Posts Tagged ‘SBOE’

SBOE takes final vote, science groups laud choice to pass over Intelligent Design

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by Mary Tuma 6 Comments

In what public interest and science organizations are declaring a “victory” for Texas education, the Board of Education voted Friday to accept new online supplemental materials for science classrooms, unanimously rejecting Intelligent Design/Creationist backed information from digital vendor International Databases, in a 8-0 vote.

The SBOE cast a similar preliminary vote at the Thursday meeting after hearing roughly four hours of testimony from pro-evolution and pro-creationist citizens, as the Texas Independent reported. The move is being seen as a hopeful sign the politicized voting process that long marred the board’s reputation is slowly waning as a result of new board membership.

Echoing a dispute at yesterday’s meeting, which featured four hours of testimony, board members continued to debate about errors found in the material, pointed out by a review panel for Holt McDougal publishers. Moderate Republican and Democratic and board members, including Michael Soto, questioned the validity of those errors on Thursday, especially as a creationist sits on the review panel. In the end, the SBOE left the decision up to TEA Commissioner Robert Scott, who will review the alleged mistakes.

“Pop the champagne corks,” began a celebratory statement from National Center for Science Education in response to the vote. “This is a huge victory for Texas students and teachers,” said Josh Rosenau, NCSE programs and policy director, who delivered testimony on Thursday.

Dr. Eugenie Scott, NCSE’s Executive Director also added, “These supplements reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus that evolution is the core of modern biology, and is a central and vital concept in any biology class. That these supplements were adopted unanimously reflects a long overdue change in the board. I commend the board for its refusal to politicize science education.”

The watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, which closely monitors the SBOE, characterized the vote as a signal the far-right grasp over the 15-body is loosening.

“Today we saw Texas kids and sound science finally win a vote on the State Board of Education. Now our public schools can focus on teaching their students fact-based science that will prepare them for college and a 21st-century economy,” said TFN President Kathy Miller in a release. “And our schoolchildren won’t be held hostage to bad decisions made by a politicized board that adopted flawed science curriculum standards two years ago.”

Texas SBOE split over proposal to create higher ed advisory board for curricula decisions

Posted on: April 15th, 2011 by Mary Tuma 1 Comment

Image by Matt MahurinIn the face of legislation supported by some state lawmakers, including Republicans, that would add academic oversight of Texas textbook curriculum, the State Board of Education’s conservative bloc steadfastly supports its current expert appointment process, a method critics say has been led by politics rather than public interest. (more…)

Bills would create teams of higher ed experts to weigh in on SBOE curricula

Posted on: April 13th, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

Earlier this year, just 48 hours before setting in place highly influential curriculum for the state’s public school students that will make a lasting impression in textbooks for close to decade, the Texas State Board of Education offered more than 100 new last-minute amendments – which critics generally characterized as ideologically motivated – without the approval or formal input from expert scholars or teachers and without hearing testimony from citizens. (more…)

SBOE Chair’s appointment in jeopardy; Perry stands by pick

Posted on: March 23rd, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

After a tumultuous two years, State Board of Education chair Gail Lowe’s leadership position hangs in the balance as disappointed Senate Democrats appear ready to block her confirmation.

Appointed by Perry in July 2009 and reappointed in February, chair Lowe was seen as a more moderate alternative to predecessor and vocal conservative Don McLeroy (R-Bryan), who was Perry’s first choice. (more…)

Lobbyist Ratliff cleared by Travis DA to serve on Texas Board of Education

Posted on: March 14th, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

The Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit has given the green light to active lobbyist Thomas Ratliff (R-Mount Pleasant) to serve on the State Board of Education, reported the Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle today. Briefs on the same matter from the Texas Attorney General are due April 8.

After an investigation that included conversations with the head of Texas Education Agency, the chief investment officer of the Permanent School Fund, legislators who chair public education committees in the House and Senate and SBOE member Ratliff himself, PIU found Ratliff’s full public disclosure of his clients and self-imposed recusal from votes and discussion about those clients absolved him of any conflict-of-interest violations.

