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Marty Rowley

SBOE updates sex ed curriculum

All things considered, especially the past history of the State Board of Education and its shenanigans, this could have been worse. It’s not great, but the potential for disaster was monumentally high.

The Texas State Board of Education gave preliminary approval this week to a sex education policy that includes teaching middle schoolers about birth control beyond abstinence — its first attempt to revise that policy since 1997.

In jam-packed meetings held Wednesday through Friday, the 15-member Republican-dominated board came one step closer to revising minimum standards for what Texas students learn about health and sex. It is expected to take a final vote in November.

The board voted to teach seventh and eighth grade students to “analyze the effectiveness and the risks and failure rates … of barrier protection and other contraceptive methods in the prevention of STDs, STIs and pregnancy,” in addition to the importance of abstinence. Currently, learning about birth control methods beyond abstinence is only a requirement in high school, where health education is an optional course.

But the board rejected proposals to teach middle school students about the importance of consent or teach any students to define gender identity and sexual orientation.

[…]

Over the last several months, panels of educators and medical professionals formulated recommendations to overhaul the health and sex education policies.

Board members clashed on several edits to those recommendations, including whether to include explicit reference to sexual orientation and gender identity. On Thursday and Friday, Ruben Cortez, a Brownsville Democrat, unsuccessfully proposed teaching middle schoolers and high schoolers to define sexual orientation and gender identity. He said the proposals would help LGBTQ students, who studies show have a higher rate of suicide attempts in part due to discrimination.

“One of my children this summer came out to us and the fact that she had to bottle that in for years thinking that we wouldn’t accept her,” he said, getting choked up as he spoke. “It’s difficult to imagine what other students who don’t live in a tolerant house would go through if we don’t insert language like this to help our students.”

Most Republicans on the board opposed his proposal, saying they would rather not include it in the minimum standards schools are required to teach. Instead, they said, they would rather let local school districts vote to add LGBTQ issues to their own health education policies, since state law gives them that flexibility. Matt Robinson, from Friendswood, was the sole Republican who voted with Democrats to add the language Friday.

“I would like to see this left up to being a community decision,” said Pat Hardy, a Fort Worth Republican.

“I don’t think at the high school level we can afford to be cryptic with regards to our youth,” said Marisa Perez-Diaz, a Converse Democrat. “Identity exists. We need to talk about it regardless of one’s sensitivity and discomfort.”

Most Republicans also opposed Cortez’s proposals Thursday and Friday to teach middle and high school students to “explain the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Instead, they approved teaching students to prevent “all forms of bullying and cyberbullying such as emotional, physical, social and sexual.” Schools can choose to include bullying as a result of sexual orientation and gender identity in those lessons, Republicans said.

On Wednesday night, board members battled over whether to teach sixth graders the definition of consent as it relates to physical intimacy and to “explain why all physical contact should be consensual.” Republicans said consent was a legally murky concept and instead prioritized students learning to be able to say no to unwanted approaches.

“In my opinion, refusal skills, personal boundaries, personal privacy covers this area at this age,” said Marty Rowley, an Amarillo Republican. “Eleven and 12 is too young in my opinion.”

I’d argue that stuff needs to be discussed from the time the kid is in preschool. Which, in a good preschool, it often is. It’s basic bodily autonomy, as in no one has the right to touch you if you don’t want them to. I don’t think it gets all that more complicated when you’re talking about touch in an explicitly sexual context. I can understand why people may be uncomfortable with that, but that’s just too bad. This was a significant missed opportunity.

Same thing with sexual orientation and gender identity. Perhaps what some people fail to understand is that the kids themselves are a lot more comfortable with that subject than many adults are. And kids who are gay or trans or nonbinary generally know who they are by middle school. We can’t choose to not engage with them on the subject. It’s alienating and insulting to them. Leaving it up to the locals may sound like a reasonable compromise, except that we know some school districts are hostile to LGBTQ students, and could not be trusted to set this material themselves. Some minimum level of standard is needed, and the SBOE whiffed on it. Basically, what was needed in both of these cases was honest, factual information, which would benefit all of the students. This change will not provide it to them, and that is a significant failure on the SBOE’s part.

The good news is the baby step away from abstinence-only education, which is a travesty with harmful repercussions. It’s not enough, but any movement in that direction is welcome. If we can take advantage of the opportunity we have this fall to elect some better members to the SBOE, maybe we can take more steps in that direction, and get on the right track with these other matters. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.

Even the SBOE opposes vouchers and the bathroom bill

A rare bout of sanity.

The Texas State Board of Education is known for its conservative ideals, but a majority of its Republican members said Tuesday they oppose GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s demand that lawmakers pass a school voucher program and a bathroom law in next month’s special session.

Most of the education issues Abbott wants lawmakers to consider during their 30-day special session should be left to local school districts rather than dictated by the state, six Republican members of the board told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. The six board members all said vouchers were a bad idea. Two members said they supported the Legislature taking up the issues and two others were unavailable for comment.

