State Board of Education

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.

Who needs education when facts are optional?


At first glance, you would think there is little connection between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and a proposed Texas textbook, Mexican American Heritage, which misrepresents and demeans the important contributions of the Hispanic culture to the state and the country that we know today.

But in an era in which a growing number of people are motivated more by fear and ideology than they are by truth, the separate furors created by Trump and the textbook share some common ground.

First, there are the wall that Trump vows to build along the Mexican border and his proposed roundup of undocumented immigrants. They would be expensive, divisive attempts to deny the inevitable fact that within the next generation or so Hispanics will constitute a majority of the Texas population and, sooner or later, control the centers of Texas political power. The proposed textbook, meanwhile, tries to rewrite the history of the Hispanic culture already represented by more than half of Texas’ 5.2 million public school students.

Trump’s campaign has been built on bluster, misrepresentations of the truth, outright lies, bigotry and an appeal to fear.

Trump is outrageous, not ideological. But Cynthia Dunbar, the publisher of the offensive textbook, is very ideological. In an interview with the Texas Tribune before the State Board of Education hearing on the book, she said she had “no hidden agenda” in publishing the text and offering it for use in high school Mexican American studies classes.

The book, however, is riddled with inaccuracies and racial stereotypes, according to many scholars who have reviewed it. And as a member of the State Board of Education several years ago, Dunbar certainly had an agenda to impose her own right-wing ideology on Texas’ public schools, including an effort to remove the separation of church and state principle under which the United States was founded from the Texas curriculum. She also has called public education a “tool of perversion.”

Trump and Dunbar, in their own separate ways, are part of what Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. calls a “post-factual nation,” an America, under attack from cable TV, social media and other ideological platforms, “where untruth is gospel, reality is multiple choice and ‘facts’ are whatever you have testes enough to say and somebody is dumb enough to believe.”

The school children of Texas deserve better, and so do their parents.



When education isn’t a priority


State Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes and members of the State Board of Education were squabbling with each other yesterday over who was dropping the ball in preparing Texas young people for college. They were squabbling with the wrong people.

The discussion included, among other things, high school graduation requirements, scores on college entrance exams and whether Texas universities were adequately training K-12 teachers. The basic problem, however, is not with the universities, the public schools and certainly not with teachers.

The problem – and it has been this way for a long time — is with a governor and legislative majority that is intent on wrecking public education by under-funding public schools and wasting tax dollars and teachers’ valuable time on punitive, counter-productive standardized testing. That is the message that Paredes and members of the state board need to take firmly and repeatedly to Gov. Abbott and the legislators who are morally failing their responsibility to Texas school children. Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Paredes’ counterpart over K-12, should join them.

Consider these factors, which were missing from yesterday’s discussion:

# Texas spends $2,690 below the national average in per-student funding, and many school districts haven’t recovered from the $5.4 billion in education budget cuts imposed by the legislative majority in 2011. That means thousands of school kids are in over-sized classes with insufficient individual attention from teachers.

# Average teacher pay in Texas is more than $6,000 below the national average. Consider below-average pay and the fact that teachers have to waste hours of instruction time on STAAR preparation and it is small wonder that about half of the teachers who will begin their careers this fall will find another line of work within the next five years. That is a loss of good teachers that Texas can ill afford to keep suffering.

Abbott and the legislative majority even deliberately shortchanged a pre-K program that the governor claimed was a top “priority.”

In truth, nothing about the public education system is a real priority of the governor and his legislative allies, and that’s the real problem.



Elections have consequences for education


Elections have consequences, and if we don’t keep reminding ourselves of this fact, someone else will – sometimes not very pleasantly.

On a postive note, the defeat of Mary Lou Bruner in the Republican runoff for the District 9 seat on the State Board of Education will have the kind of consequences most of us like. Ms. Bruner will have to confine her outrageous, ill-informed prejudices to Facebook and won’t have the chance to insert them into Texas’ public school curriculum and textbooks.

Educators played a significant role in defeating Mary Lou and giving the Republican nomination to TSTA-backed candidate Keven Ellis, the Lufkin ISD board president.

Because of their large numbers – there are more than 600,000 public school employees in Texas – educators and their families play important roles in elections. And, from the perspective of what’s in the best interest of their profession, they sometimes make the right choice, as in the case of Ellis, and sometimes they don’t.

Many educators were angered by Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent suggestion that spending more on education may be a “waste” of money. Many are angered by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s persistent attempts to privatize public education. And many have expressed outrage over the unanimous ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that it is OK for Abbott, Patrick and the legislative majority to continue to under-fund public schools.

Yet, only two years ago, many educators voted to elect Abbott, Patrick and four of the Supreme Court justices who issued the school finance ruling. Each won with 58 percent or more of the general election vote, and candidates don’t win that large a margin without the votes of many teachers, superintendents, other school employees and school board members.

Moreover, educators who choose to vote a straight Republican ticket this fall will vote to re-elect three more of the Supreme Court justices who opted to let the legislative majority continue to shortchange schools, students and educators’ jobs.

TSTA endorses candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, based on their stands on one issue and one issue alone – public education.

Individual educators, of course, have the right to vote for whomever they want, and I respect that right. As do most people, educators base their votes on a variety of issues that are important to them personally. But they may not always be in the best interest of their profession — or their students.

And the consequences keep piling up.