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Two hours into a meeting called to parse revisions to new social studies textbooks for Texas schoolchildren — and a month before the deadline for final approval — the State Board of Education found itself confronting a tricky question.

Was Sam Houston a liberal?

Board member Pat Hardy believed that Houston, hero of the Texas revolution and two-time president of the Texas Republic, might balk at the description.

“I don’t know if he would like that or not,” said Hardy, a Republican from Fort Worth. “I just never hear Sam Houston referred to as a liberal. And those of us who liked Sam Houston want to keep him on our side.”

In November, the 15-member elected board is set to approve new social studies materials, including books and online tools that will be used in Texas public schools for the next eight years.

Publishers have spent 18 months developing their versions of world, U.S. and Texas history and shepherding them through rounds of expert reviews, revisions and public comments, hoping to get their texts into the Texas market.

The final edit is now in the hands of a Republican-controlled board whose bruising political battles over curriculum standards —  including infighting over everything from creationism to causes of the Civil War — have previously flared into national view.

In textbook-approval, state law limits the role of the education board to vetting instructional materials for factual errors and ensuring they meet Texas curriculum standards. But the process can still provide an opening for strong-willed state board members to wield outsize influence, pushing to include pet historical figures or alter the presentation of politically charged topics like climate change or Islamic fundamentalism.

Guidelines from the Texas Education Agency define a factual error as an objective inaccuracy or a bias so severe that it interferes with student learning. The latter category creates a large gray area, said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican board member from Mount Pleasant.

“In the nebulous world of interfering with student learning,” said Ratliff, whose district crosses 31 counties in Northeast Texas, “when does bias become so bad that it becomes an error?”

Case in point? The question whether Sam Houston, who opposed secession, was a liberal. Asked by a colleague to explain how that constituted a factual error, Hardy said it was “methodological.”

“When you give a modern context to a historical event, that is a factual error in my opinion,” she said. “It’s almost like an anachronism.”

The process of reviewing the more than 100 products submitted for eight different social studies courses has revealed obvious mistakes like grammatical errors or incorrect answers on end-of-chapter quizzes. But more often, potential flaws have fallen into less objective territory: whether an account of the Arab-Israeli conflict strikes an appropriate balance, for example, or whether a profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton should be included in a section on American leaders.

At the recent meeting, board members suggested that publishers make it clearer that Jews were the primary target of the Holocaust, add context to show that not all anti-abortion campaigners use violence and note that the bodyguards who assassinated the Indian leader Indira Gandhi were Sikhs.

Another time, as “food for thought,” board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-Woodlands, told a publisher that while she appreciated a text’s discussion of the role of religion in the French Revolution, there could be greater coverage of how it played in the American Revolution.

An exchange between a board member, Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, and Rhonda Haynes, a vice president of textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, illustrated the challenge that publishers face.

Mercer questioned whether a section on world religions included balanced coverage of “the good and the bad” of Islam, as required by the state curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS.

It depended on “who is defining balance,” Haynes said.

“The size of a textbook and then the need to meet certain TEKS, it limits opportunities to include a greater discussion,” she said. “To add more, we are just stuck. There is not enough room to do it.”

A 2011 law diluted some of the board’s control over instructional materials, in part to limit the ability of members to force publishers into making last-minute changes.

The law ended a requirement that any approved materials cover 100 percent of Texas curriculum standards, which curbed the board’s ability to knock a textbook off the list over a few errors. It also shifted the responsibility for buying instructional materials from the state level to the local level, allowing school districts to buy products outside of the state board’s recommended list.

But most Texas school districts still look for the state board’s seal of approval when selecting their instructional materials. 

The boards’ vetting process carries weight as an assurance that instructional materials meet a certain quality threshold, said Alicia Thomas, who has served as an academic officer for both San Antonio’s North East Independent School District and the Houston school district, where she worked until 2012.

“It provides a foundation upon which school districts can make individual decisions,” she said, adding that without the board, each school district would need to undergo that process at the local level.

Board members continue to control the state curriculum standards — last updated for social studies in 2010 — which publishers aim to follow.

“The whole structure is in a way a charade,” said Jacqueline Jones, the chairwoman of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. 

In September, Jones delivered a detailed report to the state board identifying severe biases and “omissions of fact” in an American history textbook up for approval that she said encouraged “ideological biases that are either outside the boundaries of established, mainstream scholarship, or just plain wrong.”

