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Patricia Hardy

HISD board votes for Mexican-American studies class

You would think this wouldn’t be a big deal.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

The Houston school board, representing the largest district in Texas, threw its support Thursday behind the creation of a Mexican-American studies course in Texas public schools.

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

“Unanimous is beautiful,” advocate Tony Diaz said after the decision.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board, argued the course was important given that Hispanic enrollment in the state’s public schools tops 51 percent.

She asked her fellow trustees and district officials whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in U.S. history. They struggled to name a fifth.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

In Austin [this] week, the State Board of Education plans to discuss developing new elective courses, including a Mexican-American history and culture class for high school students.

You can imagine what will happen when the SBOE gets involved.

On Wednesday, the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on developing state curriculum standards for new courses – including, controversially, a high-school elective class in Mexican-American history.

To proponents, the proposal seems to fill an obvious need. Fifty-one percent of Texas’ public-school students are Hispanic. And in the past, the state has created curriculum guidelines for a host of elective classes, including subjects such as floral arrangement, musical theater, landscape design and turf-grass management.

“If we can inspire a child by teaching about Mexican-Americans’ struggles and difficulties, why wouldn’t we do that?” asks Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, the state board member who proposed the course.

Opponents – likely in the majority on the Republican-dominated state board – answer that question in many ways.

Some argue that school districts don’t need an official state curriculum to offer the class, and say that the Texas Education Agency is too busy now creating guidelines for other classes required by House Bill 5’s sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, wrote via email. “Several districts in Texas already do.”

Other opponents of Cortez’s proposal believe it’s simply wrong to offer a state-endorsed ethnic-studies course. They say that it undercuts Texan and American identity.

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.

He noted that many HISD students speak Urdu: “Why not Indian-American Studies? That may sound silly. But I’m raising a serious point. In Texas public schools, we teach American history and Texas history. We don’t teach Irish-American history and Italian-American history.”

Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, said the state already includes a considerable amount of Mexican-American history in the curriculum. A former social-studies teacher, she argues that a Mexican-American studies class would do students a disservice if it displaces other social-studies offerings.

“World geography or world history would be more to a student’s advantage,” she says. “They need more global courses that are broader than Mexican-American.”

I mean, come on. Do we really need to explain why in Texas a more in depth examination of Mexican-American history might be a worthwhile addition to the curriculum? I might have had a bit more patience for the SBOE’s excuses here if it weren’t for the fact that they had previously voted to remove a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, as part of an overall effort to make the social studies curriculum more acceptable to the tender sensibilities of aggrieved right wing interests. It was bad enough that even conservative scholars and Republican legislators were critical of the changes. All this is doing is trying to undo some of that damage. Stace has more.

Who sets the standard for science?

I don’t get the fuss over this.

Many say students need to be science literate so they can innovate, compete and maneuver with the latest technology. If the United States wants to compete on the world stage, teachers and science lessons must evolve, too.

It’s largely with this agenda in mind that the National Research Council, states, educators and scientists are updating national standards in science instruction.

The Next Generation Science Standards involve identifying what all K-12 students must know in physics, life science, Earth/space science and engineering. It is a collaboration among the council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Achieve, an independent, bipartisan education reform organization based in Washington, D.C. Once completed, the standards will be ready for adoption by the states.

“We want to make sure our students are going to meet the demands of the 21st century,” said Stephen Pruitt, Achieve’s vice president for content, research and development.

Talk of national science standards, however, is stirring a debate in Texas, where members of the State Board of Education say they don’t plan to adopt them anytime soon, in part because the state recently overhauled its science standards.

State officials are also concerned that Texas, by agreeing to go along with the standards, would surrender too much control to outside sources, possibly the U.S. Education Department.

Board member Thomas Ratliff said an overhaul would “throw professional development and teachers and students in an absolute freefall.”

“I just can’t imagine there is any likelihood or chance that it could happen,” Ratliff said. “I think the further away from the children the standards are developed, the worse they are. They have to be all things to all people.”

