly frustrating McLeroy.

6:08 – Sen. Watson: I want people making education decisions who are experts, not just people pushing a point of view. He criticizes McLeroy for refusing to allow science experts to speak to the full board when he was offering anti-evolution amendments to the science standards.

6:10 – Sen. Watson asks about the state board’s rejection of the mathematics textbook in 2007 and whether the board violated state law by rejecting a textbook that met all requirements established by statute. He wants to know why McLeroy refused to allow board members to put their objections to that decision in the official minutes.

6:12 – McLeroy: The Texas Education Agency attorney was in attendance and would have let us know if we were violating state law. “We followed state law.”

6:15 – Sen. Watson now moves into the language arts curriculum revision, which was in progress when McLeroy became board chairman. He asks McLeroy about how he interfered with that process, disrupting the work of teachers and education specialists. (See a TFN press release from that time.) The board ultimately threw out their work and adopted a curriculum McLeroy’s board allies patched together the night before the final vote. In fact, that revised document was slipped under hotel room doors of some board members just an hour before the final meeting.

6:21 – McLeroy disputes that a few board members reworked the final draft the night before the vote. Wow. That is a blatant falsehood. That’s precisely what happened — and it was reported extensively in the press. McLeroy: “Two board members took major sections out of the other document being proposed and put it in the document that” we were going to pass. He just contradicted himself. Good grief.

6:26 – Sen. Watson: Looking back, would you change anything that’s put you in the middle of the hornets’ nest?

6:26 – McLeroy suggests that’s the nature of the job.

6:27 – Sen. Watson: Newspapers across the country are writing in a negative light about what you’re doing at the state board.

6:28 – McLeroy: The social studies curriculum revision (currently in progress) is potentially even more divisive than what has happened at the state board up to now.

6:30 – Sen. Watson: The people of Texas have a right to believe that their elected officials are acting in the best interests of their children and their education. Many people believe that’s not the case with the state board.

6:37 – Questions for McLeroy have ended. Now the committee is hearing testimony from others. First up is Dr. Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Wetherington served on the state board’s panel of “expert reviewers” for the science standards revision. He objects to McLeroy’s attempts to promote challenges to mainstream science because his religious beliefs are in opposition to evolution: “It is an embarrassment to have such a partisan religious bias, fundamentally anti-scientific, promoted by an appointed chair of the SBOE, and I urge you not to confirm this appointment.”

6:48 – Sen. Shapleigh says he will move to oppose McLeroy’s Senate confirmation.

6:57 – Prof. Arturo De Lozanne, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, is now testifying against McLeroy’s confirmation. He strongly rejects McLeroy’s contention that understanding evolution isn’t important to the study of the biological sciences. He is walking the committee through an example about the important of understanding evolution when studying causes and cures of disease.

7:06 – TFN President Kathy Miller speaks against McLeroy’s confirmation. “Nearly every meeting meeting of the SBOE since Dr. McLeroy became acting chair has disintegrated into controversy and hurt the reputation of our state regarding the manner in which education policy has been made.” Kathy is followed by Laura Ewing, a longtime social studies educator who challenged SBOE member David Bradley in the 2008 election. Laura joins in opposition to McLeroy’s confirmation.

7:25 – As testimony winds down, we have released the following statement from TFN President Kathy Miller:

We believe it’s time for the Senate to take an important step toward ending the culture wars that are bogging down the important business of the state board. Under McLeroy’s chairmanship, the board has put politics ahead of the education of our kids and made the state a national laughingstock. There’s been too much chaos, controversy and craziness. Our kids deserve much better.
7:27 SBOE Member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, is a last-minute addition to the testimony list. Nothing new here – he’s trotting out the same stuff he’s been peddling at the state board for the last year: without “weaknesses” in the science standards, students won’t be able to raise their hands in the classroom and ask a question…”I thought we were still living in the United States of America.” Blah, blah, blah. But since only the chair of the Nominations Committee is still here, we’re not sure whom Mercer is trying to convince.
7:35 Heee-eere’s Johny! Jonathan Saenz of Focus on the Family is up now. Isn’t “thou shalt not bear false witness” one of the Ten commandments? Jonathan needs to read his Bible a little more closely. He claims that TFN opposed the Bible bill (HB 1287) at the legislature. Wrong! TFN opposed the original version of the bill that would have forced every high school in the state to have a Bible course, but we supported the changes made to the bill in the House Public Education committee. One more time for the record, Jonathan – TFN does not oppose public school Bible courses; just Bible courses that favor one faith over everyone else’s!
7:40 That’s it. The committee is adjourned with Sen. McLeroy’s nomination pending. Looks like the Senate is headed for a showdown over Chairman McLeroy. Stay tuned to TFN Insider as the situation unfolds.