SBOE Retreats From Algebra II in High School Grad Plans

Photo courtesy of Franck Boston

Photo courtesy of Franck Boston

Only high school students who pursue an honors plan or a diploma specializing in math and science will have to take algebra II under recommendations that the Texas State Board of Education preliminarily approved Thursday.

Despite an initial proposal that had included the advanced math course in all five new diploma plans, the 15-member board was nearly unanimous in its decision Thursday. The single no vote came from Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

I think what we’ve done so far tonight accomplishes what we’ve been charged to do,” said member Marty Rowley, R-Amarillo.

The board, which has the responsibility of determining which courses school districts should offer in five separate endorsements as a part of an overhaul passed by the Legislature in May, has had two days of testimony and discussion on the topic. That included an unexpected visit from House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. Both lawmakers urged the board to reserve as much flexibility for local school districts as possible — and not to require algebra II to fulfill all of the graduation plans.

The new law came with the support of many educators, parents and a coalition of business leaders who cited the need to provide more relevant courses for students who might not continue to college.

“There are many children that we are crowding to the side of the system because they do not see relevance in their courses,” said Aycock.

But opponents of the policy, including the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Business and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, have continued to raise concerns that emerged during the legislative session about how the new graduation plans would affect the academic achievement of low-income and minority students.

“With all due respect, the notion that not all students are college material or that our school system should not have a college expectation for all students is not something that is coming from African-American and Latino parents,” former state Rep. Dora Olivo, D-Richmond, said in testimony Wednesday.

After a second vote Friday, the board will finally approve the requirements at its January meeting.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Even With Upsets, Little Change in Control of SBOE

Graphic courtesy of Todd Wiseman

Despite losses for moderate Republican candidates in several open seats — and the ousting of three incumbents — the ideological control of the State Board of Education won’t be much different after this election cycle. 

San Antonio Democrat Michael Soto, a Trinity University professor who has become a vocal member of the board in his two years there, lost in an upset to social worker Marisa Perez, who appears to have little presence online and has not filed any campaign finance reports. Former board chairwoman Gail Lowe, a member of the board’s social conservative bloc, lost to Sue Melton, an educator backed by two state teachers associations. And first-term incumbent George Clayton narrowly missed making a runoff in his primary contest; expect a runoff between Republicans Geraldine “Tincy” Miller and Gail Spurlock in July. 

Social conservatives won the race to fill departing moderate member Bob Craig’s seat, with Marty Rowley narrowly defeating school board member Anette Carlisle, whom Craig had endorsed. Former teacher Rita Ashley failed to knock off veteran incumbent David Bradley, who is widely considered the leader of the board’s more conservative bloc. Chairwoman Barbara Cargill and San Antonio board member Ken Mercer easily defended their seats from more moderate challengers.

But the candidates preferred by the social conservative members lost in other races. Despite their aggressive opposition to incumbent Thomas Ratliff, he hung on to his spot on the board, defeating Randy Stevenson. Jeff Fleece, their choice to replace outgoing member Marsha Farney, didn’t make it to a runoff, leaving two former educators — Rebecca Osborne and Tom Maynard — to vie for her spot.

There are two as yet undecided races that could mess with the balance on the board: GOP incumbent Charlie Garza’s general election contest in November, and the runoff between Miller and Spurlock in July.

If the board’s social conservatives get lucky, they could keep Garza and welcome Spurlock, maintaining their current six-person voting bloc. Conversely, Garza could lose to Democratic challenger Martha Dominguez, a longtime educator who has served as president of the Ysleta Federation of Teachers. And Miller, who has sunk more than $90,000 into her race and held the seat for 26 years before Clayton beat her in 2010, could best Spurlock. Miller is an establishment Republican who sometimes sided with the social conservative voting faction, but she likely won’t become the same kind of ally Spurlock would.

In any case, the social conservative bloc did not regain the strength of numbers it enjoyed prior to former chairman Don McLeroy’s defeat in 2010, where with seven votes the members could usually manage to persuade one of the board’s Democrats or other Republicans to come to their side.

There’s a possibility that new GOP nominee and middle school teacher Laurie Turner could steal outgoing member Mary Helen Berlanga’s open seat from whichever Democrat emerges from a runoff in July — her South Texas district that extends to Corpus Christi leans blue but only slightly so. But that likely won’t do much to shift ideological power on the board: Turner’s opponent, Veronica Anzaldua, who touted her Christian worldview and support of intelligent design, was the choice of social conservatives in that race.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Last Week, In Case You Missed It: May 27, 2012

It has been a huge week in the Oak Ridge area, as we’ve been preparing for the end of school, ORHS graduation, an upcoming primary election, Memorial Day weekend, and the start of summer. You’ve been busy and we’ve been busy — here’s a recap of everything we’ve covered in Oak Ridge Now this week.

