State Board of Education

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

The State Board of Education approved new textbooks for the state’s 5 million public school students last week, but some University professors have challenged passages in the textbooks that claim Judeo-Christian traditions influenced the nation’s founding.

The board approved 89 educational materials that will be used by Texas public school students for the next 10 years, starting next fall. The final 10-5 vote followed months of public debate over the factual accuracy of the textbooks.

At a board meeting Tuesday, Jennifer Graber, religious studies associate professor, presented a petition to major textbook publishers signed by 53 history, political science and religious studies scholars from across the nation, including six University professors. The petition stated the social studies textbooks proposed for state approval “exaggerate and even invent claims about the influence of Moses and ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’” in the creation of the Constitution.

“These and similar passages mislead students about the nature of the religious influences on our founding and directly contradict scholarly consensus in our fields,” the petition said.

Classics professor Joseph Carter signed the petition to protest the representation of the Founding Fathers in the textbooks.

“One of the things the Founding Fathers stood for very firmly was the separation of church and state,” Carter said. “The members of the school boards are trying to put the church into public education where it does not belong.”

According to state law, textbook publishers must meet state curriculum standards for state approval, including one that requires textbooks to “identify major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding, including Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law).”

In response to the petition, textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education issued a response, stating its books were “factually accurate” and “supported by a substantial body of scholarship.”

“We acknowledge that this topic in American constitutional history is not without controversy and disagreement, and that the evidence in some cases is textual and inferential, but as there is an established scholarly basis for the text’s statements, and TEKS 1B requires educational materials to cover it, MHE believes the text should include this brief summary statement,” McGraw-Hill Education said in a statement.

Roy White, chairman of the nonprofit Truth in Texas Textbooks, said he supported an open debate about the textbooks’ content but disagreed with the petition’s critique.

“Many of the Founding Fathers very clearly identify their relationship with God and believing in that higher power,” White said. “People may disagree with that but disagreeing with the facts doesn’t deny those facts.”

Texas Board of Education members listen to speakers giving their opinions regarding the controversial addition of supplemental science materials into the Texas education system in 2011.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

Correction: An earlier version of this column misstated that Nizam Al-Mulk was depicted in a textbook as the leading terrorist of his age, where it should have read that his killer, one of Hasan Al-Sabah's followers, was depicted in the textbook as one of the leading terrorists of his age. We have made the change below.   

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, the Texas Board of Education heard testimony from a number of educators who voiced objection to a proposed set of history textbooks. Over the summer, a number of history graduate students from UT participated in a review of these textbooks and found them severely lacking in many areas. Below, we have printed the thoughts of one of those reviewers; to view the opposing viewpoint of one of our columnists, click here. This is part of our weekly Point/Counterpoint series.  

Nizam Al-Mulk was born in 1018 CE, in a small village near the Persian city of Tus.. Under the Seljuk empire he rose to a position of immense power. As vizier and the empire’s de facto ruler, Al-Mulk organized fiefdoms, built a multiethnic army, and pushed the Seljuk’s sphere of influence all the way to the Mediterranean. In between, he found time to write a celebrated treatise on government and to found schools of great learning. He was a Sunni statesman, one of the most effective in world history, until he was killed in 1092, possibly by the Ismail sect of Hasan al-Sabah, the “Hashshashin,” from whose name he we get ‘assassins.’ In other words, his life and death was emphatically one of the eleventh century, and spoke to the issues of his day.

But that’s not the impression Texas high school students will get if the State Board of Education (SBOE) recommends a world history textbook submitted by one respected educational publishing company. Instead, they might learn—as I did, when I reviewed the teacher’s edition in June—that Nizam Al-Mulk was “probably” killed by one of al-Sabah’s followers, “the leading terrorist of his age.” 

My jaw dropped. This wasn’t just an error of emphasis — it was just plain wrong, a politicized, ahistorical regression through time of a concept, ‘terrorism,’ that responsible historians trace back to the late 18th century at the earliest.