It was “very frustrating,” she said, to realize when she testified before the board in September that most of the errors were the result of publishers following curriculum standards set by the state four years ago, meaning they were unlikely to be corrected.

“The whole thing is very bizarre to me that people can just say we want to glorify this country, and we don’t want students to dwell on unpleasant aspects of the past,” she said.

Such a version of history would cause students to alternate between “getting cynical and being bored,” she added.

“They know we live in a hyperpartisan society today, that there are real debates about all kinds of things,” she said. “For textbooks to sweep that under the rug strikes me as very odd.” 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Original author: Morgan Smith
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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz remains the top presidential choice of Texas Republican voters, but Gov. Rick Perry is starting to close the gap between the two, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

It might not seem that way at first glance. While 27 percent of likely Republican voters say Cruz would be their choice in a hypothetical primary for the 2016 presidential nomination, only 14 percent choose Perry. Author and former surgeon Ben Carson is looming in the governor’s rearview mirror, with 10 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, each at 7 percent.

But in the June UT/TT Poll, Perry was running fourth, with 7 percent, while Cruz was way out in front with 33 percent of the respondents at his side. A year ago, Cruz had a 3-to-1 lead over the governor.

“Rick Perry’s political instincts about how to respond to law and order at the border are still pretty good,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Everyone else is milling around in the middle of the pack.”

Other Republicans included in the survey — U.S. Sens. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — each come in with 4 percent or less. Eleven percent of the likely Republican voters say they haven’t thought enough about the race to have a favorite.

Enlarge Emily Albracht
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Texas voters have favorable impressions of the two Republicans currently at the top of the GOP pileup, with 44 percent saying they have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of Cruz and 45 percent saying the same about Perry. More than a third of the voters — 36 percent — have an unfavorable opinion of Cruz; 40 percent have an unfavorable impression of Perry.

“This race on the Republican side shows that there is no heir to the throne,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at UT-Austin. He said the GOP tends to nominate candidates for president who finished in second place four years prior. “There’s no runner-up looking for the title this time.”

Shaw said the numbers are still volatile and the changes in the standings are relatively small. But he added that Perry’s profile is rising some. “You guys in the media love second acts, and Perry is a great second act,” he said.

Enlarge Emily Albracht
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Democrats, on the other hand, have a straight-up front-runner in Hillary Clinton, who has the support of 60 percent of likely Democratic voters in Texas, according to the poll. She’s followed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, at 13 percent, and Vice President Joe Biden, at 10 percent.

Other potential Democratic candidates — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley — each get support from 2 percent or less of voters, and 13 percent of the Democratic likely voters said they have no favorite.  

“The not-Hillary vote is sort of befuddled right now,” Shaw said.

According to the poll, Perry gets better job reviews than either the president or Congress, with 46 percent of Texas voters saying they approve of his performance and 38 percent saying they don’t. Among those who feel strongly about it, 22 percent approve and 27 percent disapprove of the governor’s work in office.

Enlarge Emily Albracht
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President Obama gets good reviews from 36 percent of Texans and bad reviews from 57 percent. And most of the voters who disapprove — 48 percent — say they strongly disapprove. Only 14 percent strongly approve of his performance.

Texas voters have hard views of Congress, with 14 percent saying they approve of its job performance and 71 percent saying they disapprove. Among those who feel strongly, 2 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove.

“The president remains deeply unpopular, and I think we’re seeing that expressed in races from governor to dog-catcher,” Henson said. “Anyone wondering why the president has been turning up in so many ads on TV can find their answer right here.”

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Oct. 10 to Oct. 19 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Among 866 likely voters in the head-to-head general election races, the margin of error is +/- 3.33 percent. Among 560 likely Republican primary voters, the margin of error is +/- 4.14 percent, and among 429 likely Democratic primary voters, the margin of error is +/- 4.73 percent. Numbers in the charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Yesterday: Texans’ views on the governor’s race. Next week: Texans on issues.

Disclosure: UT-Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Original author: Ross Ramsey
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It would take more than 10 days to watch all the ad spots on broadcast television that the campaign of Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Texas governor, has bought from July to Election Day.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and widely considered the front-runner for governor, has bought more than 250 hours of time, more than all of the other statewide candidates combined. Only candidates for governor in Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania have spent more on TV time in 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which tracks campaign ads.

Abbott’s commercials include positive messages showcasing support from Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the head of a PAC aiming to engage women in elections, and attack ads portraying his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, as a Barack Obama clone.