The Republican primary is upon us, and realistically, whoever wins the Republican primary in most Montgomery County races is going to win the general election in November. We brought you in-depth looks at each of the candidates in four important South County races: State Board of Education District 8, County Commissioner Precinct 3, County Constable Precinct 3, and State Representative District 15.

The SBOE race pits incumbent Barbara Cargill against challenger Linda Ellis. Ms. Cargill has been part of a conservative and controversial bloc of members that has often times been ridiculed by national media and others. Ms. Ellis believes the far right has had too much influence on the board and that a nonpartisan election for SBOE positions would better serve the public. I think Ms. Cargill will carry the day in this election, but that the conservative bloc will no longer have as much influence over the SBOE as they have had in the past.

The contest for County Commissioner includes four candidates, James NoackKenny SpeightPaul Cote, and Brian Dawson. Judging unscientifically only by the signs I have seen in the area, it appears that Mr. Speight and Mr. Noack will lead the pack. Mr. Speight is a long-time South County resident who has run a business here and has served the community in countless volunteer leadership roles over the past 25 years. Mr. Noack is supported by a Tea Party PAC. Whoever ultimately wins the job, they will have a difficult time filling the shoes of retiring County Commissioner Ed Chance, a shining example of everything a local government leader should be.

The race for County Constable may be the most difficult to predict. You have what seem to be three very worthy candidates, all from the Oak Ridge area. While there are subtle differences in their experience and qualifications, David Angstadt, Jr.Dan Norris, or Ryan Gable would all likely do the job well. The highly unscientific sign wars seem to indicate that Mr. Norris and Mr. Gable have taken the lead.

Finally, Rob Eissler, who has represented South Montgomery County in the Texas House for 10 years, and has brought sound leadership and direction to what is often a highly partisan yet rudderless State Legislature, is facing Steve Toth for the Texas House District 15 seat. Mr. Eissler previously spent 18 years on the CISD Board of Trustees, including two terms as President of that body. As Chairman of the Public Education Committee the past five years, he has been one of three highly-knowledgeable, steadfast and persuasive individuals in the State leading the resolution of the complex issues around the funding, administration and reform of public eduction in the Texas Legislature. The other two of that group, Scott Hochberg and Florence Shapiro, are not running for re-election.  Mr. Toth seems like a good guy, like someone you would want to be your neighbor. He is conservative enough to have won the support of the local Tea Party.

But enough election discussion. it’s difficult to even turn on the TV anymore without being bombarded by political commercials. There was a whole lot more going on this week. In Texas news, there were a couple of polls this week that caught our attention.

I don’t think it comes as a surprise that most folks in Texas support the death penalty. The 73% that support it, however, drops to 53% when a life sentence without the possibility of parole is viewed as an option. I think there are probably a lot of us who truly struggle on this issue, wavering at times between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Not to mention the whole problem with exonerating a dead man after new DNA evidence proves him to be not guilty. Also in that article, opinions about abortion and Planned Parenthood are more evenly split across Texas.

In this week’s other poll, only 36% of Texans say that candidates for public office should sign a pledge to not raise taxes. 47% said they should definitely not make pledges like that until financial situations become clear. Don’t expect, however, to find too many politicians that will pledge to raise taxes if the need arrives. That I do not see happening.

In U.S. news, we reported that many states, including Texas, would not use the funds won in the $974M settlement with mortgage companies to fund programs that benefit homeowners. The original lawsuit alleged that banks deceived homeowners and broke laws when pursuing foreclosure. Texas directed its $135 million to the state’s general fund, of which $10 million has been allocated for basic services to low-income Texans. John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Housers, an affordable housing group, said that in speaking to legislators, advocates had “received no assurances that this money will be used according to the purposes of the settlement.”

In other national news we ran a two-part series on the hazards faced by men working on cell towers. I know, duh. In the past nine years, nearly 100 tower climbers have been killed on the job. Nearly half of those were on cell towers. The annual death rate is nearly 10 times that of other construction jobs. yet, because most tower climbers are subcontractors to large companies like AT&T and Verizon, OSHA seems powerless to do much to prevent these deaths.

