Month: <span>September 2016</span>

Under-the-radar censorship of textbooks


Most likely you never have heard of Neal Frey or the organization he represents. And you certainly never have voted for him because he doesn’t hold an elected office. But he may end up having significant influence over the next science textbooks your students or children use in their classrooms.

The 72-year-old Frey, subject of a Houston Chronicle article linked below, is a self-styled “textbook analyst” for a conservative group called Educational Research Analysts that reviews proposed public school textbooks submitted for adoption by the State Board of Education.

I don’t know if Frey is a scientist or academician. The group’s website doesn’t say. But, according to the Chronicle article, he is dedicated to reviewing textbooks on such issues as their “respect for Judeo-Christian morals” and how they deal with “scientific weaknesses in evolutionary theories.”

Frey and his group seek to convince publishers of health textbooks to “avoid asexual stealth phrases and definitions that covertly legitimize homosexuality.” And a scientific presentation of evolution really gets their goat.

But you may not find Frey testifying at a public hearing before the elected state board because he prefers to work covertly himself by privately contacting publishers directly and convincing them to self-censor their books before the public has a chance to comment on them.

“Lowering our voice and working under opponents’ radar gets better results,” he explains.

According to the Chronicle article, he does get results. A former Texas Education Agency official is quoted as saying he saw “publishers make changes as a result of information from Frey.” The newspaper credits him with being influential when the State Board of Education in 2004 ordered the definition of marriage to be taught as the union between a man and a woman.

Now, the board has begun the process of reviewing curriculum standards for biology, and creationists and other conservatives are up in arms over a review panel’s proposal, backed by scientists, to eliminate anti-evolution language. As the fight plays out, Frey will be lurking out of sight, bending the ears of publishers.

Dancing around school funding


Since the Texas Supreme Court gave the legislative majority the green light to continue under-funding public education, school superintendents know they – and their employees and students — likely are in for a rough time during next year’s legislative session. Not only will the fight over additional school funding be tough, but misguided ideologues also will be out in force trying to steal education money for vouchers and other privatization schemes.

At an education forum sponsored by the Dallas Regional Chamber last week, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said his district needs more money for a number of needs, including pre-K, early college credits for high school students and teacher pay. But Hinojosa, according to a story reported by KERA, wasn’t optimistic.

“The thing I need is for the state to do no harm,” Hinojosa said. “That’s a Hippocratic oath. But I got a feeling…that we’re not going to get any more money.”

State Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who also attended the forum, expressed concern about the gap between white and minority students on college entrance exams and said that gap was particularly alarming because minority kids now make up a majority of the enrollment in Texas public schools.

“I want all of my brothers and sisters to experience success,” Morath was quoted as saying. “But you don’t actually have to care about children to recognize that education and addressing these gaps is the single most pressing existential issue that the state of Texas faces.”

If Morath called for more school funding, it wasn’t reported. I doubt that he did since the Texas Education Agency already has recommended that the Legislature actually cut $2.1 billion from state funding for public education over the next two years and transfer more of the school tax burden to local property owners. The cut in the Foundation School Program to reflect rising property values is a requirement of state law, but state law can be changed.

Meanwhile, Texas will continue to spend about $2,700 less per student that the national average.

Morath doesn’t control the purse strings, but an education commissioner who really cares about boosting educational opporitunities for all of Texas school children should be an advocate for adequate funding – funding to put more kids in pre-K, funding for smaller class sizes and funding for other improvements so critical to classroom success. He knows those improvements aren’t free.

At the Dallas forum, KERA reported, Morath called on people across Texas to demand improvements in their public schools. For starters, the public should demand that Morath get in the Legislature’s face over funding.

Trump’s planned attack on students, educators


As I have noted before, Donald Trump declared, upon winning the Nevada Republican caucus in February, “I love the poorly educated,” presumably because many under-educated people were voting for him during the GOP nominating process. Unfortunately, so were a lot of well-educated people, or he wouldn’t be the Republican presidential nominee today.

In any event, Trump will have many more poorly educated people to love if he is elected to the White House and Congress approves his plan to abolish or drastically reduce the U.S. Department of Education.

According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, enactment of Trump’s “education plan,” if you want to call it that, could cost 490,000 teachers’ jobs throughout the United States, including as many as 49,000 in Texas. In Texas alone, more than 760,000 students could lose funding for critical education programs.

Here are a few other potential impacts of a Trump presidency on education, and my thanks to Phillip Martin at Progress Texas for calling the analysis to my attention:

# Five million children with disabilities would lose $12.7 billion each year for special education programs. Texas children could lose $1.1 billion of that.

# Nine million low-income students throughout the country would lose $15 billion of Title 1 funding each year.

# Eight million students a year throughout the U.S. would lose Pell grants for college.

# Some $700 million used by states to help educate 5 million English language learners would be cut, including as much as $108 million in Texas.

These are only some of the likely cuts. In all, about $70 billion in federal education funds could be lost each year under a Trump presidency, including $5.7 billion in Texas.

Elections have consequences, and these are but a few of the consequences for educators, students and their parents if Trump is elected.





Starving, then shaming public schools


At the Senate Education Committee hearing on education savings accounts – the latest incarnation of vouchers – TSTA lobbyist John Grey accurately summed up the prevailing atmosphere at the state Capitol toward public education.

“The Texas Legislature is starving our public schools and shaming them for not being healthy enough,” he said.

Grey testified after listening for several hours to privatization advocates peddle their version of snake oil, suggesting that the key to success for Texas school children was to siphon money from their already under-funded public schools to help a select group of parents pay private school tuition for their kids.

Privatization witnesses included a state senator from Nevada, who bragged about an education savings account program in his state. He almost forgot to tell the committee though that the program has yet to help a single child because a lower court judge has declared it unconstitutional. An appeal is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court.

Another privatization advocate testified that an education savings account would assure that the money is spent on a child, not on a building. His well-rehearsed buzz words ignored the reality that the education dollars that taxpayers spend on buildings – they are called school houses – actually do benefit children. And those tax dollars are spent under the direction of local school boards, who are accountable to voters, not by a few parents spending everyone’s tax dollars to benefit only their own children.

As the same witness put it, education savings accounts would allow a few parents to “customize” their children’s educations.

But the Texas Constitution doesn’t say anything about vouchers, education savings accounts, tax credit scholarships or any other form of privatizing or starving public schools. And it doesn’t say anything about spending everyone’s tax dollars to “customize” educations for a relative handful of kids.

Article 1, Section 7 of the Texas Constitution does require the Legislature “to establish or make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.” (Public, not private).

With Texas spending about $2,700 less on education per child than the national average, the legislative majority already is doing a poor job for school children. Education savings accounts and other forms of vouchers would only worsen that performance.