October 19, 2013
Dallas First Baptist Education Talk
I graduated from Dallas Hillcrest in 1964. In those days, Dallas ISD schools were the overwhelming choice for most parents to send their children-even if they could afford a private school. Imagine Dallas ISD once again being the overwhelming choice for these parents and, imagine Texas having the best schools in the nation with businesses flocking to the state.
Also, picture Texas public school students striking a major blow to the teaching of evolution by simply pointing out to their fellow students the incredible weakness of the evolutionary explanations presented in their textbooks.
Finally, imagine a counterrevolution, beginning with Texas students, which can disestablish radical secular liberalism in America. Texas public schools now have in place the foundation that is needed to accomplish this task-our new history standards.
No other state is so well situated to accomplish all this. What we need is prayer, knowledge, leadership and hard work.
II. The Pitfall-Texas Reform Efforts
The first step is to fix our public school system. The Texas Constitution states, "… it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for … an efficient system of public free schools."
Today, however, their system is not working. I will attempt to explain why and then make some suggestions about how we can fix it.
A Classic Question
To begin, let me pose a classical education question. Which school would you choose for your child or grandchild?
A. A modern school with the latest technology-Kindles or laptops for every child, electronic smart boards, high speed internet access-plus a good teacher; or
B. An older school with a couple of desktop computers per classroom, old chalk boards, limited internet access-but a master teacher.
Everyone, without exception, chooses the school with the master teacher. This question clarifies for us what I think is the major task for the legislature today-getting a master teacher into every child's classroom. I believe solving it should be our state's primary educational policy objective and that every policy should be evaluated by how it hinders or accomplishes this goal.
The Texas Accountability System
But, over the last 34 years, the legislature has authorized five state tests (TABS, TEAMS, TAAS, TAKS, and STAAR,) two state curriculum standards (Essential Elements, and TEKS) and 20 years ago, a state Accountability System-the most ambitious reform of all.
Are we celebrating the Accountability System's 20th anniversary? No. After years of effort, this standards-based reform has NOT solved the dilemma of getting a master teacher in the classroom. In fact, it has, in the words of my former board colleague Gail Lowe, "muzzled" them.
For example, at a Senate Education Committee hearing February 2013, an Austin 7th grade English teacher testified that at that point in the school year in 2001, her students had read 10 novels and that this year's class had only read one!
So, what do we have to show for all this effort? We have definitely helped some children that would have been left behind. However, we have frustrated parents who-if they can afford it-are abandoning our public schools. We have frustrated teachers who are demoralized by their profession. We have frustrated children who-as one principal put it-"have lost their bounce." Plus, according to experienced teachers, we have seen no improvement in academic achievement.
A key point to keep in mind is that the legislature instituted these reforms with the best of motives-to help the disadvantaged or low-achieving child. Most of our advantaged or high-achieving children were doing just fine. Now, we are losing many of these children-and their parents-to home schooling and private schools. This drain of highly involved parents with motivated children makes the job of our public schools even more difficult.
The Accountability Conundrum
Also, the Accountability System has a major structural problem that has not been recognized or acknowledged by its advocates. Ironically, the system to raise standards makes it impossible to have high standards. I call it the accountability conundrum.
The best question I ever asked in my 12 years on the SBOE was: "Is our system designed so that any school can be an Exemplary school?" The answer I received was "Yes." But, if all schools can be Exemplary and in an Exemplary school 90% of the children have to pass the test, then you have to keep the passing standard low enough for 90% of the children to jump over with good effort. (Think about how low you would have to keep the high jump bar at a track meet so that 90% of the kids in the entire school, not just on the track team, could jump over it-given they exercise, eat right and are motivated. And imagine how exciting the track meet would be.) Now think about how exciting our schools have been for the last 20 years.
III. A Solution
How we can get these master teachers? How can we create a public school system where the words "I am a public school teacher" immediately enlist an inner "Wow!" reaction; where "educator" becomes the most honored and highly sought out professional title?
First, abolish the state criterion-referenced tests and replace them with commercially available norm- reference tests. At the beginning of each school year, have a one-month enrollment period for parents to select the best assessment for their child. Let the test makers educate our parents as they market their products.
This would give parents a significant role in their child's education-increasing parental involvement, and, give them a sense of "buy-in" to the system. It would prevent "teaching to the test" as every teacher would have students taking multiple tests. And, it would give the state more meaningful feedback as these tests would measure the entire range of academic achievement.
Second, abolish the over 160 Educator Preparation Programs in the state and replace them with 20 prestigious Colleges of Education. The competition for one of these 20 slots would be fierce. Colleges and universities would battle for the best professors to include in their application. It would be "blood and guts"; the Marine Corps would seem like a bunch of cupcakes by comparison. Plus, these schools would immediately eliminate unproductive programs and courses.