Also in national news, a new study finds that hospitals, outpatient centers and other providers drove up the price of health careat over two times the rate of inflation during the recent economic downturn. Shocker.

Overall, during the period analyzed, prices charged nationally grew the most for emergency room visits, up 11 percent, surgery that did not involve a hospital stay, up 8.9 percent, and mental health and substance abuse services, up 8.6 percent. The price per hospital admission rose an average of 5.1 percent, hitting $14,662. Surgical admissions had the highest overall price tag, at an average of $27,100,  representing a 6.4 percent increase from 2010.

We again had a strong opinions section this week. Bill O’Reilly wonders if his teenage daughter can pull herself away from social media long enough to ever care about politics.

John Stossel explains why ever-increasing government regulation kills businesses. He cites as an example, “Las Vegas regulators require anyone who wants to start a limousine business to prove his new business is needed and, worse, will not “adversely affect other carriers.”

Chuck Norris alleges that the IRS gives billions in tax refunds to illegal aliens. Peter Funt wonders, after all this time, how can 8% of voters in the upcoming presidential race be still classified as “undecided”?

We suggested that $2B could be saved by simply closing the US Capitol until November. It’s not as if anything useful will get done until then. And we at Oak Ridge Now will miss Ron Paul. “Other candidates talk about government and how they would steer it and allocate resources. Paul talked about freedom.”

Our Mother’s Day section this week included four articles from Oak Ridge Now contributors. Our Lost in Suburbia columnist, Tracy Beckermann, laments about losing keys in her purse. “my keys always seem to temporarily disappear into a Black Hole in my bag, spend time on the other side of the universe, and then reappear only after I’ve finally dropped everything else I am holding, thrown a giant hissy fit, and turned my bag upside down.”

Teresa Strasser, now pregnant with her second child, busted out her old copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, and had to smile the second time around. “It’s just another thing to love about the second pregnancy, the do-over, when one isn’t compelled to while away the midnight hours chomping niacin-enriched cereal and pondering floppy baby syndrome. Sure, this baby could be floppy, but I can’t muster the time or energy or obsession to care anymore.”

We introduced two new Mother’s Day columnists this week: Robin O’Bryant is a stay-at-home mom of three girls. “I am now the mother who prays some sort of vermin doesn’t crawl out of my backseat when the teacher opens the back door to get my kindergartener out of the car at school.”

And Oak Ridge Now newcomer Katiedid Langrock (sounds like a character on the Flinstones) also had to deal with key issues this week — she locked them in her Jeep. “A couple of things became very clear to me very quickly. 1) Hoisting up your body while pregnant is not that easy. 2) Tiny triangular windows are not made for pregnant chicks to squeeze their little meatball bodies through.”

Also of interest to moms this week, new Oak RIdge Now fashion editor Sharon Mosley weighs in with some advice on summer swimwear. We are also now carrying, “At Home With Marni Jameson”, a weekly home design column. This week she spoke with HGTV’s Kimberly Lacy for her curbside opinion of Marni’s current home. “It’s like those women you see at the mall, and think, gheeze, with a better haircut and a little lipstick!”

In other weekly features, Kurt Loder looks at two new films this week, Men in Black 3 and Moonrise Kingdom. He say’s that “MIB 3″ is a reinvigorated continuation of a unique sci-fi series and a happy demonstration that it’s still not played out.”

Dave Ramsey does his usual thing this week, advising a young married couple with a lot of student loan debt. He says they could consider moving in with his parents, but… My advice: parents, change the locks — those kids keep coming back over and over again! Also, Mark Maynard look at the Buick Regal GS four-door sedan with a six-speed manual transmission.

Our funny guys, Nick Thomas and Will E Sanders contribute their thoughts on the hazards of spring gardening (“Lucky for Adam the first thing he grabbed to cover his embarrassment was a fig leaf, rather than a bunch of poison ivy”) and illegal Canadian immigrants (“I whipped around, shot them a disgusted glance and said, “Learn to speak English or go back to your own country. Since they were French they immediately surrendered, gave into my demands and fled the store in a blur of flannel and denim, presumably back to Ontario”).

If you read nothing else in Oak Ridge Now this week, you must read the latest installment of Unknown Soldiers, looking at Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery. “I have never sacrificed anything. Over the past decade, thousands of brave men and women, including many buried in Section 60, have risked everything to ensure we live in a safer world than the one that seethed with hatred and fear on Sept. 11, 2001.”