“Overwhelmingly, each and every member of the board looks at public education in a light that says, ‘We’re doing everything we can to promote, protect and serve the interests to some extent of public education,'” said Marty Rowley, a Republican member from Amarillo who said he opposes school vouchers and contends school leaders can manage student bathrooms. “Everyone’s perception of what school vouchers do is it doesn’t serve public education in the best manner.”

[…]

The governor also wants the Legislature to pass a bill regulating which bathrooms transgender students should use in schools — another issue considered by Patrick as a top priority.

Board members said few, if any, of their constituents or school leaders have expressed concern over how to handle bathrooms, and said schools should continue to have the flexibility to made accommodations on their own.

“There are ways for districts to deal with that,” said David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont who votes with the board’s conservative faction. Studies have found fewer than 1 percent of Texans are transgender, and “the 1 percent does not drive policy making for the other 99 percent,” he said.

I mean, if even David Bradley thinks the bathroom bill is a waste of time, what more do you need to know? I literally can’t think of anything to add to this.

Publisher of crappy Mexican American Studies textbook defends said textbook

It’s not that crappy, she swears.

The publisher of a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook that scholars, elected officials and Hispanic activists have decried as racist and inaccurate is defending the high school text ahead of a public hearing on the book Tuesday before the Texas State Board of Education.

“There’s never been a book in the history of SBOE that’s been attacked so prematurely in the process,” said Cynthia Dunbar, a former right-wing Republican member of the education board who now heads the educational curriculum company that produced the textbook.

The text, titled Mexican American Heritage and published by Momentum Instruction, was the only submission the board received after it issued a call in 2015 for textbooks to be used in Mexican-American studies classes at the high school level. The powerful 15-member panel sets statewide curriculum and approves textbooks.

[…]

Dunbar, who had not previously responded to interview requests, told The Texas Tribune on Monday that criticisms have been overblown and that most of them are based on a draft copy that her company has since revised. Changes include corrections of at least a few factual errors — one identified by an SBOE-appointed review board — and other tweaks in response to public feedback. The passage that implied that Mexican-American laborers are lazy has been “clarified,” Dunbar said, while contending that critics took that particular bit out of context.

“It exposed a racial bias stereotyped against them,” she said, noting that the review board found that the book totally met state curriculum standards.

“The point is there’s no hidden agenda here,” she added.

See here and here for some background. It’s nice that Dunbar says the book has undergone revisions and fixed some errors since it first appeared, but Dunbar has a long history of saying and doing ugly things, so her credibility isn’t very high. I’ll wait to hear from someone more trustworthy before I believe there’s any merit to her publication. In the meantime, the advice of rejecting this book and (one hopes) getting other groups to write them remains sound. See this open letter from SBOE member Marisa Perez for more.

The good news is that there doesn’t appear to be any support for adopting this textbook.

Hundreds of Hispanic advocates, activists, students and elected officials from across the state on Tuesday called on the Texas Board of Education to reject a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook they blasted as blatantly racist and which many scholars have deemed historically inaccurate.

The 15-member education board took public input on the text during an hours-long public hearing at which some of the panel’s Republican members criticized the Legislature for diminishing the education board’s power to vet textbooks.

The panel will vote to accept or reject the text in November, when it will hold a second public hearing.

[…]

Ruben Cortez Jr., D-Brownsville, who was so concerned about the text that he convened an ad-hoc committee of scholars and educators to review it, said he believes a supermajority of his colleagues will vote to reject it. (A report his committee unveiled last week found that the text is littered with errors.) Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, described the text Tuesday as “dead on arrival” and board member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo, said he has “real concerns” about it.

Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, kicked off the public hearing with a heartfelt message dedicated to “Mexican-American colleagues, friends and neighbors,” assuring them that the board is committed to approving accurate instructional materials that adequately reflect their major role in U.S. society.

“Your story is part of the American story,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have their story told in a fair and accurate manner.”

Several Republican board members criticized Texas legislators on Tuesday for passing laws over the years that have diminished the panel’s authority to decide what textbooks local school districts use. And they warned that their weakened oversight could mean the proliferation of even more controversial instructional material.

They pointed specifically to legislation approved in 2011 that allowed school districts to choose textbooks that haven’t been approved by the board as long as they can show their instructional materials cover state curriculum standards. (Senate Bill 6, passed in the wake of a raucous, high-profile debate over social studies curriculum in which members of the board’s since-diminished social conservative block — including Dunbar — grabbed national headlines for their extreme comments.)

David Bradley, R-Beaumont, and other board members complained repeatedly Tuesday that the law allows for publishers to peddle problematic textbooks directly to school districts. He and former board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked Democratic Hispanic lawmakers who addressed the board if they’d be willing to reconsider those parameters.

Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, acknowledged that “legislation has a history of unintended consequences and this very well may be a case.”The Senate Education Committee is “looking at everything including this issue you’re bringing up,” state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who is a member of that panel, told the board.

But Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, said the purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was not to “re-litigate” old legislation but discuss whether the text should be allowed in Texas classrooms.

“Not only does this book not belong in the classroom, it doesn’t deserve the attention it’s getting now,” he said.

I agree, but at least all the attention has accomplished one thing, and that’s the real need for a much better textbook. Let’s hope the next time around we get more than one possible candidates for that.