An extreme extremist running for the State Board of Education


The State Board of Education, as the whole country knows, has a history of attracting candidates whose idea of “education” is cramming extremist ideology into Texas curriculum and textbooks. Extremist, however, may be too mild a term to describe the comments attributed to Mary Lou Bruner, a tea party-endorsed candidate in this year’s Republican primary for the board’s District 9 seat.

What I really would like to say about Ms. Bruner’s views would be unkind. So let me let her speak for herself.

Here are some of her more outrageous, prejudicial and head-in-the-sand pronouncements and viewpoints, according to a compilation by the Texas Freedom Network:

# “Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties. That is how he paid for his drugs.”

# There were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark, but they “may have been babies and not able to reproduce.”

# Slavery was a minor issue in the Civil War and there is no need for Black History Month, Mexican-American History Month or any other formal recognition of the historical contributions of minorities to the United States.

# “Islam is not a religion. Islam is an inhumane totalitarian political ideology with radical religious rules and laws and barbaric punishments for breaking the religious rules.”

# “The Climate Change HOAX was Karl Marx’s idea.”

# Conspirators in the Democratic Party had President Kennedy assassinated so that they could promote Lyndon Johnson – “a socialist and an unethical politician” – to the White House. “They got rid of the good guy; in the end, they got a socialist president which is what they originally wanted.”

The list, I am told, goes on.

District 9 is an open seat because, unfortunately, the incumbent, intelligent Republican Thomas Ratliff, one of the better SBOE members of either party, is not seeking reelection. TSTA is supporting Keven Ellis, the Lufkin ISD school board president, in the District 9 Republican primary race. He not only knows a lot about education and cares about students and educators, but his views also are grounded in reality.

The winner of the Republican primary likely will win the general election because the district, which stretches across a large part of East Texas, is heavily Republican.

Don’t be misled by the unfortunate fact that Bruner is a former teacher. I have great respect for teachers and am grateful that she no longer is actively polluting the classroom. That will change, however, if she wins this election. Let’s keep her on the sidelines.

How to drive the best researchers away from Texas


Gov. Greg Abbott this week announced a new university research initiative designed to attract Nobel Laureates and other “distinguished” researchers to Texas universities. The goal, Abbott said, is to make Texas’ higher education institutions the “best in the nation.” The words sound great, but the state leadership, through its actions, hasn’t proved that it means what the governor says.

First, there is the matter of money and, secondly, there is the new campus gun law.

University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven had an announcement of his own this week. He said that eight UT campuses, including the UT-Austin flagship, need to raise tuition to remain competitive in faculty salaries and national rankings. And the reason why is because the governor and the legislature majority continue to under-fund higher education, preferring instead to force tuition increases that will price some young people out of college educations.

Being best in the nation requires more than an investment of political platitudes.

The same state officials enacted the new law that, beginning Aug. 1, will allow guns to be brought onto college campuses, including classrooms. UT-Austin has only one Nobel Laureate on its faculty now, and he is so concerned about the new law that he may retire rather than allow guns in his classroom.

The best and the brightest researchers have many options, and a political mentality that prefers to arm college campuses with guns rather than adequate financial resources just may convince many of them to go elsewhere.




Education “reform” group trying to unseat education champion


State Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso is one of the biggest friends and advocates that public schools, educators and students have in the Texas Legislature. She has voted to increase school funding and reduce standardized testing and, as a member of the House Public Education Committee, represents the best interests of neighborhood schools.

So, why would a group calling itself “Texans for Education Reform” (or TER) try to defeat Gonzalez’s re-election bid? According to the El Paso Times, TER so far has contributed $100,500 to Chente Quintanilla, a former legislator who is Gonzalez’s opponent in the March 1 Democratic primary for the House District 75 seat.

As a House member a few years ago, Quintanilla voted for a school finance plan that created a permanent education funding shortage, and he voted to increase high-stakes testing. He also voted for the tuition deregulation law under which college tuition has soared, puncturing the higher education dreams of many young people from middle- and low-income families. And he voted against strong regulations for charter schools, which would have protected against tax dollars being diverted to charter operators more interested in profit than education.

The reason Texans for Education Reform is supporting Quintanilla so heavily against Gonzalez is actually pretty simply. Texans for Education Reform is not about improving public education and never has been. It’s goal, instead, is to take tax dollars from neighborhood public schools in favor of expanding corporate charters and promoting other unproven privatization schemes, the types of things that Rep. Gonzalez recognizes for the scams that they are. So, in TER’s view, she has to go.

TER also supported the new law requiring school campuses to be graded A-F on the state’s accountability system. This law that will do absolutely nothing to improve public education, but it will add stigma to the low-income children whose under-funded campuses will get most of the Ds and Fs.

The president and chair of Texans for Education Reform is Florence Shapiro, a former chair of the state Senate Education Committee, under whom testing flourished while school funding dwindled. One board member is Rod Paige, the former U.S. Education Secretary under President Bush who ushered in No Child Left Behind and the high-stakes testing era.

Another board member is Houston businessman Dick Weekley, founder, chairman and CEO of Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), a similar, misnamed business group that has succeeded in its campaign to make it very difficult for everyday Texans with legitimate complaints against negligent or abusive business practices to seek justice in the courthouse.

TER is similar to TLR. Both are misnamed because neither has much to do with true reform and both are supported by some of the same business people. In TER’s case, the goal is to divert tax dollars to corporations and entrepreneurs by declaring public schools a failure, under-funding them and then privatizing education services. Rep. Gonzalez stands in their way.

Another potential problem with Quintanilla, which doesn’t seem to bother TER, is a report that he is under investigation by the state attorney general’s office for alleged voter fraud. According to a recent report on KVIA-TV in El Paso, the investigation stems from a civil lawsuit filed against him alleging that he unlawfully delivered ballots for homebound seniors in a justice of the peace election.

TER’s most recent contribution to Quintanilla was in the form of $55,500 worth of in-kind services, routed through the Forma Group, for advertising, direct mail, political consulting and other campaign assistance. Forma recently hired state Rep. Marisa Marquez, who is retiring at the end of this term from House District 77. Interestingly enough, Marquez received large contributions in previous elections from TER’s cousin, Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

Now, apparently, Marquez, who is still in office, is helping out TER and Quintanilla against Gonzalez.




Federal education chief downplays testing


It remains to be seen, of course, how John B. King Jr., the new acting U.S. Education Secretary, will perform compared to his predecessor, Arne Duncan. But, whether he likes it or not, he won’t be as test-happy, thanks to the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The new law, which replaced No Child Left Behind, encourages states and school districts to reduce the role of high-stakes testing and prohibits the education secretary from mandating that teachers be evaluated based on test scores.

King, who has been making something of a get-acquainted tour around the country, addressed testing and teacher evaluations at a recent teacher town hall meeting in Philadelphia. According to Education Week, he said the new federal law gives states and school districts a “fresh start” and a “much-needed do-over” on the issue of using student outcomes to evaluate educators.

Under No Child Left Behind and Arne Duncan, student outcomes included test scores, which also are part of a teacher evaluation model (T-TESS) proposed by the Texas Education Agency. But King pointed out that state tests don’t have to be part of an evaluation system, and he urged state policymakers to work with teachers to change appraisal systems that aren’t working.

“Teachers were not always adequately engaged by policymakers in the development of new systems,” King said.

ESSA gives educators an opportunity to change that. Now, it is up to educators to seize the challenge.




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