Nor was it an isolated mistake. This week the SBOE held public hearings on a raft of history, geography and government textbooks submitted by publishers to meet the social studies curriculum standards approved in 2010. Those standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, have been highly controversial, characterized by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute as a “politicized distortion of history” filled with “misrepresentations at every turn.” These misrepresentations were caused by the ideologues that controlled the SBOE in 2010, which passed an additional resolution warning publishers not to submit textbooks “biased” in favor of Islam.

The publishers got the message and then some. This summer the Texas Freedom Network coordinated a team of Texas historians and doctoral candidates in history at UT Austin, like myself, to review 43 of the books under submission. We found that, in attempting to comply with Texas’ biased, jumbled standards, publishers have submitted texts that will leave our students confused and wrongheaded about history.

Some of those notions are unsurprising to those of us who followed the SBOE’s debate over creationism and high school science textbooks. The U.S. history and government textbooks under review, for example, proved particularly susceptible to the TEKS that exaggerate Judeo-Christian influence on America’s founding and diminish the well-established constitutional concept of the separation of church and state.

Other texts imply that the so-called ‘culture war’ can be settled by including non-Eurasian actors but not their history. For every seven chapters that the publisher of the same world history textbook gave Europe and Asia, Africa and Latin America got two, which were then peppered with generalizations and errors as absurd as that of al-Mulk: the Incas, who governed a highly-organized empire of agriculturalists and artisans, were apparently a “welfare state.”

Calling them one, though, reflects the publishers’ failure to challenge the TEKS’ anti-tax, anti-regulation, free enterprise agenda. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that textbooks portray one of world history’s central lessons: that in the 18th and 19th centuries, expansions in democratic ideals and free labor in Europe and America were linked to the expansion of un-free labor and colonialism elsewhere in the world. Students should also learn how the U.S. government has historically regulated the economy and protected the rights of workers. They should not learn that an expansion of trade in serf-filled Medieval Europe meant that a “spirit of free enterprise reigned.”

Fortunately, it’s not too late for Texas and America’s other states, whose textbook options are deeply affected by the buying power of our educational system. It behooves Texans who care about the past, told accurately and well, to follow the SBOE’s public hearings and to sign the TFN’s call for accurate textbooks and improved TEKS for Texas students. Our history, and their future, hang in the balance.

Heaney is a Harrington Doctoral Fellow in the Department of History.

In an ongoing effort to reshape high school curriculum in Texas, the State Board of Education has voted to eliminate algebra II as a graduation requirement starting next year. Instead, Texas high schools will offer algebra II along with two alternative courses: statistics and algebraic reasoning. These two courses will be designed and implemented at the district level, with help from the Texas Education Agency

The restructuring comes as a result of new specialized diploma paths in areas such as science and technology or business, according to the Texas Tribune. The paths will determine which math course each individual student needs to graduate. The Austin American-Statesman reported that these new requirements will replace the “4x4 graduation” plan, which the state set in place only five years ago. That plan required students to take courses in English, science, history and math during each of their four years of high school.

The new graduation requirements open the door for students to have a greater say in the courses they take in high school and are meant to better prepare them for certain career paths before they have even applied for college. The plan, however, is lacking key components necessary for a successful launch. Algebra II is just one example of how the effort to revamp the system overlooks real long-term benefits for students.

As a requirement, algebra II held students to a certain standard of problem solving and foundational math skills that would be expected in more advanced courses, including calculus. Algebra II may not have been the perfect course, but it was one that all Texas students entering college had under their belt. Those skills were taught across the board and up to the state’s standards, although between districts and among teachers there was bound to be variation in the course material. Now, with the increased variety of equivalent courses, students entering college in Texas will likely struggle to keep up.

The new alternatives also assume that high school students choosing a diploma path outside of science and technology will never need the skills taught in algebra II and will never change their mind about their prospective career paths in the future.

“Algebra II, which establishes the foundation for quantitative reasoning, is increasingly necessary for most career choices today,” said mathematics professor William Beckner. “Students would have to make up the material from algebra II before they took even the most introductory class in mathematics at any university or college of recognized quality. Not only math, but they wouldn’t be able to take intro classes in astronomy, chemistry, computer science, economics, physics and statistics — or be admitted to programs in business or engineering.”