The Texas campaign information is according to contracts for more than 44,000 political ad spots bought in the largest media markets from July 1 to Oct. 17 and filed with the Federal Communications Commission. It includes ads bought on NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, CW, Telemundo and Univision affiliates. The data does not include cable ad buys, and some broadcast stations in Texas have not yet submitted all of their political ad orders to the FCC.

Abbott spent more than $12.8 million on broadcast TV ads throughout the state during that period, while Davis spent $6.8 million, according to commission documents. Abbott’s campaign declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Davis said her campaign had spent more than $14 million on broadcast TV, cable and radio ads, but did not specify how much of that had been bought since July.

Davis has been better financed than other recent Democratic candidates for governor in Texas, where no Democrat has won any statewide election in two decades.

“That makes her more able to buy more ads than most Democrats, but it also makes her a more viable candidate, which also encourages Greg Abbott to buy more TV,” said Harold Cook, an Austin-based Democratic political consultant.

Abbott has a formidable supply of money. Earlier this year, he broke the record for the largest amount on hand ever reported by a candidate in Texas: $35.6 million.

“He has been in the position to significantly outspend his opponent in the final three weeks of the race," said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant. “That is when people are paying the most attention. It will allow him to win undecided votes by a healthy margin."

Though both campaigns have said they are focusing on Hispanic voters, Abbott has spent more than twice as much as Davis on ads on the Spanish-language broadcast stations Telemundo and Univision, according to FCC data.

Abbott and Davis have bought more broadcast ads in Dallas-Fort Worth — the fifth-largest media market in the nation and the biggest in Texas — than anywhere else in the state.

Haley Beth Davis, an ad buyer in Dallas for several Republican campaigns, said candidates often buy time during newscasts because they draw active voters. Sporting events and prime time are also popular.

“We start with the newscast, and then we branch out from there, depending on the level of budget we have,” she said.

Ads during newscasts cost nothing compared with football airtime. Davis said she spent $24,650 to buy a single 30-second ad sometime during NFL Sunday football on Oct. 5. In mid-September, Abbott spent $34,000 to air a 30-second ad during another game.

One of the cheapest ad times is during Family Feud in Abilene. Abbott’s campaign bought a few at $10 per 30-second spot.

Original author: Christine Ayala and Bobby Blanchard
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Republican state officials working to pass a voter photo ID law in 2011 knew that more than 500,000 of the state’s registered voters did not have the credentials needed to cast ballots under the new requirement. But they did not share that information with lawmakers rushing to pass the legislation.

Now that the bill is law, in-person voters must present one of seven specified forms of photo identification in order to have their votes counted.

A federal judge in Corpus Christi has found the law unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the state can leave it in place for the November election while appeals proceed.

The details about the number of voters affected emerged during the challenge to the law, and were included in the findings of U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

During the 2011 legislative struggle to pass the voter ID law, she wrote, Republican lawmakers asked the Texas secretary of state, who runs elections, and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which maintains driver’s license information, for the number of registered voters who did not have state-issued photo identification.

The answer: at least a half-million.

There was evidence, the judge wrote, that Sen. Tommy Williams asked the Texas Department of Public Safety to compare its ID databases with the list of registered voters to find out how many people would not have the most common of the photo IDs required by the law. No match was done to see how many people did not have other acceptable IDs. “That database match was performed by the SOS, but the results showing 504,000 to 844,000 voters being without Texas photo ID were not released to the Legislature.”

Gonzales Ramos sourced that finding in a footnote, noting that in a deposition, Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands who has since left the state Senate, said he requested that information and then did not share it with fellow lawmakers.

That many voters could make a real difference. Rick Perry, a Republican, beat Bill White, a Democrat, handily in the 2010 race for governor, winning by almost 13 percentage points. That was a difference of 631,086 votes. Earlier this month, the secretary of state announced that a record 14 million Texans are registered to vote in the coming general election. Using that office’s 2011 estimate, it is no stretch to think that 3.6 percent to 6 percent of current registered voters do not have the photo IDs now required to cast a ballot.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, Democrat of Houston, testified in the federal case that he asked the secretary of state for the information and never received it. But not everyone was uninformed. Citing depositions from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Ann McGeehan, an elections official with the secretary of state at the time, the judge wrote, “Lt. Gov. Dewhurst was aware of the no-match list results showing 678,000 to 844,000 voters being potentially disenfranchised.”

