There’s a reason you never hear people say, “Trust me, I’m a pollster.” (But I think it’s a potential pick-up line if ever I heard one.) Surveys and statistics are often greeted with suspicion and questions of ulterior motive. Today’s most recent results from the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, examining the public opinion of the State Board of Education, will likely be no different.
Today’s press release from Texas Freedom Network touts the finding that 72 percent of likely voters say they want teachers and academic scholars responsible for designing state standards, rather than elected officials—including majorities among Ds, Rs and independents. (In case you were in Greenland during the last few months, the SBOE has come under national scrutiny for its debates around the social studies standards.)
With a title like “Texas Culture Wars in the Classroom: Texas Voters Call for a Cease-fire,” it’s not hard to figure out the political goals for TFN’s project. In their mission to “counter the religious right,” TFN has successfully brought some light to bear on the SBOE process, helping media outlets get their story for the day. The poll—which through phone and web surveyed a total of 972 likely Texas voters— has some clearly good news for TFN. Eighty percent of those polled want to see sex ed expanded to include contraception. But when it comes to religion, 49 percent of those polled want to see religion have more influence in schools while only 21 percent wanted to see less. That might seem at odds with TFN’s mission to “counter the religious right.”
TFN is quick to point out that even among those who want to see more religious influence, 63 percent believe teachers and scholars should write the education standards. “This is not a surprise,” says TFN spokesman Dan Quinn. “The overall picture that we got from this is people are fed up with politicians making decisions” about education.
But given the clear conservative bent of so many Texans—that 49 percent who want to see more religious influence—it’s not clear that they would like the standards a group of education experts might write. By and large, the board has pushed to make curricula look more the way they did in the 1950s, for better or for worse. The “bloc” of seven conservatives who have previously dominated debates (so long as they could find a swing vote) have pushed for old-style learning—memorizing all the multiplication tables, phonics to learn reading, an emphasis on dates.
“That’s the kind of basic education that [voters] received, that their children aren’t getting today,” says board member David Bradley.
However, those polled evidently didn’t like the fact that the board changed the social studies standards so much. (Originally, a group of education experts wrote a proposal before the board began its process of making amendments and adjustments.) Obviously not many Texans are following this stuff closely, and initially only 32 percent of those polled opposed the standards. But after they were read a description of what happened—which emphasized the number of changes made to the standards—that opposition to the standards shifted to 57 percent. (I’ve included the description at the end of this post.)
“We didn’t really load it,” says Quinn of the description. “This is just common sense, I think, to a lot of Texans.”
Bradley argues that school boards are also made up of community members, and no one argues with their rights to participate in educational affairs. By keeping elected officials in charge, Bradley says, voters can “vote you out of office” should they disapprove.
But Quinn doesn’t buy it. “That’s about as asinine as it comes,” he laughed. “Basically what he says is who cares what experts have to say on this?”
Bradley’s not bothered, and he was quick to dismiss TFN and its poll. “I’m sorry that you’re even giving their poll any credibility,” he told me when I called.
The description from the poll:
Every ten years, the Texas State Board of Education oversees a review of curriculum requirements for the state’s public schools. Teachers, scholars, and curriculum experts make initial recommendations, and then the elected Board members revise the curriculum. This year, the majority on the Board has made more than 300 changes to the 120-page document of initial recommendations. Many of these changes include adding topics to the curriculum that promote religious views and conservative political opinions. For example, the revisions include removing commonly-accepted language, facts, and descriptions from social studies and science requirements because some members of the Board hold conflicting political or religious perspectives