Beckner said that high school courses should be focused on giving students insight into how mathematics is used across disciplines, instead of dismissing its use in those fields that are not directly centered on math skills.

But does that mean algebra II is the only appropriate course to prepare students for college-level math courses? Curriculum and instruction professor Walter Stroup thinks other courses can likely stand in for algebra II as long as the rigor is preserved and the skills it imparts are not sacrificed. Stroup that said the course itself serves mainly as a precursor to calculus and that other, broader math courses may better prepare students for college statistical courses offered throughout UT. We agree that other courses specially designed for non-math students will likely prepare them adequately, but we still must raise our concern at the lack of central oversight of the courses’ syllabi. 

By allowing school districts to write their own syllabi, the Board of Education has made it more difficult to analyze student success, according to education consultant Cynthia Schneider, who works with Texas school districts. The set of standards used now will not be applicable across the board and the experimental curriculum will confound meaningful inter-district comparisons.

Regardless of whether students plan to pursue a career in math or science, the skills taught in a course like algebra II will serve them well into their careers and shouldn’t be discounted as mere high-school drudgery. That goes for everyone involved: students, teachers, administrators and board members alike. The state should be focusing on what mathematics skills students can learn to apply outside of the classroom as well as incorporating them into a new set of standards for our math courses — for all students. When we can turn those needs into a course and those courses into a degree plan the state will be on the right track and so will its students.

Horns Down: ZBT replaces lewd mural with... another lewd mural

On Friday, the Daily Texan reported that the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, commonly known as ZBT, painted over lewd murals depicting women performing sex acts on members of the military after recognizing, according to the national chapter, that the murals were a “poor decision.” On Monday, this newspaper reported that ZBT had made another poor decision: painting over said murals with only slightly less lewd depictions of women in sexual positions. The new murals, for example, “included a woman clothed in a bra and jeans bending over with an armed gunman firing a missile toward the woman to the words “REP ANAL.”” Another charming pictograph scrawled on the walls of the party’s set pieces included the words “Chinese Whore House.” 

ZBT’s decision to “remedy” the situation by adding a bra to a bent-over woman in a blatantly sexualized position is absurd. It’s no wonder the murals’ offensiveness is lost on the brothers of Zeta Beta, who can’t seem to understand that the explicit sexuality of the murals isn’t the problem — it’s the explicit misogyny and disrespect of the military that has everyone up in arms.

Horns Up: New committee to ensure judicial impartiality

Last Thursday, a group of concerned citizens met to hash out the possibilities for reforming judicial selections in Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The conversation, which was dominated by talk of concerns with the current judicial selection system, will continue over the next year as a special legislative committee tackles the question of how to best select judges in Texas. 

Texas is one of the few states that require its judiciary representatives to run in general elections. As a result, concerns of the judiciary being sold to the highest campaign donor are perpetual. And judges often worry about the implications of asking for campaign money from wealthy donors they may later meet in court. 

While the problem of judicial corruption has taken a backseat in Texas, this might not be the case if the political landscape in Texas shifts to that of a more two-party state. The judicial branch of the government, both historically and theoretically, has been the one of great integrity and even greater impartiality. We must be confident that our judges can make decisions based on the facts of the cases in front of them, rather than on who the prosecuting counsel is or whose business is at stake. We’re glad the legislature will start to brainstorm ideas on how to keep the integrity of the system intact.

Horns Down: More revisionism from the State Board of Education

On Thursday, members of the Texas State Board of Education singled out a Pearson Education biology textbook, questioning the book’s assertions on natural selection and the theory of evolution. The board voted to have three of its members pick outside experts to scrutinize the book, despite the fact that the book in question is already being used in more than half of U.S. classrooms. While a 2011 state law gives school districts the authority to choose their own books, most adhere to the recommended list suggested by the Texas Education Board. In addition, Texas is so large a state that the textbooks selected by Texas are often also the ones marketed nationally. We think the comments of the board’s vice chairman, Republican Thomas Ratliff, sum up our views on the issue: “I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes. … To ask me — a business degree major from Texas Tech University — to distinguish whether the earth cooled 4 billion years ago or 4.2 billion years ago for purposes of approving a textbook at 10:15 on a Thursday night is laughable.” 