Finally, I take a quick trip down Oak Ridge School Road, and bask in the memories that the one-mile stretch brings back. All of this plus our editorial cartoons last week in Oak Ridge Now.

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Meet the Candidates: State Board of Education District 8

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Over the course of next five days, Oak Ridge Now will provide information about some of the candidates running for public office. Yes, we know that early voting is already underway, and we are somewhat late to the game here, but late info is better than no info at all. We’re only going to look at Republican candidates during the primaries because, frankly, we live in a highly Republican community that usually votes at a 75-80% rate for the GOP. Before the general election, we’ll look also at the Democratic challengers.

We start with the race for State Board of Education District 8. All SBOE positions are up for election this year because all had changes in district boundaries. SBOE District 8 now stretches from Crockett to Kemah, and from Woodville to Bryan. Two Republicans are running for the position, Linda Ellis and Barbara Cargill, both of The Woodlands.

Ms. Cargill is the current chair of the SBOE, having served on the Board for eight years, and is running for re-election. She earned her undergraduate degree in education from Baylor University and a Masters of Science in Science Education degree from Texas Woman’s University. She has taught and shared science with children in the Dallas and Houston areas for almost thirty years.

Ms. Ellis grew up in Texas, and has been a Texas educator for 28 years. She earned her undergraduate and Masters degrees from Sam Houston State University, and her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Texas A&M. She has served as President of the Texas Association for the Improvement of Reading, the Sam Houston Area Reading Council, the Stone Fort Reading Council, and the North Harris County Council of Teachers of English and has served on the boards of local, state, and national organizations.

Both candidates have answered questions from a number of organizations detailing what they would do if elected. Oak Ridge Now will use questions already posed to both candidates by the Teach the Vote campaign (from the Association of Texas Professional Educators), the Montgomery County Conservative Coalition, and the League of Women Voters. We are only publishing a subset of all questions here; for more information, visit any of these sites. So without further ado:

What training, experience, and characteristics qualify you for this position? (LoWV)

Ms. Cargill: Being a teacher has provided a strong foundation for me as a board member. My 8 years on the board has resulted in strong relationships with many legislators. I am trained in writing curriculum and in reviewing textbooks. I write curriculum for WOW! Science Camp, the science program I founded 18 years ago.

Ms. Ellis: I have been a Texas educator for 28 years as classroom teacher, university professor, district program director and consultant. My four children graduated from Texas public schools, and 11 of my 14 grandchildren currently attend. For 17 years I have served as Governmental Relations Chair for two different reading organizations.

What role should educators and educator groups play in policy decisions made by the State Board of Education? (TtV)

Ms. Cargill: I personally have nominated many classroom teachers and former educators to serve on various committees and work panels for TEKS revision, textbook review, college readiness, and charter school application review. Their role is vital and their time and wisdom are greatly appreciated. As a former classroom teacher myself, I know that their input is important.

Ms. Ellis: Educators and education groups should be respected and involved in every policy decision made by the SBOE. For too long a certain bloc of SBOE members have overstepped their bounds. In my 17 years as Governmental Relations Chair for two state reading organizations I have witnessed firsthand the SBOE’s disrespect for Texas educators. Instead of overseeing the standards-setting process, an activist cabal of SBOE members has taken it upon themselves to write curriculum. They have also recruited “experts” who support their own political beliefs. This kind of partisan politics must be stopped. It is professional educators who are dedicated to learning best practices and teaching Texas school children. When elected I promise to work with others on the board to involve educators and education groups every step of the way.

Please discuss the degree to which you believe the Permanent School Fund should be tapped to relieve the current budgetary issues. (CCMC)

Ms. Cargill: I do not want the fund tapped for budgetary issues. The PSF was established over 150 years ago as an endowment to pay for our schoolchildren’s textbooks. The board has constitutional authority to oversee the investment of the PSF. These investments are carefully and thoroughly vetted by the board with the help of investment council and PSF staff. As stated in the Texas Education Code, we only vote to approve what is deemed to be “safe and proper investments.” This fund must be protected for future generations of schoolchildren!

Ms. Ellis: The interest from the fund has been used in the past to provide curriculum materials for schools and also to guarantee school bonds. That has worked. We should not allow the legislature or the State Board of Education to tap into the fund, and we should not allow politics to interfere with the protection of that fund. There was a questionable decision made within the last three years where the management firm with the highest bid and the lowest credibility rating got the bid. Why? State Board of Education members and legislators must be held to the highest ethical standards. There must be no conflicts of interest. The money has been there since the mid 1800s and must be protected for future generations of public school children.

