Texas Education News
State curriculum standards ñ a lost opportunity
by Bob Offutt
State Board of Education
Published in the San Antonio Business Journal
The State Board of Education recently adopted, in a 9-6 vote, new curriculum standards, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). As the foundation for classroom instruction, textbooks, teacher preparation and the state-mandated TAAS tests, these standards will affect all aspects of student learning. I was one of six Board members voting against adoption of the TEKS. During the controversial three year process of developing the TEKS, I worked for a goal shared by at least five other conservative Board members: academically rigorous standards. Our refusal to rubber-stamp the original version of the horribly mushy TEKS (labeled so by the media) no doubt forced the Austin education establishment to make the standards more specific and more rigorous. Our exposure of the deficiencies led to improvements in the final version, but not enough to make the TEKS worthy of support.
The TEKS represent a lost opportunity to have the best standards in the nation for Texas children. We had the opportunity to restore history and geography as the core of social studies. By doing so, we would have reversed a national trend that places sociology at the core. Texas is one of just five states (five!) that still has some history in its curriculum standards, but having just "some" history is not good enough. Respected curriculum experts refer to the early grade social studies curriculum just adopted as "Tot Sociology."
Sixth grade world history has been changed to a "world cultures" course. In fact, a child can go through 13 years of public school without ever taking a world history course. A studentís last exposure to the history surrounding the Declaration of Independence and the development of the U.S. Constitution occurs in middle school, and important events such as President Bush's extraordinary leadership in the Persian Gulf War have been omitted. This is unacceptable.
Texas students will be behind other states and most industrialized nations, which prepare their students to be algebra-ready by the end of seventh grade. This will make it difficult for them to complete a sequence of higher-level math courses before graduation and place them at a disadvantage in the college admissions process.
We had the opportunity in English/Language Arts to have our children become more familiar at earlier ages with the classic literature such as Shakespeare, but we did not move toward that expectation. We lost an opportunity to adopt an alternative English/Language Arts document that is cited as one of the best frameworks in the nation by respected scholars.
Education Commissioner Mike Moses expressed pride in the TEKS and believes public schools will have the full confidence of the community (Viewpoint, "New school curriculum plan is giant step in the right direction," October 10, 1997). I believe that we lost the opportunity to meet the publicís expectation that schools uphold rigorous academic standards, and we placed too much emphasis on sociability, emotions and self-esteem.
Furthermore, I find the commissionerís pride in the TEKS contradictory. In a recent letter Moses faults conservative Board members for a less than harmonious process. He disclosed that the votes were in place to pass the TEKS in September 1996, and he expressed regret that he "ever agreed" to delay the TEKS adoption for a year -- revealing that the original "mushy" version would have been rubber-stamped a year ago had some of us not held out for the best. In my opinion, the commissioner canít have it both ways. When he stated his regret for the year delay in adoption, he lost bragging rights on his use of the conservative scholars who helped improve the TEKS. It was only during the last year that conservative scholars reviewed the TEKS and provided their recommendations, and this was only at the insistence of conservative board members.
The controversy of the TEKS process was predictable, given the make-up of the writing teams and the process set in motion by his predecessor. Many of us had hoped that the commissioner would rid the writing teams of the liberal establishment educators appointed by his predecessor. Had he done so, he could have forged a clear path for the research-based phonics reading approach he says he advocates. Had he made the right appointments, he would not have had to bring in conservative experts late in the process. They would have had a seat at the table in the beginning, rather than being invited following pressure from the public and conservative Board members. We could have started with common sense instead of fads like "fuzzy" math, "look-guess" reading and history without facts.
It is my hope that the commissioner will make some corrections in the course he has charted for education in Texas that will lead to strengthening the TEKS. I look forward to the day when we have the best standards in the nation. We are not there yet.