Colleagues, on the other side of the debate, shot back that they “weren’t laughing.”

Horns Down: Why we should keep Ted Cruz out of U.S.—Iran negotiations

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz openly criticized the deal struck between President Barack Obama and the Iranian government, in which Iran agreed to halt its development of nuclear weapons in exchange for relief of $6 to $7 billion in economic sanctions for the next six months. The deal, which is the first diplomatic accord between the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, could be a major step toward a larger, more comprehensive agreement still to come, and it is at least a temporary reprieve from the escalating tensions in the region.

But Cruz argued that the deal didn’t go far enough in our favor: “According to the interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program that was reached this weekend in Geneva, not one centrifuge will be destroyed. Not one pound of enriched uranium will leave Iran. Not one American unjustly detained in Iran’s notorious prisons will be released. But Iran will start to receive, in a matter of days, $7 billion in relief from international economics sanctions. … The administration has gotten it backwards, and it is time to reverse course before any further damage is done.”

All the facts Cruz cites are correct, but he ignores the key point that Iran has frozen its capability to enrich uranium to the level needed for nuclear weapons, which is the greatest diplomatic success on this issue in decades. Moreover, it is clear that in foreign policy, as well as domestic governance, Cruz doesn’t understand what a compromise is. Instead, his unrealistic foreign policy goals bring to mind President Harry Truman’s naive and ill-fated 1945 assertion that, although he couldn’t expect to get 100 percent of what he wanted in negotiations with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, he did expect to get 85 percent. With hubris like his, we’re glad the person leading American negotiations with hostile foreign governments is anybody but Cruz.


Some politicians just don’t know when to let things die. That much was made clear Tuesday at a meeting of the State Board of Education. The meeting was called to discuss seven high school biology textbooks that will be voted on in November for possible use beginning next year. The textbooks have been criticized by socially conservative reviewers who believe they lack adequate coverage of alternative theories, including creationism and intelligent design. At the meeting, former Board of Education Chairman and well-known creationist Don McLeroy advocated the adoption of the textbooks on the assumption that the alleged flaws in the evidence would win students over to his evolution-doubting side.

McLeroy’s new approach is a pleasant departure from his old, paternalistic ways. In 2009, McLeroy, at that point still the chairman of the board, managed to insert into the state science curriculum language that required teachers to point out aspects of the fossil record that undermine the theory of evolution, despite the fact that these aspects of the fossil record are largely seen as immaterial objections to the theory.

While McLeroy may have changed his rhetoric, he remains steadfast in his misguided beliefs about evolution.  And he’s not an isolated case. Although McLeroy was defeated in a 2010 primary and the social conservatives no longer hold a majority on the board, a recent poll by YouGov, an Internet-based market research firm, found that just 21 percent of Americans believe human beings evolved without divine intervention, up slightly from 14 percent in 2004. Americans are more evenly divided on the issue of what to teach in schools, but the creationists still come out ahead, with 40 percent of those surveyed supporting the teaching of creationism and intelligent design.

This raises an important question. Why is public opinion on this issue changing so slowly (a cynic might compare it to the rate of biological evolution) when other perennial debates have made much more dramatic progress in the same nine-year period? Take gay marriage, for instance. Today, according to Princeton Survey Research Associates, 55 percent of the American public is in favor of equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, while in 2004, 61 percent of respondents opposed gay marriage, with 38 percent identifying themselves as strongly opposed.

Because Americans don’t seem to be quite so flexible on the issue of evolution, we oddly find ourselves agreeing with McLeroy. While textbook publishers can edit their products before the November vote, we hope the board tosses aside any submissions that present the “alternative theories” as equally valid. We also hope — and are confident — that McLeroy’s reasoning will backfire.

