Thoughts on Texas

Berlanga and Nuñez voted against the final TEKS, the other 13 voted to approve them. Texas has new science standards. Those standards are better than the old ones, but those old standards really did suck. As the Fordham Institute put it, giving the standards an F in 2005, “Thematic unities, so persuasively urged in the national guides, have an effect here opposite to that advertised. They produce breadth of assertion instead of depth of understanding. ? In the science discipline content here reviewed, Texas provides, by way of scant substance or careless writing or plain errors, something not really adequate. There is a remarkable contrast between overambitious expectations ? and the banal activities by which such capacity is represented”

So, when I say these are better, it’s not high praise. And these standards are deeply compromised at every level from the decent standards offered by the writing committees. Those committees had awful starting material, and did a lot to improve them, but the draft standards weren’t world-class to start with, and the compromise we saw today made them much worse.

Compromise isn’t an inherently evil thing. Politics is all about compromise, and I love politics. But board members sold out their students, compromising science education in Texas.

Rick Agosto started the day pretty well, but as the swing vote on the board, he wavered and ultimately failed us. We watched sausage being made yesterday, and in Texas, they make good sausage. Alas, I can’t stomach what the board assembled today.

The compromise on strengths and weaknesses was ambiguous in its merits at best. And this is far from the best. There’s nothing inherently evil about:

in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific experiments so as to encourage critical thinking by students.

But there’s nothing good about it, either. It opens up doors that don’t help kids and don’t help teachers. Combined with bad amendments added to the standards, we’re set up for an awful fight over textbooks in a few years. Those amendments add creationist rhetoric about “sudden appearance” and stasis in the fossil record, about the complexity of the cell, and about the origins of information in complex molecules. That’s the wedge, and creationists on the board will swing a mallet at them when textbook adoption comes up.

With luck, we’ll have a better board by then. Texas blogger Charles Kuffner writes, noting that Democratic member Agosto allied himself with the ultra-conservatives:

Remember the name Rick Agosto. The fight next year has to be in March as well.

March is when Texas holds primaries. Rick Agosto is likely to face an opponent then. Cynthia Dunbar, the anti-evolution, anti-public education, birther who represents parts of the Austin area is likely to face opposition, too. With both of them off the Board, life would be a lot easier for science teachers in Texas. Dunbar has an excuse, though: she’s a conservative Republican, and voted her beliefs. I don’t know why Agosto screwed his constituents and the children of Texas, though.

Comments

  1. #1 abb3w
    March 28, 2009

    Political Plug: one possible Dunbar Opponent

    Allegedly “is running as a Democrat, has the full support of the party, has her PhD in Educational psychology and psychometrics, and is not a creationist whackjob.”

    Sounds like an improvement.

  2. #2 Heraclides
    March 28, 2009

    Perhaps you might be able to explain this to me? I’ve asked on several blog articles on this topic, but no-one has replied.

    How is it that they are allowed to present amendment after amendment, even after their initial proposal has failed? It seems a very bizarre way to form policy/standards to me (at least how it has been described), seemingly designed to let bullies have as many “tries” as they like.

    Another issue that bothers me, is that surely a national curriculum based in large part on what the next level of education want would make more sense in so many ways. For on thing, how do universities cope with everyone starting from so many different school backgrounds, given each state seems to do there own thing. I guess some people would point to the GPA or whatever, but if there was a national curriculum wouldn’t there be no need for this?

  3. #3 Anton Mates
    March 30, 2009

    How is it that they are allowed to present amendment after amendment, even after their initial proposal has failed?

    They’re the Board of Education. They’re supposed to have a lot of time and latitude to hammer out education policy; in principle, that lets them fine-tune the best and most carefully-considered policies.

    Obviously that didn’t work out too well this time. Some Texas legislators are considering whether, in light of this, the Board’s powers and structure should be revised.

    Another issue that bothers me, is that surely a national curriculum based in large part on what the next level of education want would make more sense in so many ways.

    It might, but in the US it’s really not a political option. Most Americans are very supportive of local control over their schools–even state-level standards are too centralized for a lot of people. Heck, those creationist “academic freedom” bills are marketed as handing more content control down to individual teachers; even district-level administrators wouldn’t be permitted to interfere. That seems reasonable to a significant fraction of the populace.

    And, as a practical matter, there’s at least one argument against a national curriculum–what would it have looked like after eight years under the last administration?

    For on thing, how do universities cope with everyone starting from so many different school backgrounds, given each state seems to do there own thing.

    Universities are allowed to decide whether a given school’s classes satisfy its admission requirements. Of course, they’d have to do this for private schools even if there was a national curriculum for public schools.

    A couple of years ago, an association of Christian schools sued the University of California for not accepting several courses (which taught creationism and “Biblical history,” among other things) as college prep material. The university won.

    And remember that different colleges want different things. I’m not just talking about their academic focus or specialities; I’m talking about “Bible colleges” like Liberty U. They have no interest in supporting a national curriculum teaching good science.