End poor guidance of Texas education

End poor guidance of Texas education
EDITORIAL - Austin American-Statesman - 4/24/2009 - original
Texas Senate should put brakes on Don McLeroy's nomination as chairman of the State Board of Education.
It's time for Don McLeroy to step down as chairman of the State Board of Education. Since he won't go willingly (and Gov. Rick Perry apparently won't remove his appointee), it is up to the Texas Senate to remove him from the chair.

Perry appointed McLeroy chairman in 2007 after the Legislature left town, so this year was the first opportunity for the Senate to exercise the body's power to ratify the appointment. McLeroy's tenure as chairman of the education board has been marked by controversies that have been a magnet for ridicule and rebuke from acclaimed scientists and researchers.

That kind of embarrassment would be bad enough if it were limited to the 15 members elected to the board from districts across the state. But here's the thing: The board wields real power in devising policies and setting academic standards for Texas public schools. It oversees the $17.5 billion Permanent School Fund. And, unfortunately, it is that same board that selects textbooks that go to the state's 4.7 million schoolchildren.

Though McLeroy, R-College Station, didn't start the culture wars that have polarized the board, he certainly amped up their volume to the detriment of Texas students.

At a time when education leaders are focused on raising science standards, McLeory led efforts to weaken the instruction of evolution. University of Texas biology professor David Hillis said the result of the board's actions will be felt in classrooms: "Texas students now have a weakened science curriculum, and the science reputation of the state has been seriously injured."

With McLeroy at the helm, some board members have made international news by questioning the theory of evolution, arguing that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and writing that President Barack Obama is a terrorist sympathizer who intends to establish martial law.

The board needs a strong leader who will stop the bickering and shift the focus back to students' needs.

Though the board is legally prohibited from editing textbooks, it continues to do so by bullying publishers whose books are rejected if they don't conform to political and social agendas of a seven-member voting bloc that includes McLeroy. And when it comes to textbooks, what happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. Publishers are reluctant to develop whole new textbooks an expensive endeavor for smaller markets in other states. So those states tend to buy textbooks made for Texas off the shelf.

It takes 21 votes in the Texas Senate to confirm a nominee. State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, chairman of the Senate Nominations Committee, wisely indicated he would not permit McLeroy's name to advance to the floor for a vote if that threshold were not met.

It's clear that the board's dysfunction under McLeroy has done real damage to Texas public education. It is time to put a stop to it.