Blanca Murillo picks up a piece of cake made by the students of Texas Freedom Network to celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday Thursday night. The organization brings students together for the purpose of educating them on issues surrounding science education.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

While advocates from both the scientific and religious communities are debating whether or not the State Board of Education should decide if Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution will be taught in Texas public schools, some University students celebrated the theorist’s birthday.

The University’s chapter of the Texas Freedom Network hosted a celebration Thursday in honor of the 19th century scientist Darwin’s birthday. The group brings students together with the goal of mobilizing them as advocates of issues surrounding science education, said Mackenzie Massey, government senior and president of the chapter. Its main objective is to help students compete in a global market with countries that teach evolution in their curriculum, Massey said.

Massey said the goal of Thursday’s celebration was to educate students about the irresponsible efforts of the public school system to simplify their teachings about evolution and to highlight that the debate over evolution is still an issue.

“We want to ensure that students get a 21st century science education that prepares them for college and the jobs of the future,” Massey said.

She said next year the State Board of Education will adopt new science textbooks for public schools and that evolution may not be taught if the board decides to only include intelligent design.

“We want for the decision to be made by experts and educators,” Massey said. “A lot of the time politics play into the decision because the board are elected partisan members.”

Julian Villarreal, Middle Eastern studies and sociology freshman, attended the event hoping to understand more about the debate around evolution being taught in schools.

“I want to understand the various factors like politics, religion and science that influence the teaching of evolution,” Villarreal said.

Ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student Patrick Stinson said Darwin’s theory of natural selection offers a plausible explanation for the appearance of design in evolution.

“Before Darwin, most philosophers did not have a compelling explanation for the appearance of design except for actual design by an omnipotent force such as the Christian God,” Stinson said.

Biology freshman Cassandra Rodriguez, who was raised Catholic, said her religious perspective has influenced her to stand against Darwin’s theory, and said she does not agree with evolution.

“I haven’t seen any evolutionary theories to convince me to believe in it,” Rodriguez said. “Opportunities to learn more about evolution are not readily available.”

Rodriguez said she thinks if the theory is taught in schools, it should not be taught to grades younger than high school, as she feels high school students are old enough to make their own decisions about what they believe.

Darwin’s theories are regarded as very perceptive, thorough and well thought out and are an excellent starting point for any person who needs to understand evolution, said ecology, evolution and behavior graduate student April Wright.

“As an evolutionary biologist I am often in awe of his writing and how his ideas have stood the test of time,” Wright said.

Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Students discuss evolution dispute, celebrate Darwin

An evaluation by UT-El Paso professor Keith Erekson published earlier this month affirmed that the standards adopted by the State Board of Education in their highly contentious battle last year are insufficient in preparing the state’s K-12 students for college.

The high profile conflict was subject to national scrutiny and was consistently attacked for its hyper-political treatment of historical curriculum. During their questionable overhaul, it seems state board members cared substantially more about politicizing education than improving college readiness.

The situation for Texas college students has reached a critical point. According to Erekson, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are prepared by the board as the standard for use in public schools, “fall far short of reaching college preparation standards.”

The report outlines that 40 percent of college students in the state require remedial classes. At public universities, this translates to a yearly $80 million taxpayer-footed bill ­­­­—­­ an outrageous waste of college students’ time and the state’s precious resources. The Board’s negligence of students’ needs became alarming, Erekson notes, when its members “tacitly adopted a bipartisan agreement to ignore principles of sound pedagogy.”

Nationwide, organizations of every composition and political orientation derided the board’s revised TEKS standards as a mockery of educational curriculum. A report by the conservative Fordham Institute slammed Texas social studies standards with a “D” rating, calling them “rigidly thematic and theory-based” with a clear political distortion of
historical facts.

The insufficient standards fail high school graduates who aspire to a college education. The TEKS curriculum is conspicuously distant from the College and Career Readiness Standards, an effort by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that aims to prepare K-12 students for the rigor of college work. Instead, the board adopted a policy of intractable ignorance, perpetuating a set of standards that relies on one-sided analysis and rote memorization. This policy of disregard was even acknowledged by the state board’s own members.

Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, board chairwoman at the time, said she had not followed up on whether the college readiness standards had been incorporated, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The ratified standards corroborate this willful negligence. Less than 5 percent of changes made to the standards were created to improve college readiness. The remaining 95 percent, so it seems, were based on the now-famous politicization of history with an obsessive focus on creationism, American exceptionalism and free-market capitalism.

The horrible irony of the debacle is that the board undertook the task of improving the standards under the pretense of improving college readiness. Neither of those stated goals seem to have succeeded.

The blame lies with the absurdly political nature of electing members of the state board. Hyper-partisan and frequently dirty, state board elections often select unqualified members, chosen solely for the “R” or “D” next to their name on the ballot. For example, much-maligned former member Don McLeroy, R-College Station — who served on the board for more than a decade — is a dentist.

Due to recent redistricting, all state board members are up for reelection in 2012. The race is already shaping up to be highly contentious and, unsurprisingly, highly political. McLeroy’s replacement, Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has proven himself as a voice of reason on the board. However, Ratliff’s moderation led a fellow board member to declare he would be “actively working” against him, according to The Texas Tribune. Another moderate board member, George Clayton, R-Richardson, is facing a veritable cyber-war in recent weeks that accuse him of homosexuality in an attempt to diminish his conservative credentials.

The solution is simple but unpopular among board members. In the last legislative session, State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, proposed converting state board races from ideologue-based partisan elections into non-partisan ones. Board members cried foul, saying that constituents often vote for them on a straight-ticket basis. Howard’s proposal, though based in sound principle, has been repeatedly struck down in the Legislature, protecting the hyper-political nature of the State Board.

McLeroy explained his opposition of the bill by saying that “partisan elections connect you with new friends with which you share the same ideology.” This rationale for rejecting non-partisan elections is rank with odious principles that run counter to the objective nature of education. The positions board members take on curriculum development should have nothing to do with party affiliation and certainly should not reflect the undemocratic concept of patronage reflected in McLeroy’s statements.

The politicization of K-12 education does not stop once students graduate high school. The effects of these policies create lasting damage for the state, which ends up paying for remedial courses, and for college students, who are forced to play catch-up. In the battle over public education, Texas needs to ensure its own standards don’t leave college
students behind.

Katsounas is a finance and government sophomore.

The State Board of Education unanimously voted on July 22 to approve supplemental school materials that upheld evolution in the middle school curriculum. To the dismay of creationists, the board rejected materials detailing so-called “alternatives to evolution” for public schools. Texas schoolchildren are now guaranteed a sound science curriculum for the rest of this decade.

The board, dominated by conservative Republicans and many evangelical Christians opposed to evolution, has been no stranger to controversy. It made national headlines early last year when it approved changes to the social studies, history and economics curricula that emphasized conservative political philosophies. Some of those changes included referring to the U.S. government as a “constitutional republic” in lieu of “democratic republic” and mandating the word “capitalism” in economics textbooks be changed to the more euphonious “free-enterprise system”.

Since Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks and curriculum materials nationwide, national publishers often base their books’ content on the state’s standards. This gives the board disproportionate influence on education systems outside our state’s borders. And since the board’s decisions remain in effect for 10 years, any curriculum revisions would have a long-lasting effect.

It was thus particularly disquieting when the board in 2009 called on schools to examine “all sides” of evolution, a subtle nod to the theory’s opponents. Unlike the partisan-driven changes to social science and economics last year, any changes implying doubt toward the validity of evolution would have undermined the field of natural sciences itself.

Evolution is the cornerstone of biology and its associated subfields in the natural sciences. It lends credence to botany’s remarkable developments in high-yield crops, spurring the Green Revolution and coloring modern debates on Monsanto’s bioengineered crops. It is interlaced with microbiology research, as our understanding on pathogenic evolution leads us to develop newer and stronger antibiotics. Barring evolution, no plausible scientific theory could account for the diversity of life forms.

