Texas history standards get poor review from university researcher in state-funded report

Posted on: November 7th, 2011 by Mary Tuma 3 Comments

Following censure earlier this year from the national conservative research group the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Texas State Board of Education’s hotly debated social studies curriculum is now facing a new round of disapproval from officials on another state board.

In a report on high school graduates’ college readiness in the state, a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Social Studies Faculty Collaborative cautions that the board’s controversial history standards are “ineffective,” “fail to meet the state’s college readiness standards” and “ignore the principles of sound pedagogy.” Read the full report below.

Update: In a statement the THECB says the report was “erroneously attributed” to the boar as a whole, when in fact it was the sole work of the study’s author, University of Texas-El Paso faculty member Keith Erekson:

The report was not requested, reviewed or approved by the THECB or its staff. The faculty collaborative is funded by the THECB, however the agency does not have ownership for the work product rerived from the collaborative. Products developed by the collaborative do not reflect opinions, analysis, or conclusions of the agency or its board.

The study, released this month, is titled “Bridging the Gap Between K-12 and College Readiness Standards in Texas: Recommendations for U.S. History,” and takes aim not only at the SBOE’s social studies curriculum, but the questionable process by which the board conceived and voted on the standards.

“(M)idway through the process the board of education abandoned its committees (composed of practicing educators) and its expert reviewers (some of whom were trained historians and college professors). Over the course of eight months, the lawyers and realtors and dentist on the board made hundreds of changes to the standards. As the politicians squabbled over the politics of who should be in or out, they tacitly adopted a bi-partisan agreement to ignore principles of sound pedagogy.”

The report includes suggestions to help teachers offset the flawed curriculum, including direct challenges to some information in the state’s history standards. The groups say the standards amount to “a widespread pattern of neglect of college readiness skills,” citing several instances of this misinformation.

The report specifically cites “states’ rights” being listed as a cause of the U.S. Civil War, even though Texans “did not talk about states’ rights,” at the time. Report authors ask, “Why would modern members of the State Board of Education cite a reason that historical Texans did not” in their “Declaration of Causes” for secession?” It also notes at least one section of the curriculum is plagiarized from Wikipedia.

Reviewers also question omissions like the exclusion of Native Americans until late in the standards. “Native Americans have not been mentioned in the standards until now. Where have they been all along?” Another question asks, “Why do the TEKS identify only one of the four million freed African Americans?” during the Reconstruction era.

“No student will succeed in college or the workplace if he confuses writings with speeches, conducts a one-sided analysis, or simply spits back a string of memorized information,” the groups warn. “No Texas parent would desire this for her child and no profit-minded Texas business leader would hire a graduate who had attained only these abysmal standards.”

The Texas Freedom Network, a nonpartisan public education and religious liberties watchdog that monitors the SBOE, pinned responsibility for the standards’ poor review on ideologically driven appointments by Gov. Rick Perry.

“Our state’s elected leaders, from Gov. Perry on down, would have to be deaf not to hear the clanging alarm bells,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “It should be impossible to deny now that members of the State Board of Education are sacrificing the education of Texas kids on the altar of their own personal and political beliefs.

“Yet for three years in a row Gov. Perry has appointed rigid political ideologues to chair the state board, and legislators have refused to pass any bills reforming the curriculum revision process.”

The Fordham study gave the SBOE history standards a “D” grade, and called the curriculum a “politicized distortion of history.” Texas’ history standards produced an “unwieldy and troubling” hodgepodge of misinformation, the authors wrote, and avoided “clear historical explanation while offering misrepresentations at every turn.”

Bridging the Gap report

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