New Texas Board of Education raises bar for defining ‘expert’
During its first series of meetings, the freshly elected Texas Board of Education redefined what it means to be an “expert” – but not without a fight from the board’s smaller social conservative bloc. Expert reviewers aid the SBOE and Texas Education Agency in recommending curriculum standards and work with input from specially selected review committees, composed of educators, business leaders and parents.
The SBOE spent more than two hours amending and refining the requirements attached to the nomination of individuals tasked with reviewing the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
Previously, experts were only required to be nominated by at least two board members, and did not need to meet any specific education requirements to oversee standards for the state’s nearly 5 million public school students. The lax requirements opened up controversy about some of the SBOE-nominated reviewer’s qualifications as bona fide experts.
The appointments of David Barton of Wall Builders, chosen by Gail Lowe (R-Lampasas) and Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio), and the late Rev. Peter Marshall, appointed by Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) and former member Cynthia Dunbar (R-Richmond), ignited criticism over the legitimacy of the religious figures hand-selected to lead history standard revisions.
“Two members on a handshake and voila they are an expert? We can do better than that, I am not going to get surgery from someone with a degree in engineering […] I can’t believe we would set the threshold that low,” said newly elected member Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) of the recently amended rules.
In a final 12-3 vote, the board passed a resolution to ensure the seven experts must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college, must have demonstrated his/her expertise in the subject area in which they are being appointed and must have either taught or worked in the field they are being appointed to review. Board members Ratliff, Mary Helen Berlanga (D-Corpus Christi) and Mavis Knight (D-Dallas) voted against the stipulations they saw as too relaxed.
“We should not be patting ourselves on the back. We are failing our students and schools by saying someone that meets these qualifications is an expert,” said Ratliff, who called the requirements a “farce.”
Ratliff proposed a failed amendment requiring experts to either have a master’s degree and 10 years’ experience in the field of study, a doctoral degree and five years’ experience or 15 years of verifiable experience in the relevant field of study and be approved by a majority of vote of the entire board.
Initially, the requirements did not stipulate the bachelor’s degree requirement, provoking a series of confusing possibilities pointed out by members, like Berlanga, who questioned credentials.
“Are they an expert if their expertise is a hobby? Or if they are a speaker at conferences on the subject? It sounds like they could have degree in anything and be called an expert,” she asked. “How can we hold an expert reviewer to a lower standard to a certified teacher?”
In the eyes of newly elected member Michael Soto (D-San Antonio), though the final decision was a proactive first step, not requiring the bachelor’s degree to come from the area of expertise was disappointing.
“I would have loved to have held the experts to higher standards, but I understand in a democracy you don’t always get what you want,” said Soto, who advocated to mandate that experts possess a terminal degree in their area of study. “Though the change we adopted was small, it was in the right direction.”
Republican Marsha Farney, also a freshman board member, similarly described the move as “better than nothing.” Farney said she followed through with the request of the school districts in the Georgetown area she represents, who pleaded that she ensure expert reviewers have some sort of credentials.
The board also shot down a proposed amendment that would help prevent last-minute revisions and changes to curriculum standards, that would have required amendments to be submitted at least 24 hours before a vote is taken.
On Thursday, at the prodding of social conservative group Texas Eagle Forum president Pat Carlson, SBOE chair Lowe agreed to submit a request to Attorney General Greg Abbott about whether new board member Ratliff was legally able to serve on the SBOE, since he is employed as a lobbyist. No objections were brought during Ratliff’s election campaign. Ratliff says he is eligible because he does not lobby TEA. (via the Dallas Morning News’ Trail Blazers blog)