[…]

State board member Patricia Hardy of Weatherford said it is too soon to overhaul science education again, noting that it would cost textbook companies and other providers of materials.

Texas last reviewed its science standards in 2009.The contentious process drew national attention, and the board eventually adopted science standards that encourage study of all sides of scientific theories.

“If we were to jump ship and go over to this other [set of standards], we would have wasted a lot of time and energy,” Hardy said. “When we push back against national standards, it is not really the elements that are in the science standard we are opposed to. It’s the idea that we prefer a state-run educational system.

“We want the state to be responsible for education. That isn’t to say that we can’t take ideas and consider them,” Hardy said. “We don’t want the federal government telling us how to run the schools. They can tell us this is being developed by outside sources, but I don’t … believe the Department of Education doesn’t have its thumb on this.”

I sort of understand Ratliff’s objection. He’s right that the broader an audience there is for a set of standards the harder it is to get everyone to buy into it and the more likely that it will be watered down or overloaded with parochial concerns. But honestly, what is there to be gained by having fifty individual science standards? Biology, chemistry, and physics don’t vary from state to state. The downside to letting everyone do their own thing is that it opens the door for various local yahoos (*cough* *cough* SBOE *cough* *cough*) to impose their own whacked out world view. I’m not going to say that one size fits all, but I definitely see value in an effort like the NGSS to create a standard that states can emulate. Science isn’t subjective – someone needs to say what’s right.

To their credit, neither Ratliff nor Hardy is ruling out using what the NGSS has to offer. Unfortunately, that may not happen any time soon, since the SBOE just finished wasting a bunch of time and insulting everyone’s intelligence with its current science curriculum. This is a good example of why it is best to get things right the first time. Water under the bridge now, but hopefully we’ll be better placed to do it correctly the next time. At least we’ll have something to go by when we do.

What kind of patriot are you, anyway?

The Contrarian reports on more SBOE follies.

A reader passed along a link to this Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel story that shows just how much some members of the State Board of Education are trying to slant social studies classes in Texas.

The newspaper reports:

‘Would you consider yourself a conservative when it comes to patriotism, the constitution, the heritage of our forefathers, etc?’

That was the last question that State Board of Education (SBOE) member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asked SFA’s Education Coordinator Rhonda Williams in an e-mail interview for a spot on the state’s world history curriculum writing committee last December.

Williams was nominated to sit on a writing panel that would help shape the state’s social studies curriculum for the next 10 years. She was hoping that she would be selected for the world history writing committee where she felt her expertise could be best utilized. The writing teams are usually made up of high school and college level educators who help to draft curriculum standards in their respective fields.

Now, a lot of people hold politically conservative views of the Constitution, and that’s perfectly fine.

But can someone explain to me how on Earth anyone could consider themselves conservative or liberal about “patriotism” and “the heritage of our forefathers”?

Clearly, he doesn’t think about these things the way that our SBOE does. You have to be an expert to truly understand the nuances of such a question. In case you’re curious, Ms. Williams apparently did not meet muster for sufficiently conservative patriotism. I guess her education in code words was lacking.

For what it’s worth, at least one member of the SBOE is insisting that we’ve got it all wrong about the social studies review.

There’s been some angst about reports that children biographies of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen F. Austin could be yanked from early grades in new social studies/history curriculum standards currently in the drafting stage.

State Board of Education member Patricia Hardy, R-Fort Worth emphatically says such is not the case.

[…]

“Those suggested biographies are still expected reading,” Hardy says. “To bring consistency to the formatting of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) it was decided to remover all reference of specific books from one section of the TEKS.”

Critics simply don’t understand, she says.

“Never did the teachers say that those bios were not to be taught,” Hardy says. “Only the listing in that particular section of the TEKS no longer lists specific books.”

If you say so. I’ll wait and see for myself. The SBOE doesn’t have a whole lot of credibility right now.