Do you believe charter schools in Texas have been largely successful and should be expanded? Why or why not? (TtV)

Ms. Cargill: Many charter schools are providing an excellent education for children. With our continued expectation of higher standards I would like to see more charters granted by the state.

Ms. Ellis: Some charter schools are successful; however, far too many are not. The standards for Texas charter schools are too low. The bar must be raised. Those applying for charters should have proven success as educators and should submit sound educational plans supported by educational research and reviewed and approved by educational experts. Charter school leaders should be certified and should be required to hire certified teachers and leaders. It is the expert teacher in the classroom who makes a difference, not just an expert in content but an expert in methods of teaching that content. The adoption of charter schools should not be a political process, and the process must be transparent. TEA must take the steps necessary to close unsuccessful charter schools.

Please list the top 3 things you would like to see changed in the current curriculum standards for Science. (CCMC)

Ms Cargill: I would like to see the “strengths and weaknesses” language used again in the TEKS. That language was voted out but I think it was clearer than the current language to ensure that teachers know that evolution must be taught as a theory. I would like to see more lab time required. Students learn so much more when they do “hands on” science! I would like to see more teaching on the “unknowns” of science and how science cannot provide all of the answers. That is what makes science exciting!

Ms. Ellis: I am not a science expert. I would have to rely on the science experts to answer that question. I have spoken to members of the writing team. They felt they did a good job with the standards but were disappointed that State Board Members made last minute changes without returning the document to them. My opponent says she worked hard to keep evolution as a theory. Evolution has always been taught as a theory and according to my source on the writing team, there was never a question regarding that on the writing team. My opponent said she reviewed all science textbooks and they all taught evolution as a fact. That is not true. Every science textbook teaches evolution as a theory. My opponent says she had to work hard to get the strengths and weaknesses of evolution taught. A theory is not a fact therefore has strengths and weaknesses. My opponent says 7 of the 8 board members voted for evolution to be taught as a fact instead of a theory. That is not true. It never came to the board because it never came to the board for a vote. The writing team document had evolution taught as a theory. I believe evolution should be taught as a theory. For any other changes, I would have to rely on those closest to the children— the classroom teachers in the classrooms across Texas and the parents who review the science materials.

Please list the top 3 things you would like to see changed in the current curriculum standards for English Language Arts and Reading (CCMC)

Ms. Cargill: I would like to see the number of standards reduced. A suggested reading list of classic literature at various grades would also strengthen the TEKS. The standards should continue to enhance composition skills that promote expository and persuasive writing.

Ms. Ellis: I would like to have the ELAR standards revised. The process was flawed. The board members who voted to take these standards from the teacher work group and hire StandardsWork from Washington, D. C. did so because of the lack of trust of educators. My opponent will say she had to work hard to get grammar, phonics, handwriting and spelling back into the curriculum. I say as a language arts person that it has always been in the curriculum. There is not a language arts teacher who doesn’t believe spelling, phonics, handwriting, and grammar are important. My opponent uses one example from someone who emailed her about handwriting to say to the public that the writing team didn’t want handwriting. That is not true. Unless my opponent is talking about methodology, which she has no authority over according to the Education Code, then she shades the truth when she says that she had to work hard to get the skills listed above into the standards. The legislature says no since the Education Code specifically states that the board may not adopt any rule or regulation that designates the methodology used by a teacher. It is also not true that the teachers weren’t getting the job done. The SBOE members gave the work group only six times to meet in three years and every time they came together they had a different document to work from. My evidence from volumes of letters to the Board, testimony given by the writing team and others, and many newspaper articles will testify that the writing team met on their own time and begged for more time to complete the process. My opponent will say that it is simply not true that they sent the standards to Washington, D. C. to be written; however, StandardsWork from Washington, D. C.was hired at a price of over $200,000 to facilitate the process with Susan Pimentel to as the leader. Why is it that StandardsWork and Susan Pimentel are listed as authors of the national standards? My opponent brought her “experts” from other states. Why when we have plenty of experts in Texas willing to volunteer their time? True conservatives want decisions made at the local level. What we do not want are SBOE members who are not literacy educators taking charge of the process, taking the process away from teachers, sending them out of state, tweaking them in the middle of the night, and then passing them the next day. My opponent has said, “It is absolutely false that curriculum changes were snuck into the standards “but evidence will show that this is simply not true. She did “tweak” the curriculum after hours and have hotel room staff slip it under the hotel room doors just hours before the vote. Evidence includes statements by two Republican board members who sit on the State Board. My opponent says she listens to her teachers. Then why did she ignore the voices of 16 professional organizations representing thousands of Texas teachers when she adopted ELAR standards that nobody knows who wrote because the process was not transparent. It will take time to regain the trust of the education committee because partisan politics took precedence over listening to the voice of the people. Therefore, I would like for the ELAR standards to come back to the drawing board and be lead by a process that allows educational experts to lead the way, not State Board Members who know nothing about language arts. The TEKS should be just that “Essential.” The standards are too long and attempt to dictate methodology and don’t take into account the research of the last 50 years. They will not prepare students to be college or career ready.