A spokesman for Dewhurst, Andrew Barlow, said the lieutenant governor was aware of the results when he gave his deposition, but not when the Legislature was debating the bill.

The no-match list was not enough, apparently, to prompt voter ID proponents to revisit the measure during the 2013 legislative session. So far, three statewide elections have been held using the new voter ID requirements, without clear evidence that it affected either turnout or outcomes: a vote on constitutional amendments in November 2013, and the party primaries and runoffs earlier this year.

The fate of the legislation was never in question in 2011. On the final vote, only 47 of 150 House members and 12 of 31 senators voted against it. Litigation started immediately and led to the ruling this month that the law is unconstitutional; has “an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans; and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose.” The judge capped that by saying the law acts as an unconstitutional poll tax.

The Republicans who wanted the law won in the Legislature, and the Democrats who did not want it won the first round in court. However, the Supreme Court left the law in place, apparently wanting to avoid any disruption in this year’s elections.

At the moment, that leaves a legal contradiction: The law is both unconstitutional and in force.

Original author: Ross Ramsey
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Posted by on in Open Discussion

The Big Conversation

Two Texans — Ted Cruz and Rick Perry — are now the preferred GOP candidates for president in the Lone Star State, according to a new poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune.

Cruz leads as the preferred candidate of 27 percent of the survey's respondents. Perry trailed significantly with 14 percent. Grassroots conservative favorite Ben Carson was at 10 percent. Perry is far behind Cruz, but as the Tribune's Ross Ramsey writes, the Texas governor has done a lot to improve his position.

As recently as the June version of the UT/TT poll, "Perry was running fourth, with 7 percent, while Cruz was way out in front with 33 percent of the respondents at his side. A year ago, Cruz had a 3-to-1-lead over the governor.

“'Rick Perry’s political instincts about how to respond to law and order at the border are still pretty good,' said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. 'Everyone else is milling around in the middle of the pack.'”

Things are a bit more straightforward on the Democratic side of the ballot. Hillary Clinton is the clear front-runner for the nomination, preferred by 60 percent of the respondents. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden trail badly, at 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Disclosure: UT-Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

The Day Ahead

•    The major party candidates for the U.S. Senate — Republican incumbent John Cornyn and Democratic challenger David Alameel — meet in Dallas for a 7 p.m. debate at the Mountain View College Performance Hall. The Tribune will livestream the encounter, as will the debate host, KUVN Univision 23.

•    The House Agriculture & Livestock and Culture, Recreation & Tourism committees hold a joint hearing at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Extension to take testimony on the state's ongoing feral hog problem. (agenda)

•    Today is the last day to submit an application for a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 4 general election.

Trib Must-Reads

Analysis: A Missing Piece in the Voter ID Debate, by Ross Ramsey

Texas Takes Last Pass At Social Studies Textbooks, by Morgan Smith

In TV Airtime, a Candidate Looks Invincible, by Christine Ayala and Bobby Blanchard

Straus Says Fix, Don't Ditch, Enterprise Fund, by Christine Ayala

Ebola Task Force Director: "This is the New Normal", by Reeve Hamilton

Elsewhere

Nearly a half-million Texans cast ballots, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Record number opting for mail ballots, San Antonio Express-News

Early voting numbers for El Paso County spur conflicting interpretations, El Paso Times

Transgender inmate's lawsuit accuses state of not protecting her from attacks, Houston Chronicle

RGV tops immigrant deaths across border, but overall level hits 15-year low, The Associated Press

Ebola Vaccine, Ready for Test, Sat on the Shelf, The New York Times

Mayor: New York doctor has Ebola, 1st in city, The Associated Press

University Park home dons Ebola-themed decorations for Halloween, The Dallas Morning News

Quote to Note

“If Democrats ever thought that Texans as a whole were going to embrace progressivism, they were kidding themselves.”

— Southern Methodist University political science professor Matthew Wilson, on the uphill climb facing Democrats on Nov. 4

Today in TribTalk

Why aren't we talking about health care?, by Ken Janda

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation With Railroad Commission Candidates Steve Brown and Ryan Sitton, on Oct. 30 at The Austin Club in Austin

•    A One-Day Symposium on the Impact of the Shale Boom on Oct. 31 at the University of Texas San Antonio

•    A Live Post-Election TribCast, featuring Tribune editors and reporters on the election results, on Nov. 5 at The Austin Club

•    A Conversation With Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick on Nov. 6 at The Austin Club

Original author: John Reynolds
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