This year, the board was asked to vote on a series of supplemental middle school materials casting doubt on evolution. Among the proposals was a set of materials submitted by International Databases, a New Mexico-based company, which claimed that life on earth came from “intelligent causes” and that evolution remained unproven. Additionally, the board’s new chairwoman is Barbara Cargill, an ultraconservative opponent of evolution and, ironically, a former biology teacher. Cargill has repeatedly emphasized that students should understand the “weaknesses” of evolution.

Public hearings on the issue were predictably contentious. Science teachers, professors and scientific advocacy groups urged the board to reject changes mandating they teach non-scientific theories alongside evolution. Creationists saw the vote as their best shot at introducing their critiques of evolution into a public school system. But a contentious knock-down drag-out fight between the board members failed to materialize, as they unanimously rejected materials criticizing evolution.

The board also approved mainstream science materials by publisher Holt McDougal that firmly upheld the validity of evolution. These materials will be given to students since the state could not afford to buy new textbooks this year due to budget cuts in education. Sadly, students will continue to use science textbooks that are several years old.

Certainly, many of the more religiously and politically conservative board members would not have hesitated to insert an anti-evolution line into our curriculum if given the opportunity. But because of a new majority of moderate Republicans on the board, who would likely have vetoed any changes and caused embarrassment to the hard-line members, the status quo on science education in Texas remains.

The creationist lobby has tried to portray evolution advocates as ideologically inflexible and unwilling to allow rational criticism whatsoever. But the alternative they bring to the table is simply not science. Creationism may be a compelling philosophy, but it utterly fails to provide an empirical framework in which theories of the natural world may be proven or disproven.

Creationists also claim to stake middle ground by stating that students should learn “both sides” in science classes. But this claim is astoundingly disingenuous since creationism is simply not science. Creationism (or its fraudulent euphemism, intelligent design) imparts no discoveries, no broader understanding of the natural world through tested means. It remains an untested and untestable attempt to demean evolution.

Woodrow Wilson once wrote, “Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”

That date was in 1922. Nearly 89 years later, Texas risked substantial embarrassment for trying to undermine one of science’s finest theories without any rational basis. The board made the right decision in preserving the substantiality of science education in our state.

Quazi is a nursing graduate student.

Gov. Rick Perry reopened an old front in the war on education in Texas last Friday. Just days after the end of the special legislative session and on the brink of a busy holiday weekend, the governor’s office announced the appointment of Barbara Cargill to the position of chair of the State Board of Education.

Cargill, a current board member from The Woodlands, was a reliable conservative vote during the board’s social studies curriculum revision just more than a year ago. Among other issues, she supported de-emphasizing the role of Hispanics in early Texas history and the role of minority groups in American history more generally.

She also voted for a resolution decrying an alleged “Islamic bias” in several history textbooks, and she led an effort to remove a requirement that the role of gender and social constructs be taught in sociology courses. The veteran science educator has also supported reintroducing a “strengths and weaknesses” component in classroom discussions of evolution.

Cargill is a staunch social conservative, and her voting record indicates that she is ready to impose her views on the children of Texas irrespective of their basis in fact. Omitting the roles of minority groups in Texas and American history ignores aspects of those histories critical to understanding the present. In a state where Hispanics will soon comprise the majority of the population, their culture’s important role in its founding should be emphasized.

Rejecting the study of gender and social roles because it “allows students to go into the world of transvestites, transexuals and God-knows-what else,” as Cargill said, according to The Texas Tribune, is narrow-minded and offensive. In a nation where women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts in a vast array of jobs and where non-heterosexuals face painfully routine discrimination, promoting understanding and tolerance should receive special attention.

And injecting nonscientific theology into biology lessons reeks of an ideological crusade. In a nation where, according to a 2010 Gallup Poll, fully 78 percent of people do not “believe” in evolution, one of biology’s most fundamental principles, undermining it further by touting its imagined weaknesses imperils our future scientific prowess.

Cargill is a culture warrior in every sense of the term. But setting belief above fact does little to promote college readiness or prepare students for the modern workforce.

