Politics & Government

Conservatives prevail in vote on Texas school curriculum

AUSTIN, Texas — The State of Board of Education on Friday gave tentative approval to new social studies curriculum standards for the state's 4.7 million school children despite angry objections that the changes fail to adequately recognize the achievements of minorities in Texas' history.

With all five minority members dissenting, the conservative-dominated panel voted 10-5 to endorse the proposed standards after rejecting an effort to specifically mention that Tejanos were among the fallen heroes of the Alamo.

"I am very distressed," said Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, who sponsored the unsuccessful amendment. "Until we are ready to tell the truth about history, we don't have a good history or social studies textbook."

The debate within the sharply divided 15-member board drew national attention and foreshadowed further confrontation leading to a final vote on the document in May. Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, who voted for the curriculum, acknowledged that "there is still work to be done."

If finally approved, the new social studies curriculum will go into effect in the 2011-12 school year and could likely stay in place for at least a decade. The changes will not only determine what students are taught in the classrooms but will be also included in textbooks that are marketed nationwide.

Critics accused conservative board members and the teachers on the reviewing committees of trying to insert their own slants. Republicans hold a 10-5 majority on the board, with seven of the GOP members constituting a social-conservative bloc.

The Texas Freedom Network, an education watchdog group that has challenged the influence of the board's religious conservatives, issued a blistering assessment, charging that "politics and personal agendas" dominated virtually every decision.

"We could probably choose a handful of names at random from a phone book and find folks who demonstrate more competence and responsibility in deciding what nearly five million Texas kids learn in the public school classrooms," said Kathy Miller, the organization's president.

The board Thursday rejected a proposed standard that would have required teachers to examine the Founding Fathers' reasons for prohibiting the government from favoring one religion over another. Conservatives also prevailed on an amendment aimed at instructing students on the dangers of over-regulation on industry.

Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs for the conservative Liberty Institute, applauded the board's decisions in overturning "outrageous changes" recommended by teachers on the reviewing committees.

"Common-sense decisions were made to put Albert Einstein back into the courses, to teach students about 'American Exceptionalism' and learn language from the Declaration of Independence," Saenz said. "Who can argue with that?"

Read more of this story at Star-Telegram.com