Board of Education

From now until Nov. 6, Austin residents, including UT students registered to vote in Travis County, have the opportunity to participate in democracy and make their voices heard about the direction in which they want to take our city, state and country. This election is not just about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. On the ballot are seven city charter amendments, 11 bond propositions and dozens of contests for city, state and national office. We feel strongly about the outcomes of the following races:

U.S. Senate: Paul Sadler (D)

Barring the most dramatic upset in recent political memory, Democratic nominee Paul Sadler is going to lose his U.S. Senate bid. In the race for retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat, the Republican nominee Ted Cruz leads Sadler dramatically in fundraising — $11.8 million to $500,000 — and by 26 percent of those asked in a Texas Lyceum poll conducted earlier this month. That’s unfortunate, because Sadler would be better than Cruz for Texas and the country by an equally outsized margin.

Cruz, an Ivy League-educated former solicitor general of Texas, has attracted mountains of funding and endorsements from nationally prominent conservatives like Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck by wholeheartedly espousing the mean-spirited, ignorant and dangerous ideology of the Tea Party. He has enthusiastically stated his wish to completely abolish, among other things, the Department of Education, which would completely end all federal financial aid for college students and end public education as we know it. Cruz’s illogical and radical positions in juxtaposition to his more subdued academic and professional accomplishments raise a question that has not been adequately answered: Does he really believe what he’s saying? He should know that most of his propositions aren’t plausible, let alone advisable. If he does know better, then he’s capitalizing on the ignorance of his constituency to catapult himself to power. He has no legislative experience whatsoever, so we have no way of knowing whether he’s an ideologue or just an operator, but either way, he’s a bad bet.

Sadler, in contrast, has had a distinguished 12-year career in the Texas House, with a proven record of both bipartisanship and good judgment. Many of us at UT are beneficiaries of his hard work as chairman of the Texas House Public Education Committee from 1995 to 2003. Among the issues he supports are the passage of the DREAM Act, marriage equality for all Americans, adequate funding for public schools, teacher pay raises and effective aid for veterans’ transitions back to civilian life. He’s an extremely intelligent leader and an effective legislator who consistently works well with colleagues across the aisle. We know what kind of senator Paul Sadler would be ­— a damn good one.

State Board of Education, District 5: Rebecca Bell-Metereau

The race for State Board of Education is perennially overshadowed by sexier, more exciting races at the top of the ballot, but it’s worth taking an active interest in that contest this time. The Texas State Board of Education’s hard-line conservatism and radical, politically motivated decisions about what Texas students should and shouldn’t be allowed to learn presents an extreme danger and cannot be allowed to continue. Seemingly, every few months or so another member of the 15-person board starts talking about dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, praising the Confederacy or removing references to the slave trade, evolution, civil rights leaders and hip-hop music in public school textbooks. But the most mystifying thing about these reactionary champions of ignorance is how they manage to hold office at all. With that in mind, we’re endorsing the Democratic candidate, Texas State professor Rebecca Bell-Metereau, in the race for District 5’s representative on the board. She’s running for the second time against Ken Mercer, one of the most outspoken revisionists on the board. Mercer believes in teaching intelligent design, saying, “Any real scientist understands there are major weaknesses in evolution.” Mercer, a software engineer, also vehemently opposes protecting students against discrimination based on sexual orientation and routinely says things like, “The most discriminated people in this country are not blacks or Hispanics, or any other groups of color or race,” but rather “any Christian American who would dare stand up for the protection of their family.”

We have the opportunity this fall to make the State Board of Education more grounded in reality, and we should take it. Texas students need to be properly educated if our state is going to succeed in the future.

Proposition 1: For

Proposition 1, a property tax increase for Travis County that would pay for a new UT medical school, teaching hospital and other health care initiatives in Austin, would be extremely beneficial to this University’s reputation and, more importantly, the health, economy and well-being of our city. While the tax increase is substantial, even after it takes effect Austin’s health care tax burden will still be the lowest in the state. In addition, the initiative would not only provide Austinites with an excellent new health care option, but would also create thousands of jobs and stimulate the city’s economy. In our view, the tax increase is a necessary evil because, according to the University, it’s the only viable option to pay for the medical school and its associated benefits. The pros far outweigh the cons. Prop. 1 is a net gain for Austin.

For the first time, Texas public schools will be able to supplement science textbooks with state-approved online materials.

The State Board of Education, with one member absent, unanimously approved supplemental online science texts recommended by Commissioner of Education Robert Scott.

The 92 texts, which cover fifth grade through high school, will be available for schools to order Aug. 8, said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman.

“School districts will be able to access this information as soon as schools starts, whereas if they were printed books, it would be months before they get those in their hands,” Marchman said.

Some elements of the materials were only tentatively approved, contingent on the companies that produced them making changes. One product includes a diagram that compares embryos of different animals that former board chair Gail Lowe pushed to have replaced with photographs, and a Holt McDougal supplement requires the rewording of eight contested statements — including some that involve arguments for and against evolution — to Scott’s satisfaction.

UT mathematics professor Lorenzo Sadun said the decision about the Holt McDougal text signaled a less conservative board.

“On most issues, the religious right can only summon six votes and they don’t rule the board anymore,” Sadun said. “They played it politically very badly by allowing the new members to form alliances with the moderates.”

Sadun said allowing online supplements could reduce Texas’ influence over textbooks in other states.

“If some people in Texas want something in particular and you have some niche publisher supplying it, that doesn’t mean that the mainstream publisher has to supply it,” Sadun said. 

Board member Michael Soto listens to speakers giving their opinions regarding the controversial addition of supplemental science materials into the Texas education system at William Travis Building on Thursday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Anastasia Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

A State Board of Education public hearing helped dispel doubts over scientific materials being considered for school district curricula.

Citizens voiced their concerns or support regarding Commissioner of Education Robert Scott’s final recommendations on online supplemental science materials.

Although school districts decide which materials they will use, these must still meet all of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills requirements for students, said associate commissioner of standards and programs, Anita Givens.

“[The supplements] are designed to be used in conjunction with science materials already used in classrooms,” Givens said.

Testimonials from teachers, ministers, parents and scientists asked the Board to exclude any materials that proposed to teach about intelligent design and creationism in the classroom, saying it was more appropriate in the realm of philosophy than science.

Board member Ken Mercer said the revisions being considered do not include any reference to religious ideas, and Barbara Cargill, chairwoman of the board, repeated throughout the meeting that further opposition to including religious material was not needed.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, generally agreed with the final list of materials presented but disagreed with certain inaccuracies, such as a diagram by biologist Ernst Haeckel that was more than a century old.

Many other speakers voiced the same concern over the diagram, which compares a human embryo to those of other vertebrates, leading board member Patricia Hardy to wonder how it could have gotten past the entire reviewing process, and what it could mean for other material.

UT math professor Lorenzo Sadun was one of many to speak against International Databases, one of the materials originally proposed which included references to intelligent design and creationism.

“Critics of evolution often overstate the gaps in the fossil record,” Sadun said. “Modern evolutionary biology is based primarily on DNA analysis.”

Associate professor of physics and astronomy at Trinity University Jennifer Steele said too much emphasis was placed on the controversies surrounding evolution.

“If you are only focused on the controversies you will never get to the strong foundations,” Steele said.

Throughout the meeting board members pointed out that International Databases had been removed from the final list of materials, addressing the concerns many had.

Joshua Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Berkeley, Calif., said the supplements are adequate now that International Databases has been removed and problems with outdated information have been identified for correction.

Rosenau encouraged board members to approve the materials without additional changes.