The Experts Speak

Last week two Texas legislative committees on higher education took testimony on HB 3263 by state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, and SB 1348 by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio.

The bills would created higher education review teams, made up of highly-qualified scholars from Texas universities who would review curriculum changes and advise the Texas State Board of Education on the curriculum’s accuracy and make certain it is in line with accepted scholarship. It’s the kind of sensible measure that would ensure qualified individuals get a seat at the table when the SBOE makes revisions to what students learn in the classroom and will read about in textbooks.

As you recall, part of the reason why even conservative groups have given SBOE-amended curriculum standards such low marks is because the board has the ability to declare just about anybody an “expert” (see Barton, David).

At the hearings last week, the committee heard from a long list of real experts, and surprise! Scholars from a wide range of disciplines are strongly in favor of this common-sense legislation. Below are letters sent to the legislative committees by professors from some of the state’s top universities, along with a little bit about the individuals who wrote them.

For example, James Kracht is the associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University. Dr. Kracht also served on the SBOE-appointed review panel during the social studies adoption last year. He told the higher education committees the following:

Although a higher education review team would be only one part of the process of developing accurate, challenging, and respected standards for Texas learners, the team would represent an important addition to the process. Such a team could do much to eliminate the influence of the personal and political agendas of SBOE members and of “expert reviewers” who are not qualified in the subjects that they review. A higher education review team would ensure that standards are up-to-date, accurate, and free from personal and political bias. I ask for your support for HB 3263.

You can read Kracht’s full letter here.

There was also Keith Erekson, director of the Center for History Teaching & Learning at UT-El Paso. Dr. Erekson also runs the TEKSWatch website that tracked media coverage and analysis of the social studies revision process last year:

In April 2010, I co‐authored a petition that called on the state board of education (SBOE) to refrain from rushing its proposals into effect without submitting them to further review by qualified experts. The petition was signed by over 1,200 hundred historians and the sentiment was seconded by members of the Texas State Legislature, the editors of the Dallas Morning News and the Austin American‐Statesman, the Texas Library Association, and the Houston Independent School District. Because board members decided not to solicit expert advice during the last six months of the revision process, their final product missed the opportunity to better prepare our children to succeed in the twenty‐first century.

Erekson’s full letter can be found here.

The committees also received the following letters in support of the legislation:

  • A letter signed by David Hillis, an Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor at the University of Texas; Gerald Skoog, the Paul Whitfield Horn Professor and dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University; and Ronald Wetherington, anthropologist and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University. (These three professors all served on the SBOE-appointed review panel during the science standards adoption in 2008-09.)
  • A letter from Julio Noboa, assistant professor of social studies in the College of Education at UT-El Paso. (Dr. Noboa served on the original U.S. History TEKS writing team that prepared the initial draft of the standards that were later amended by the board.)
  • A letter from Mark Chancey, distinguished teaching professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University.
  • A letter from Judy Wallis, who took park in the SBOE English language arts and reading revision process as director of language arts.

This is just a sampling of the support for this legislation that can be found in Texas’ world-class colleges and universities. The other side has David Barton.

The legislation was left pending in committee. We’ll keep you posted.

A commenter on this post asked about the requirements to be appointed as an expert to a review team under this legislation. To be appointed, each team member must possess at least five years of higher education teaching experience in the subject under review, in addition to a terminal degree in the same field; or, alternatively, five years higher education teaching experience and a doctoral degree in education.

A public institution of higher education may nominate one qualified individual for each review team. Nominations would be submitted to the Commissioner of Higher Education, who would make appointments based on a blind scoring system.

3 thoughts on “The Experts Speak

  1. Theyz ones is all a goin ta hayul cuz theyz ones don’ts believes them thar rot things lock thuh rayest uv us. Weez ones won’ts summa that thar down hole traditional ejucashun fer our keeyuds—-sumpin reliable lock the ejucashun ah got me back in ma skool daze. Ms. Leo is a gonna see that that thar is whut happns —and there ain’t nothin you liberabits kin do about it. Ever one knows that them thar collage ivery tire intellheaduals has had their brains watched by commonists. Theyzone is a trying to brang Umericuh down whilst weez ones is a tryin to bringer up.

  2. Jose, what do the bills say about how the expert reviewers would be selected? Remember that SBOE members in recent memory have designated as “experts” people who agree with their (the SBOE members) biases but who would not be regarded as expert in the academic community.