Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Keep parents as far from the schools as possible"

That philosophy may soon be represented on the State Board of Education (SBOE). Two seats on the SBOE changed hands Tuesday as a result of the GOP primary election. In District 12, which includes north Dallas, Richardson and Plano, the challenger George Clayton beat long-time SBOE member, social conservative Geraldine "Tincy" Miller. In District 12, which includes northern Collin County and counties east of Dallas all the way down to Bryan, challenger Thomas Ratliff beat former SBOE chairman, young-Earth Creationist Don McLeroy.

Tincy Miller has been on the SBOE since 1984. She is a social conservative whose viewpoints have gradually come to be considered moderate as the SBOE has veered farther and farther right. Don McLeroy is leader of the far-right conservative faction on the SBOE who favored science standards that discredit evolution and social studies standards that promote his belief of America as a Christian nation.

After the jump, some lessons from the election results.

It may be too simple to say that voters were fed up with the conflicts of interest on the SBOE regarding handling of the multi-billion dollar textbook fund or with the politicization of the SBOE by Christian conservatives, but those factors played a part in McLeroy's and Miller's defeats.

Thomas Ratliff campaigned on a promise to take politics out of public education. That's an attractive position for any candidate. It was especially resonant with voters who knew Don McLeroy's history. Don McLeroy lost because he was a lightning rod for criticism of the SBOE.

George Clayton campaigned on the argument that he is "a teacher, a simple educator" who won't let "personal biases and prejudices" cloud his objectivity in setting curriculum guidelines. The defeated Miller, who is often described as a moderate, suffered from incumbency. Ironically, Clayton is suspected by some of being a "stealth" right wing ideologue himself, but that's not the platform he campaigned on. On his campaign web site, he says:

"As an educator I see the question of curriculum and textbook content as a simple task; both should be agenda free. Personal political views of board members should play no part in their decision regarding text content or curriculum. Students, teachers and parents have a right to expect their board members to provide the fairest possible education in the state."

So, assuming Ratliff and Clayton both win the general election, what can we expect from our new SBOE board members? With Ratliff I think it's clear: more input from local school boards, parents, superintendents and teachers and less politics.

Clayton is more of a wild card. In a recent dialog with me, he fails to demonstrate enough knowledge of basic science concepts to trust him setting science standards himself. He suggests that Creationism deserves a place in our public school curriculum. On the other hand, that place might an AP literature or sociology class. He says he wants SBOE curriculum setting to be "agenda free." It is to be hoped that he'll listen to experts. Unfortunately, in these comments on The Dallas Morning News Education blog, he comes across as someone who thinks he knows it all.

"Let me tell you where you start in improving math and science scores. You start with the student and the parent. Today, students are intellectually lazy and parents are the enablers. It is just that simple. School districts everywhere have succumed [sic] to the learning lethargy in the home and classroom. Teachers gave up a long time ago in their effort to end this lazyness [sic] and sense of entitlement. Students, parents, and spineless administrators have socailly [sic] agreed however, that students must have a sense of success, so they pressure teachers "not to fail" students. So, teachers don't fail students and the student leaves the science and math classes with the intellect of a boulder. Teachers don't fail students; students fail students. There is nothing wrong with math and science in today's classrooms that a little discipline will not help. First, keep parents as far from the schools as possible. Second, allow teachers to hold the students entirely responsible for their learning. Third, remove lawyers, politicians, and so called "experts" from the picture. Yes, scores will take a hit for a while. But, in the long run education in all areas, not just math and science, will improve dramatically. The article metions [sic] 10 years of data. What I just wrote is all the data anyone needs.

"Parents' job is in the home, not in the classroom. If parents really want to help, they can foster a learning atmosphere in the home. You say parents and teachers should be a team. Very idealistic! Let's all have a good hug and go out for some bark and yogurt. Get real, Titus; most parents come to school ready for combat with the teacher. You are out of the loop! What do parents know about pedagogy, writing curriculum, organizing lessons, determining grading rubrics etc. All they know is how intelligent little Sharon or Johnny is. And, how unfair the teacher! Teachers would love to have parents involved in the educational process providing the parent is civil, constructive and will listen a bit more than their child does. G. Clayton"

I wonder how many parents now might want to have their votes back. By replacing McLeroy with Ratliff, the heat of the controversies on the SBOE might ratchet down a notch. But by replacing Miller with Clayton, they may very well ratchet right back up. The battlegrounds might shift, but the battles will go on.

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