I wrote this a couple weeks ago for our Political Intelligence section, but it’s been getting quite a bit of attention (including Keith Olbermann Monday night.) I’ve re-posted the article and the Olbermann clip is to the right.
The Texas State Board of Education’s three-day showdown in May over social studies standards attracted reporters from across the country, from The New York Times to Fox News. Accounts focused on the fiery, often entertaining back-and-forth over which historical figures to include: the Dolores Huertas or the Phyllis Schlaflys?
After the final votes on the new standards (Huerta and Schlafly both made it in), the cameras were packed up, onlookers drained from the room—and the board voted to postpone buying the new science textbooks it spent much of 2008 and 2009 debating.
The argument over science curriculum centered on whether to require that students learn the “strengths and weaknesses” of the theory of evolution. In the end, social conservatives lost that struggle; of the many changes made to the curriculum, one of their few successes requires biology teachers to explain “any data of sudden appearance” in the fossil record—proof, supposedly, of evolution’s fallibility. They also succeeded in requiring students to “distinguish between scientific hypotheses and scientific theories.”
Now it appears that Texas kids will have to glean those points from supplementary materials rather than new textbooks that were supposed to arrive in the fall. The state normally replaces textbooks on a rotating basis every 10 years. With Texas facing a budget shortfall of at least $11 billion in 2011, the money isn’t going to be there. Textbooks covering the new science standards would have cost $400 million, and the Legislature is already expecting a bill of $888 million for textbooks already ordered.
In the 2011-12 school year, the state will begin standardized, end-of-course exams for high-schoolers, and students will be expected to have mastered the new science standards. So board members crossed their collective fingers that the Legislature would approve money for an unorthodox plan: a supplement covering the new standards as a stopgap.
The Texas Education Agency had proposed to provide science supplements for high schools only at a cost of about $17 million. Instead, board members approved supplements for science classes from fifth grade through high school. They have no idea how much the supplements will cost.
It’ll be a couple of years before the state has to pay for new social studies textbooks, scheduled to arrive in fall 2013.