“Based upon our review of this situation, it appears that Mr. Ratliff has fully informed his clients and fellow lobbyists of his service on the board. He has amended his client contracts to specifically state that he will not represent their interests at the SBOE. He has made a public announcement of who his clients are, and has recused himself from voting on the asset allocations that involve a client or clients […]Based upon all of the above facts, we have determined that it does not appear that any crime has been committed over which our office would have jurisdiction and venue,” according to the Travis County’s DA letter, which can be found on the San Antonio Express-News website.

During the first SBOE meeting this year, social conservative group the Texas Eagle Forum goaded an investigation into whether new board member Ratliff was legally able to serve on the SBOE, considering his lobbyist status. At the time, Eagle Forum president Pat Carlson and SBOE chair Gail Lowe agreed to submit a request to Attorney General Greg Abbott.

The AG received Lowe’s request for an opinion (.pdf) March 4. Briefs are due April 8, according to the AG.

In January, Ratliff told the Texas Independent he believes the inquiry is politically motivated, saying the Eagle Forum is, “not a fan” of him and his family, who are considered moderate Republicans. (Ratliff is the son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff.)

“I want them to ask me questions, I want them to investigate,” said Ratliff after the critical testimony was given. “If I have to drop a client to say on the board, I will. They aren’t getting rid of me that easy.”

How do you solve a problem like the SBOE?

Posted on: February 23rd, 2011 by Mary Tuma 1 Comment

From a reputable conservative think tank to a former U.S. Secretary of Education, disapproval of the State Board of Education has been intense in the past few years. While wide-ranging criticism of the SBOE persists, Texas lawmakers are proposing possible solutions – some minimal and others bold – to fix the beleaguered body. (more…)

Conservative education group gives Texas history standards a ‘D’

Posted on: February 16th, 2011 by Mary Tuma 1 Comment

A new report from a national conservative group calls for a ‘radical’ overhaul of U.S. history standards at K-12 public schools nationwide, and skewers the Texas State Board of Education’s controversial social studies curriculum as an example of “politicized distortion of history.”

Describing the majority of state’s standards as “mediocre to awful,” the study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute determined 28 states deserve a “D” or an “F” grade after content experts analyzed the standards. Texas received a “D”– the average score among states.

While the SBOE’s conservative bloc has relied on fellow right-wingers to justify its actions, this intensely critical study was commissioned by a conservative education research group staffed with former Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administration officials, a seemingly unlikely organization to lambaste the board.

“These bleak findings tell us what we already suspected – U.S. history standards across the land are alarmingly weak,” Fordham Institute President and former Reagan assistant education secretary Chester E. Finn Jr. said in a statement. “No wonder so many Americans know so little about our nation’s past. Yet this subject is essential to an educated citizenry.”

Texas’ standards were found to be declarative rather than explanatory and lacking coherence. The authors concluded the curriculum is a “confusing, unteachable hodgepodge.” Most disturbingly, the analysis reads, history is distorted throughout the document in the interest of politically conservative talking points.

According to the report:

“Texas combines a rigidly thematic and theory-based social studies structure with a politicized distortion of history. The result is both unwieldy and troubling, avoiding clear historical explanation while offering misrepresentations at every turn.”

The study highlighted a litany of SBOE-approved factual misrepresentations, including: the suppression and omission of slavery and segregation in the U.S.; grossly exaggerated religious influences; the distortion of historical events the board found “politically unacceptable;” made-up Biblical influences; the dismissal of the history behind the separation between church and state; uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system; the marginalization and omission of Native populations; the trivialization of Japanese American internment; and the disingenuous suggestion that McCarthyism was vindicated.

Additionally, students are explicitly urged to condemn federal entitlement programs, such as Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and to mistrust international treaties.

