The swirling force of Texas politics

Legislature Pressures Ed. Board to Change Curriculum

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Texas State Board of Education is under increasing bipartisan pressure from the Legislature to take another crack at its new and much-debated social studies curriculum standards.

    State House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts of Waxahachie, House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler of The Woodlands and House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren of Fort Worth-- all Republicans -- have criticized the new standards, the San Antonio Express-News reported on its website Tuesday.

    Beaumont Republican David Bradley, a leader of the Board of Education's social conservatives and advocate of the new curriculum, said he doubted the critics could muster a majority vote of the 15-member board to reopen the curriculum standard process. He also said the board lacks the time to deal with such a task because the Texas Education Agency recently laid off 101 employees.

    However, Pitts has hinted that lawmakers cannot find the $900 million to pay for the disputed social studies textbooks. "It's just not realistic," he told the Express-News.

    At issue are social studies and history curriculum that amended or watered down the teaching of the civil rights movement, religious freedoms, America's relationship with the United Nations and hundreds of other items. Supporters said the revisions were intended to correct decisions by a previous board a decade earlier. The Republican-dominated State Board of Education approved the standards last May in a vote along party lines.

    The Thomas B. Fordham Institute -- a nonprofit think tank that Eissler described as conservative -- called the newly adopted standards "misrepresentations at every turn."

    "When groups like the Fordham Institute call our standards 'a politicized distortion of history' and 'an unwieldy tangle of social studies categories,' we have a problem," Eissler said.

    Said Geren: "These standards and the way they were developed just don't pass the common-sense test."

    The Texas NAACP and the Texas League of United Latin American Citizens asked the U.S. Education Department to review the state's public education system in December after the new standards were imposed. They argued the changes "were made with the intention to discriminate" and would stigmatize black and Latino students. The board's consideration of nearly 200 amendments in the hours before its final vote also drew criticism.

    "The law has a process laid out for how to write our state's curriculum, and they (the State Board of Education) thumbed their nose at it and wrote standards themselves," Geren said.

    The criticism from the House Republican leadership is giving encouragement to the standards critics, said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio and chairman of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus.

    "It's not about who's right, it's about what's right. When it comes to our public education, politics should be our last consideration."

    Meanwhile, the U.S. Education Department continues to evaluate the civil rights groups' complaints, department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said.