None so blind as those who will not see

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Pride ranks high in the list of the seven deadly sins — a fact ei­ther lost on, or ig­nored by, the re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists who con­trol the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Dis­re­gard­ing pleas from pub­lic school ed­u­ca­tors, aca­demics and the pub­lic, board mem­bers ear­lier this sum­mer adopted cur­ricu­lum stan­dards that pushed their nar­row po­lit­i­cal agenda. This de­spite warn­ings from leg­is­la­tors that their ac­tions would pro­voke more leg­is­la­tion trim­ming the board’s pow­ers and the de­feats of Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, a fac­tion leader, and at least two other can­di­dates who cam­paigned on fun­da­men­tal­ist plat­forms in the March Repub­li­can pri­mary.

A boast­ful McLeroy de­clared be­fore the elec­tion that the pri­maries would be a ref­er­en­dum on the board’s per­for­mance. If it was, then the board ma­jor­ity ig­nored GOP vot­ers as well as the aca­demics, leg­is­la­tors and the pub­lic in pur­su­ing an agenda to push Texas ed­u­ca­tion back­ward.

“Some­body has to stand up to these ex­perts,” was a par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable — and telling — McLeroy quote.

While all that was go­ing on, poll­sters hired by the Texas Free­dom Net­work were sur­vey­ing pub­lic opin­ion on the board and its ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion. The group bills it­self as a non­par­ti­san re­search and cit­i­zen ed­u­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. It is a con­sis­tent critic of the fun­da­men­tal­ist State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion bent.

Re­leased last week, the poll showed that over­whelm­ing ma­jori­ties of those polled want ed­u­ca­tors — and not politi­cians — writ­ing cur­ricu­lum. The sup­port was bi­par­ti­san, with 84 per­cent of the Democrats, 63 per­cent of the Repub­li­cans and 76 per­cent of the in­de­pen­dents polled statewide say­ing ex­perts should write cur­ricu­lum stan­dards.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the sam­ple, 80 per­cent, agreed that high school sex ed­u­ca­tion classes should teach “about con­tra­cep­tion, such as con­doms and other birth con­trol, along with ab­sti­nence.”

Sex ed­u­ca­tion is an­other hot-but­ton is­sue in the bat­tle over what should be taught in Texas class­rooms.

The poll­sters, Green­berg Quin­lan Ros­ner Re­search, sur­veyed 972 Tex­ans whom they iden­ti­fied as likely vot­ers. The re­searchers over­sam­pled likely vot­ers aged 18-29 and those liv­ing in Hays, Wil­liamson, Co­mal, Collin, Fort Bend, Mont­gomery and Rock­wall coun­ties — the fastest-grow­ing coun­ties in the state. With the ex­cep­tion of Hays, the coun­ties are also a re­li­able source of Repub­li­can votes.

The mar­gin of er­ror of the poll, con­ducted in May, is plus or mi­nus 4 per­cent­age points — mean­ing that if ev­ery el­i­gi­ble voter in the state were to be sur­veyed, the re­sults would be within four per­cent­age points of these poll re­sults.

A 3-point mar­gin of er­ror is the stan­dard for re­li­a­bil­ity, and when ques­tioned why the mar­gin of er­ror on this poll was a point higher, the firm’s Anna Green­berg replied that the over­sam­pling of likely vot­ers in the fast-grow­ing sub­ur­ban coun­ties was one fac­tor. She added that a mar­gin of er­ror grows in im­por­tance when the re­sponses are close. In this sur­vey, she noted, the mar­gins were so big that the sur­vey’s mar­gin of er­ror has no im­pact on the re­sults.

“Texas vot­ers — re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion or ide­o­log­i­cal views — agree that pol­i­tics has no place in de­vel­op­ing pub­lic school cur­ric­ula,” re­searchers wrote.

Not sur­pris­ingly, how­ever, the study found that most Tex­ans were pay­ing lit­tle or no at­ten­tion to the go­ings-on as the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mon­keyed with cur­ricu­lum stan­dards. Those who did pay at­ten­tion did not ap­prove. The more in­for­ma­tion those polled had about the cur­ricu­lum changes the board even­tu­ally adopted, the more they op­posed the changes.

While it is highly un­likely that the poll re­sults will cause the state board to re­verse it­self, it paints a pic­ture of a group out of step and out of touch with Texas vot­ers on ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy.

While board sup­port­ers might dis­miss the poll as the prod­uct of an or­ga­ni­za­tion of Austin lib­er­als, they can’t wave away re­sults of the March pri­maries. Nor should they ig­nore the warn­ings from the Leg­is­la­ture, which in­cluded the Texas Se­nate’s re­fusal to con­firm McLeroy as chair­man of the state board in 2009. Gov. Rick Perry ap­pointed McLeroy chair­man three years ago, but the Bryan den­tist’s high-pro­file em­brace of ig­no­rance — he be­lieves that hu­mans co-ex­isted with di­nosaurs — was too much for even the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated Se­nate.

Perry ap­pointed Gail Lowe, R-Lam­pas­sas, to suc­ceed McLeroy. She faces con­fir­ma­tion in 2011 and will en­counter tur­bu­lence.

We sug­gest that the board ma­jor­ity con­sult the book of Matthew: “There­fore I speak to them in para­bles, be­cause see­ing they do not see, and hear­ing they do not hear, nor do they un­der­stand.”

the sur­vey re­port is avail­able at tfn.org/ed­u­ca­tion­sur­vey.

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