An excerpt from the study notes:

“Sectionalism and states’ rights are listed before slavery as causes of the Civil War, while the issue of slavery in the territories—the actual trigger for the sectional crisis—is never mentioned at all. During and after Reconstruction, there is no mention of the Black Codes, the Ku Klux Klan, or sharecropping; the term “Jim Crow” never appears. Incredibly, racial segregation is only mentioned in a passing reference to the 1948 integration of the armed forces.”

Historians Sheldon M. Stern and Jeremy A. Stern conducted the reviews, appraising content for their “clarity and specificity” as well as their “content and rigor.” Texas scored 2 out of 7 in “content and rigor,” and 1 out of 3 in the “clarity and specificity” benchmark, coming out with a total 3 out of 10 grade.

South Carolina was the only state to make a straight “A.” Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia each received an “A-.”

Last year, the SBOE’s Republican majority drew national headlines for ideological actions and was criticized by minority groups, scholars and parents who claimed the board was playing politics with the education of the state’s nearly 5 million public school children.

In December, the NAACP and LULAC called on the U.S. Department of Education and its civil rights division to review the new history curriculum, as the Texas Independent previously reported. The groups charged the curriculum is discriminatory against the state’s minority public school students and a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act.

Howard’s bill would strip SBOE of authority over $25 billion education fund

Posted on: February 11th, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) wants to remove the State Board of Education’s power over the $25 billion Permanent School Fund (PSF), the education reserve the board is constitutionally tasked to manage, and place it in the hands of an appointed body. The fund, now divided into various investment portfolios, goes toward materials for Texas public school students including textbooks and instructional materials. Howard’s House Joint Resolution 85 and House Bill 1140 together propose a constitutional amendment to form a seven-member ‘Permanent School Fund Management Council,’ which would takeover the SBOE’s financial responsibilities.

Under the legislation, four members would be appointed by the governor (one from a list prepared by the House speaker, another from a list written by the SBOE), and the remaining three members would be appointed by the lieutenant governor, the comptroller and the General Land Office commissioner. Members would serve staggered four-year terms and internally appoint a chief investment officer by majority vote. The Council could also create an audit and ethics standing committee to cull advice.

Notably, Council members would be required to have ‘substantial institutional investment expertise’ or ‘financial management experience,’ a stipulation the SBOE does not currently have. Of the newly formed five-member PSF committee, only one member­ – a self-employed businessman licensed in insurance and real estate sales– has any type of solid background in finance. Two SBOE members have backgrounds in education; one is a lawyer (with a bachelor’s degree in business) and one is a government consultant and lobbyist. The committee is not required to have any expertise in investing.

Managing the state’s second-largest fund has caused rifts within the SBOE, while conflict-of-interest controversies marred the board’s image in handling the massive fund. In 2008, the SBOE fired investment consultant R.V. Kuhns and opted for NEPC, a firm which fared lowest in rankings of the potential companies. Criticism mounted when board member and current PSF chair Pat Hardy (R-Weatherford) discovered the firm was embroiled in a Connecticut lawsuit, which alleged their connection with a Bernie Madoff-managed Ponzi scheme led to a loss of $41 million in pension funds, the Texas Tribune reported last year.

Skepticism intensified as allegations surfaced that former member Rick Agosto had prior business dealings with NEPC, which he vigorously championed during committee meetings. Meanwhile, Agosto was recently cleared of charges that he accepted thousand of dollars in gifts from a Boston-based management company.

But Hardy opposes the bill and points to the PSF’s nearly 19 percent rate of return as evidence that the board is doing a good job.

“I don’t know of too many funds that can boast that kind of return,” she said. “In other words, if it’s not broke, why would you want to fix it?”

As for lack of fiduciary expertise, Hardy is unconvinced a background in finance is necessary or even helpful.

“Plenty of people that serve on boards don’t necessarily have the greatest financial backgrounds. A matter of fact, there is less of a chance I would have a conflict of interest with our investments since I have no stake in this business,” she said.

Howard, a member of the House higher education committee, tried passing similar legislation last session. HJR 77 and HB 2037 secured the necessary 100 votes in the House but died in the Senate Education Committee.