Please list the top 3 things you would like to see changed in the current curriculum standards for Social Studies (CCMC)

Ms. Cargill: I would like to see the number of standards reduced. There are some historical figures that are in the standards that I would like to see replaced with others who made a more significant impact on history. I would like American Exceptionalism taught earlier than high school.

Ms. Ellis: Social Studies is not my area of expertise so I would need to rely on the experts —those teachers who have made this their passion. I have spoken to members of the writing team who told me they have never felt as disrespected as they did during the standards process. In their words there is not a more patriotic group of teachers than social studies teachers, but they feel they were brought in just as a token group and were not respected or listened to. One “expert” brought in from Washington, D. C. actually told the teachers, “You are just a bunch of liberal teachers and it doesn’t matter what you say because we have the vote of the State Board of Education. Again, State Board Members overstepped their bounds. 1) Standards setting should be lead by the educational experts in social studies with the SBOE overseeing the process. If there is something that the SBOE members question, they should ask the writing team. They appoint the writing team members. SBOE members are not social studies experts. 3) Curriculum and instruction  decisions should be made at the local level by those closest to the children. That’s where parents have the most influence. If there is something they don’t like, they can go to the teacher, then the principal, then the superintendent, and then the school board. Is it easier to influence one teacher or a seven- member school board? Is it easier to influence a sevenmember school board or a board of fifteen who represent thousands of districts?. I do want to see students taught about our founding fathers, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents and the values that made this nation great. These have always been in the standards and the textbooks and there was never a question among writing team members regarding whether or not they stay there. Because of SB 6 decisions regarding instructional materials are made at the local level as they should be made.

Do you believe the Texas public school system currently provides a good balance between the four core subject areas (which require standardized testing) and the concept of a “well-rounded education”? (TtV)

Ms. Cargill: I am an avid supporter of fine arts, sports, languages, and other areas of interest to our students. I would like to see our schools emphasize what is best for the individual students — what is it that will make each student successful in school and also after graduation? However I also know that many schools emphasize the core subjects since those are the ones being tested. I will continue to encourage teachers and staff to focus less on testing and more on what the needs of the individual students are. In doing that our students truly will receive a “well-rounded education.”

Ms. Ellis: The 4×4 curriculum does not meet the needs of all students. Students must be well rounded to be successful. Not all students need four years of math and four years of science to be successful in college, the workforce, or life. Many students are gifted in areas other than math and science and need opportunities to explore those gifts. The Education Code states that districts need the flexibility to meet the individual needs of their students. Local districts–with input from parents, students, teachers, and community members–are in a better position to determine those needs. As long as there are high-stakes tests, testing will take precedence over learning. Test prep is eating away at valuable teaching and learning time. Great teachers know where their students are without standardized tests or benchmarks. We need to focus time and money on creating and supporting expert teachers.

Please describe at least one area where you disagree with (each of) your opponent(s) in this race (CCMC)

Ms. Cargill: My opponent repeatedly says that the board must “listen to the experts.” The teacher work groups provide invaluable input to the board. I personally have nominated dozens of teachers to the work panels and I oversee a staff of almost 30 teachers for the Science Camp that I direct. However as a board member, it is incumbent on me to review their recommendations, especially since all 15 of us on the board have representation on the work panels. Many times the experts don’t even agree with each other! One may say that it is perfectly fine for elementary students to use calculators; another may say that young students should not use calculators. I would disagree with the first expert and agree with the second—no calculators in elementary school! Children must memorize their multiplication/division facts and build a firm foundation for their math skills. Members of the expert history work panels also deleted Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Neil Armstrong, Mother Teresa, our religious heritage, George Patton and many other requirements from the social studies curriculum standards. I did not agree and therefore voted to reinsert all of those so that our students will learn about these important historical figures and holidays and about their rich religious heritage. There are times when I must disagree with the recommendation of members of the work panels in order to vote in a way that reflects my strong conservative values and those of my constituents.

