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What Is the State Board of Education?
The State Board of Education is the governing body that essentially determines what students learn in Texas public schools. The board is made up of 15 members elected from districts across the state. All 15 seats on the state board are up for election in 2012. For that reason, 2012 could be a watershed moment for public education in Texas. Board members elected this year will help determine what an entire generation of Texas students learn in their science and social studies classrooms.
The board's influence comes from its responsibility to establish curriculum standards for public school courses and then review and adopt proposed textbooks based on those standards. The state board adopted controversial new curriculum standards for science in 2009 and for social studies in 2010. The board is scheduled to adopt new textbooks based on the science standards in 2013 and on the social studies standards in 2014.
Because Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks in the nation, publishers often write textbooks for this state and then sell those same textbooks to schools across the country. For that reason, Texas has long had a major influence on what students learn in classrooms far outside the Lone Star State.
The approval of curriculum standards and textbooks have long been major "culture war" battles driven by the board's religious-right members. The divisive debate over science standards in 2009, for example, was focused on whether students should learn creationist-inspired arguments against evolution. The battle over new social studies standards in 2010 was even more divisive, with the final standards promoting conservative politics and questioning whether the Constitution protects separation of church and state.
Even the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has given low marks to both sets of standards. In fact, the Fordham Institute calls the curriculum standards for U.S. history "a politicized distortion of history" with "misrepresentations at every turn."
Controversies at the SBOE
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