In its second meeting of the year, the State Board of Education (SBOE) took three critical votes which will:
- improve the TEKS drafting work groups,
- allow better communication during the charter school application process, and
- protect children from obscene library materials.
Improving TEKS Drafting: The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are the state standards for what students should know and be able to do, and they guide what is taught in public schools to 5.5 million students (TEC Sec. 28.001).
Under the previous process, the SBOE delegated the drafting to several work groups before they would vote to establish the drafts through administrative rulemaking (TEC Sec. 28.002(c)). State law requires that SBOE work groups include educators, parents, business and industry representatives, and employers. Most 2022 work group members were ISD staff.
While the SBOE has the legal and political responsibility for the TEKS, the members’ influence was significantly limited in key ways:
- Application Phase: Work group applicants weren’t required to submit a cover letter or resume, nor did SBOE members interview the applicants. All applicants not denied by their SBOE member were placed in a prospective service pool. In the 2022 social studies process, 905 individuals (80% of applicants) were placed into the prospective service pool.
- Drafting Phase: TEA staff appoint work group members from this prospective service pool and define the scope of their work. (TEA, 2018) In each drafting process, about a half dozen groups work consecutively. For example, when work group A completes its work, TEA creates group B and defines its scope; when B is finished, TEA creates group C and defines its scope. From all 905 individuals in the prospective service pool, TEA selected 112 individuals (10% of applicants) to serve on the work groups.
In sum, the SBOE did not select the members, define their scope of work, or offer feedback on their initial work products. In effect, the SBOE’s influence diminishes throughout the process to a vanishing point. Yet they are recalled at the end of the line, at which time they are presented with near final TEKS drafts.
The result in 2022 was that board members who wished to improve the drafts were required to submit amendments to specific words and clauses within documents that were hundreds of pages in length: see, for example, the draft from group A & C, draft from group D, and draft from group E. Unfortunately, the drafts presented to the SBOE in summer 2022 fell far below expectations, as we wrote and explained at the time. Yet the SBOE was tasked with correcting fundamental omissions and repeated appearances of false and misleading statements.
Such a process was untenable. In fall 2022, the SBOE prudently limited the scope of the social studies TEKS revisions and stepped back.
In its second meeting of the year, the SBOE laid a strong foundation to improve the process.
First, work group applicants will be required to submit a resume identifying their professional association, affiliations, and groups.
Most significantly, the work groups will be selected through a collaborative ranking process between TEA and the SBOE: TEA will rank all applicants and send their recommendations to the SBOE member in whose district the applicant resides. The SBOE member will then adjust the rankings and TEA staff will assemble work groups using the top-ranked candidates in each SBOE district.
Next, the SBOE will have an ongoing role: when the first work group completes its work, the second group will be assembled using half of the individuals who served on group one, while the other half will be selected by repeating the collaborative ranking process. This provides the SBOE the opportunity to guide the work groups throughout the TEKS drafting process.
Finally, TEA will also provide the SBOE with regular reports explaining work group membership.
In sum, the SBOE will have a central and ongoing role in future TEKS drafting processes, with the goal that the work group drafters more closely reflect the views of the board and the people of Texas they are elected to represent.
Ending the Blackout: The SBOE also considered an amendment which would eliminate a communication blackout period for charter school applicants.
Currently, a charter school applicant may not communicate with the commissioner of education, his designee, the State Board of Education, or an application reviewer from the time the school leader applies for a charter until the SBOE takes its final vote on the applications. (TAC Sec. 100.1(d)) This restriction on an applicant’s free speech prevents innovative school leaders from defending themselves against criticism from charter school opponents, such as recommendations from ISD superintendents asking state leaders to deny all applications.
As TEA’s legal counsel reported in the April meeting, such a blackout period is without parallel. No other elected body in Texas prohibits communication from their constituents.
The SBOE began to improve this rule by voting to allow school leaders to begin contacting SBOE members when their application passes external review with a qualifying score, which is the second of five steps in the application evaluation process. In effect, this will allow applicants to begin communicating with state leaders in mid-April.
We recommend the SBOE continue to work to eliminate the no-contact rule. The board will consider the issue in their June meeting.
Standing with Parents: Finally, the SBOE took a hard pass on an attempt to import the American Library Associations (ALA’s) anti-parent ideology into Texas administrative law through the School Librarian certificate.
“(N) advocate for and protect each user’s right to privacy, confidentiality, and age-appropriate principles of intellectual freedom, as indicated by best library practices (American Library Association (ALA) Privacy) and federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) law;
(O) demonstrate professional behavior in accordance with the educator code of ethics as stated by the ALA and Texas Education Agency…”
As SBOE member Will Hickman pointed out, as of April 2023, the ALA includes the following in its Library Privacy Guidelines for Students in K-12 Schools:
State and federal laws regarding library records, educational records (e.g. FERPA), and the online activities of minors (e.g. COPPA) have both positive and negative impacts on the privacy rights of students. For example, FERPA establishes explicit rights to privacy for students’ and minors’ educational records but at the same time grants school officials with “legitimate educational interest” and parents access to, and oversight over, student records that weakens these privacy rights. Students’ and minors’ First Amendment rights to free inquiry and privacy must be balanced against both the educational needs of the school and the rights of the parents. As students and minors mature, it is increasingly important that they are provided with opportunities to exercise their curiosity and develop their intellect free from the chilling effects of surveillance by educators, peers, parents, or commercial interests.
To the ALA:
- parent and teacher involvement in student learning is surveillance, and
- federal and state laws weaken children’s privacy rights.
Behind the ALA’s flowery language about privacy and intellectual freedom is an anti-parent ideology. Librarians may present any material they wish to students and are under no obligation to inform, let alone ask permission from, parents. As Chairman Ellis pointed out, the ALA statement is in direct contradiction with state law, which states: “A parent is entitled to full information regarding the school activities of a parent’s child,” except in cases of abuse. (TEC 26.008)
“Parents have a right to see what their children are learning and doing,” Mr. Hickman pointed out in debate. “I want my children to develop their intellect but what’s troubling to me in the ALA statement is—’free from the chilling effects of surveillance by parents’—that’s the opposite of what I would say.” In opposition, Ms. Perez-Diaz observed that the ALA are “subject matter experts,” and that “we would never step into an operating room and tell doctors what processes and procedures to follow and not follow because we don’t have the expertise. I don’t want somebody that’s not a surgeon operating on me or dictating how that operation should happen.”
Some zealous individuals—like the experts at ALA—say they know better than parents. They are working to advance ideologies because they sincerely believe that children are a means to the end of social justice. They believe that through children’s proper education, the righting of historical wrongs will be accomplished. And when parents speak up against the employment of their children in service of sweeping ideologies, experts at ALA feature them as the leading cause of censorship.
We reject this view entirely.
Children are not a means to an end. Rather, the end of education is the good of the child. And in achieving this good, parents are not obstacles to overcome; they are their child’s first and primary educator. Parents are responsible for teaching their child what is good, true, and beautiful. Doing so is the central work of fatherhood and motherhood. Only by fulfilling this responsibility can families be strong and joyful. The state should support educational programs that complement parents’ role, rather than those that seek to replace them.
Because the librarian certification requirements were in the final phase of adoption, a two-thirds vote was required to veto them. With no vote to spare, 10 members voted to veto the rule, which was then sent back to SBEC for reconsideration.