Ms. Ellis: 1) My opponent believes it is her job as a member of the State Board of Education to police curriculum standards and textbooks. I believe that responsibility should be made by those at the local level closest to the children—teachers, school leaders, parents and community members; 2) My opponent does not honor the process established by the Education Code in adopting curriculum standards and textbooks. I will. 3) My opponent believes it is okay to justify the means by making false statements to the public. I believe in being honest. 4) My opponent does not listen to the collective voices of teachers. I will
listen and work to regain their trust. 5) My opponent voted against a rule allowing a 24-hour period after amendments are made to allow for teacher work group and public review and input. I will not make amendments to the standards. If I have questions, I will relay those to the writing team and my constituents.

What are the two most serious public education issues facing the State Board of Education during the next term, and how would you address them? (LoWV)

Ms. Cargill: It has been a challenge to keep academic rigor in the curriculum standards. This is one issue for which I will continue to fight. Another main issue concerns textbook adoption. Now districts may purchase instructional materials that have not been approved by the board. This is a problem for the quality control that our rigorous textbook adoption process ensures. Who will check for factual errors and TEKS coverage? I will encourage publishers to use the board’s adoption process.

Ms. Ellis: 1) Board members who push their own political and personal agendas instead of focusing on improving education. I will focus on education, not politics. 2) The takeover of the curriculum standards adoption process by SBOE members and the dismissal of the voices of Texas educators. I will work collaboratively with Texas educators, constituents and other SBOE members to adopt minimum curriculum standards that represent best practices in the field and that do not hobble teachers.

Do you have anything else to add? (TtV)

Ms. Cargill: Teachers must use their creative talent and training to make the curriculum standards come alive for their students. I have complete confidence that this is the case in most Texas classrooms as teachers strive to provide the best education possible for the children entrusted to them.

Ms. Ellis: I’ve spent the last 28 years teaching and supporting teachers. During that time I’ve become increasingly concerned about decisions made by the State Board of Education– decisions made without the input of Texas educators. Many of those decisions are based solely on divisive politics and are harming Texas schoolchildren. It is clearly time to put education back into the hands of those closest to the children–local school boards, parents, teachers, and community members. This is why I am running for the State Board of Education in District 8. When elected, I pledge to listen to you, represent you, support you, and serve you! Honoring your voices, I promise every decision I make while serving on the SBOE will be based on what is best for Texas public school students. It’s time to make your voices heard! Please join me in this critical battle to take back education! Let me be your voice!

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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Round Here: The Signs of Pumpkin Autumn

PumpkinsA couple of weeks ago I passed the seasonal aisle at Kroger to see that Halloween candy and plastic pumpkins and costumes and such were being stocked on the shelves. Given that it was like 97 degrees outside, this struck me as a little early. But hey, Oak Ridge Homecoming was in mid-September this year, so it’s all relative.

Today I passed the First United Methodist Church on Rayford and saw that they are laying out their annual Pumpkin Patch. Somehow, this seems like a more welcome sign of Autumn than bags and bags of fun-sized Snickers lining the shelves at Kroger.

Other welcome signs of autumn:

  • Starbucks starts serving their Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • Various places put pumpkin shakes on their menus
  • The pumpkin-centric Pottery Barn catalog arrives in the mail
  • My wife, Leslie, pulls the Autumn household decor our of the attic to replace the spring/summer decor
  • Meaningful football games are on TV every Saturday and Sunday
  • The grass doesn’t have to be mowed every week
  • The high temperature drops below 90 degrees


The State Fair of Texas also begins this weekend, running through October 17. This is something I have always wanted to do and have never had the opportunity. Looks like I’ll miss out this year again.

Every year they have the Big Tex Choice Awards contest, looking for original and mighty fine tasting new Texas-themed foods. Past winner have included Fried Coke, Deep Fried Latte, Fried Cookie Dough, Chicken Fried Bacon, and Deep Fried Butter (notice a theme here?). This year the Most Creative award went to Fried Beer, and the Best Taste to Texas Fried Frito Pie.


We went to Burger Fresh this week in Conroe off of Gladstell, because it was listed as #13 on Texas Monthly’s list of the Best Burgers in Texas. I am slowly but surely making my way through that list, as well as their best BBQ places in Texas list. The burger wasn’t bad. It didn’t ooze grease, and the fries were OK. Leslie and I were the only ones in the place at 2:00 on Wednesday afternoon. She let me know, as soon as we walked in, however, that she would have walked out immediately had she not, well, felt she owed me a debt of gratitude for something nice I had done. The ambiance and atmosphere of general uncleanliness left her less than impressed.

