Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Good Luck, Amie Parsons

You'll need it.

Four months ago, GOP party primary voters denied nominations to two members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) representing north Texas. Don McLeroy in District 9 (northern Collin County and much of east Texas) and Tincy Miller in District 12 (much of north Dallas and Richardson) were rejected by Republican Party voters. McLeroy and Miller continue to hold their seats until the November general election. A month ago, the SBOE approved changes to the social studies standards used in Texas public schools. The lame duck far-right majority on the board dictated far-right changes, seemingly against the primary voters' wishes.

With the damage done, the SBOE has been out of the news lately and is likely to remain that way through the November elections. After the jump, why we should still care.

SBOE Districts 5 and 10 in central Texas offer competitive races in November, but the outcomes of the general election in north Texas Districts 9 and 12 are foregone conclusions. GOP nominees Thomas Ratliff and George Clayton are expected to coast to victory over only Libertarian Party ballot opposition, Jeff McGee and Amie Parsons, respectively.

In February, I reviewed the primary races after a candidate forum in Richardson:

"Thomas Ratliff was impressive, calling to take politics out of education and to restore a good working relationship between the SBOE and legislators and between the SBOE and educators. ... Clayton spends too much time telling voters he's a teacher and how things are done at his school to convince me he understands what the SBOE itself does or should do. McGee and Parsons, the Libertarians, have too little experience to be considered serious candidates."

Has anything changed since then? Not really. Ratliff is still impressive, Clayton misguided, and McGee and Parsons inexperienced. The general election outcomes are so predictable that George Clayton appears not to have updated his campaign website since before the primary. Does he deserve such confidence? Certainly not.

Clayton never did present a position on science education that convincingly demonstrates an understanding of science. He argued that Creationism and Intelligent Design have a place alongside evolution in the school curriculum, as long as they are taught objectively, whatever that means. His campaign platform sounds more like he's running for head of the teachers' union than for the SBOE (e.g., $50,000 starting salaries for teachers, requiring a vote by teachers for proposed curriculum changes, no accountability for teachers for poor student performance on standardized tests, but credit for teachers in neighborhood schools for high performance of students who transfer out to TAG/Magnet schools). He doesn't seem to grasp the responsibilities of the SBOE (not teacher salaries). He's an English teacher, the department chairman at North Dallas High School, which most recently was rated Academically Unacceptable, with English scoring in the bottom 25% of all DISD high schools, the worst score of any subject at North Dallas High School. It looks like Clayton personally would benefit from his plan to give teachers a free pass on taking responsibility for results.

Will any of this make any difference to the voters? Probably not. Libertarian Party candidate Amie Parsons, Clayton's only opponent in the general election, appears to be well-intentioned with reasonable policy positions (undoing the SBOE's recent curriculum modifications, increasing parent-teacher collaboration, and increasing vocational training). I didn't endorse her because she lacks experience, but so does Clayton, who thinks that being a teacher is all the experience one needs to serve on the SBOE. Clayton's campaign website claims that "I am the only educator running in District 12." In fact, Parsons taught at both W.T. White High School and Highland Park High School. Parsons can't even use anti-incumbent anger to generate support -- Clayton already used that to topple long-time SBOE member Tincy Miller in the GOP primary. Mostly, though, Parsons is doomed because she is running as a Libertarian. Fair or not, voters pay little attention to the Libertarian candidates on the ballot.

Still, I recommend voters research this down ballot race. Any candidate who pledges to undo the SBOE's recent curriculum changes deserves consideration, no matter how long the odds against winning.

P.S. Just try not to hold Ms. Parson's campaign manager against her.

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