In appointing Cargill, Perry seems to be sending a number of signals. The timing of her appointment is telling. A group of Senate Democrats had stalled Perry’s previous choice for chair, Gail Lowe, since mid-March. Shortly after the legislative session ended, Perry appointed an arguably more conservative chair. Because the Legislature is no longer meeting, Cargill will not face scrutiny until at least 2013. Already being called one of the most powerful governors in Texas history, Perry’s move here can easily be read as yet another power play.

Second, Perry no doubt has his national image in mind. As rumors continue to swirl around his campaign for the presidency, this move can be seen as an attempt to further solidify his conservative credentials and bolster his perceived ideological purity.

In short, Cargill’s appointment is yet another piece of evidence that Perry is willing to sacrifice responsible governance on the altar of his public image. It is remarkably unfortunate that his political posturing continues to come at the expense of public education.

The end of the legislative session left Texas schools significantly underfunded. In the name of adherence to conservative principles, even the proposal of Rep. Donna Howard, D-Round Rock, that any Rainy Day Fund revenue raised in excess of current projections be used to make up the public school funding shortfall was rejected. Perry was one of the most vocal opponents of her amendment.

The end of the session also left higher education wanting. The lack of state financial support has prompted the ongoing debate about the “efficiency” of our universities. Their future intellectual and administrative independence remains seriously questionable. Again, Perry has been one of their most vociferous critics.

Signaling a willingness to support another ideological Board of Education represents an attack on education from yet another angle. And it risks another embarrassing round of national media condemnation.

But more importantly, allowing political ideology to color education requirements is not compatible with freedom of thought or with intellectual honesty. Texas is a large state with a rapidly growing number of students. Successfully educating future Texans, both as workers and as responsible, free-thinking citizens requires that fact, not belief, and certainly not wishful thinking, be the determinant of our state’s curriculum.

A functioning republic requires that its citizens be educated responsibly. The state and the governor should take their crucial roles in ensuring that this happens very seriously. As voting citizens, we should, too. Perhaps a little grandstanding is acceptable when railing against overly intrusive airport security procedures, but education is far too important to be made into a political plaything.

On the lege

Two Texas education agencies may merge to ease the transition from high schools to universities if a proposed bill passes this legislative session.

Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, proposed the bill to incorporate the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board into the Texas Education Agency, which would assume the coordinating board’s responsibilities, said Austin McCarty, Brown’s legislative director. The bill could also transfer the functions of the State Board of Education to the TEA.

“[It] is about getting our students prepared to make that jump from the 12th to 13th grades, which is an issue,” McCarty said. “There is a very high number of students going from seniors in high school to being a freshman in college and requiring developmental education courses, formerly known as remedial classes.”

The number of students who are in need of developmental education courses when they graduate from high school, which is up to about 40 percent, is unacceptable, McCarty said.

“There’s a little quote that [the board members] always like to use about ‘closing the gap,’” McCarty said. “Well, the biggest gap is the communication gap between the TEA that handles K-12 and the higher education board that covers 13 through 16.”

The TEA focuses on the inner workings of education for K-12 students by managing the textbook adoption process, overseeing the development of statewide curriculum and administering the statewide assessment program. TEA declined to comment due to pending legislation.

The higher education board looks at the performance of Texas universities and colleges and helps to establish curriculum and development. They also assist in higher education planning, the effective delivery of higher education and the administration of university-specific programs — including establishment of degree and research programs — according to the board’s website.

“We’re trying to get everybody to basically sit down and work on developing the curriculum that’s going to be better preparing our students for that transition,” McCarty said. “On top of that, you’re spending basically two budgets on two different state agencies, and the result just isn’t there at the moment.”

If the bill passes, the higher education board would also create an electronic system for keeping track of student records and academic progress.

The bill could also create a Texas State Board for Career and Technology Education, which would assume responsibility for state level administration of technical vocational education programs in public community colleges, public technical institutes and other eligible public postsecondary institutions in Texas.

Abolishing the higher education board and the SBOE would result in less community involvement in the education process, said SBOE chair Gail Lowe.

“It will create less transparency in the decision-making process since all SBOE meetings are open to the public,” Lowe said.