We also ate at Kruez Market in Lockhart, Texas earlier in the week. It’s #5 on Texas Monthly’s Top BBQ Joints in Texas list. The food and the experience there is terrific, as they slap down meat on butcher paper and send you on your way. They have no forks there (“You already have forks at the end of your arms”), but thay do have plastic knives, and the melt-in-you-mouth ribs and brisket doesn’t really require a fork. Or sauce. Just a napkin or three.

To top off our culinary adventures this week, we ate at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in San Antonio. They have good food and a good selection of beer (including a Pumpkin Ale). The best thing, however, in BJ’s Famous Pizookie, a warm-from-the-oven cookie baked in a small deep dish pan topped with vanilla ice cream. Outstanding. The good news? BJ’s is opening up soon in Portofino Center. Pizookies for everyone after the game!


Looks like they will be putting in a Burger King in the space next to Kroger on Rayford. I was personally hoping for a Chik-Fil-A. C’est la vie.

Chuck Briese puts his random thoughts that no one else really cares about in his Round Here posts. This little addendum also allows him the opportunity to speak of himself in the third person.

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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SBOE Conservatives Allege Islamic Bias in Textbooks

Members of the State Board of Education’s hard-right wing appear poised to inject themselves in the national fray over Islamic influence in America with a resolution warning textbook publishers that a “pro-Islamic/anti-Christian bias has tainted some past Texas Social Studies textbooks.”

Oddly, the resolution emanated from Randy Rives, a candidate for State Board of Education District 15. Rives lost the Republican primary — badly — to the more moderate incumbent Republican, Bob Craig of Lubbock.

“It’s a little unusual,” says Board Chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. “We don’t typically have resolutions brought by members of the public,” particularly a losing candidate for office. Lowe put the resolution on the agenda, she says, after getting requests to do so from constituents and from social conservative board allies Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio; Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands; Don McLeroy, R-Bryan; and Terri Leo, R-Spring.

Typically, resolutions don’t mean much, Lowe said: “I’m not a big fan of resolutions, national car buying month or biscuit-eating week or whatever. They don’t bind anybody to anything.”

They do provide a platform for grandstanding, however. The resolution comes at a time when internationally notorious state Board of Education has been usually out of the spotlight. Meanwhile, conservatives nationally have fueled the uproar over the Ground Zero mosque. Since the the board’s furious debates earlier this year over the history curriculum, finally settled in May, members have generally avoided the news-of-the-weird circuit.

No more: Now some members are contending that the 2002 board — also Republican-dominated — somehow let some anti-Christian, pro-Islamic stuff into Lone Star textbooks. Among the outrages cited: “allotting 82 student text lines to Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings but 159 (almost twice as many) to those of Islam; describing Crusaders’ massacres of European Jews yet ignoring the Muslim Tamerlane’s massacre of perhaps 90,000 co-religionists at Baghdad in 1401, and of perhaps 100,000 Indian POWs at Delhi in 1398; thrice charging medieval Christians with sexism; and saying the Church “laid the foundations for anti-Semitism.”

Given this allegedly ignoble track record of censoring Islamic atrocities, some board members want to issue this stern warning to publishers: “That the SBOE will look to reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world’s major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and/or by demonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others, as in the above-cited instances.”

The Texas Freedom Network, which monitors religious extremism and dogs board conservatives’ every move, called the resolution a colossal waste of energy: “They really think a Republican-dominated state board in 2002 adopted pro-Muslim and anti-Christian books, and that even one school district in the state would buy such a textbook?” said TFN spokesman Dan Quinn. “It shows you how absurd this is.”

Yet TFN plans to mobilize its standard response, with a news conference featuring offended clergy scheduled for Monday. TFN’s website lays out a full analysis of “half truths” and distortions in the resolution, citing the original textbooks.

Lowe says the board plans to take up the matter September 24. She says she will endeavor to avoid casting a vote, as the board chair often does unless a member calls for a roll-call vote or her vote is needed to break a tie. But Lowe, who usually votes with the social conservative bloc, said she would vote to approve the resolution if forced. “It would be unusual to have a record vote” on a nonbinding resolution, Lowe says. “But we’ve done quite a few unusual things this year.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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