Third, admit into these prestigious schools, only the top 20% of high school graduates as measured academically by the ACT/SAT-entirely merit based (not GPA, which is influenced by local school and teacher policies). Give these students full ride scholarships. These high-quality students will ensure that these prestigious schools provide our state with the best possible teachers.
Lastly, abolish the Accountability System and replace it with nothing. When our schools are being driven, they will not need to be pulled.
IV. Do not forget to count our blessings
Meanwhile, as we fix our public school system, let us not forget to count our blessings. First, we still have pockets of high achievement in our schools because we still have a lot of:
- Good parents,
- Good kids,
- Good teachers-many of them master teachers, and
- Good administrators.
Note, it is not because we have an accountability system; it is in spite of our accountability system.
V. Our new English standards
Also, let us remember some of the good things we have already accomplished. Texas has in place some excellent curriculum standards that religious conservatives-both in the grass roots and on the State Board of Education worked hard to get adopted.
GRAMMAR In 2008, we adopted new English standards. Three years later, the Dallas Morning News reported on a series of Richardson ISD workshops to teach their teachers English grammar. A young teacher stated that "we are a generation where grammar was not a focus in our education." The story even says the teachers were learning "the details of sentence diagramming." Did you ever think you would live to see the day that diagramming sentences would be taught again?
What happened to motivate these schools and teachers to learn grammar? The story explained:
In 2008, the state board rejected the recommendation of a professional educators' coalition…. Instead, the board voted to return in part to an earlier model that includes specific grammar instruction at specific grade levels.
MORAL LESSONS Even individual standards can make a big difference; my favorite English standard is found in the 2nd grade. It has the students "identify moral lessons as themes in well-known fables, legends, myths, or stories." The professional educator coalition wanted "Compare themes of similar texts." Has this made a difference? You bet! One publisher has the students read: King Midas and the Golden Touch, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Little Engine That Could, Rip Van Winkle, The Fox and the Grapes, Cinderella, The Little Red Hen, and The Hare and the Tortoise.
This almost sounds like we have stepped back in to the 1950's!
I consider these new English standards as the board's single greatest achievement during my tenure. They will bear fruit for decades to come.
VI. Our new science standards: We can strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution!
In 2009, the board adopted new science standards, and now, our state is adopting new biology books that teach these standards. This offers an amazing opportunity for Texas students and teachers who are skeptical of evolution.
Even though these biology books are full of unsubstantiated dogmatic statements supporting evolution, there are still two major reasons I look forward toward their adoption. First, informed students and teachers can strike the final blow to the teaching of evolution in Texas, because there are some hidden jewels in these texts-just waiting to be mined by inquisitive students-that can destroy evolution.
When the board adopted new science standards, the evolutionists were painted into a corner. Authors were required to provide scientific evidence for evolution's explanations of the sudden appearance and stasis of groups in the fossil record and the complexity of the cell-and, most importantly, to identify the specific pages where they do so-these sections are the hidden jewels.
That week, Science magazine reported "New science standards for Texas schools strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution." The adoption of these books represents the final blow because, despite the evolutionist's boastful assertions of "robust" evidence for evolution, when you actually read those identified sections-the hidden jewels-you will find the evidence incredibly weak to non-existent. And if there is no evidence, there is no evolution.
How much evidence do the authors actually provide? One popular book's section on the "complexity of the cell" presents none! Like magicians, they just wave a magic wand of words, present some just-so stories with simple illustrations and apparently hope the students do not realize that they have not been provided any evidence for evolution.
The second reason to adopt these books is because they happen, coincidently, to support what the Bible says. The Bible says "God created all life after their kind." What we see in the world supports what the Bible says. We see amazing complexity in myriads of things that replicate themselves and can be organized into distinct classifications.
Plus, everything we see in a biology book supports what the Bible says. Test it for yourself; open at random any page and ask yourself if the description or illustration you find supports the claims of the Bible or of evolution.
Even the units on evolution support what the Bible says, because, as demonstrated, they don't even support evolution.
Ironically, evolutionists argue that creationists want to force their religious views into the text, but just the teaching of biology accomplishes that. And, teaching evolution demonstrates that's not how God did it.
Why should we not claim victory in this biology/evolution debate? Why not use biology to advocate for the Bible! Let's not be intimidated by these evolutionists. Their story is more similar to the fairy tale-The Emperor with No Clothes-than to science.
Let's show our children these "Hidden Jewels" and then have them show them to their fellow classmates and teachers.
VII. Our new history standards
New history standards were adopted in May 2010. The changes we adopted attracted national attention because they challenged the powerful ideology of the left and highlighted the great political divide of our country.
Michigan State professor William B. Allen has said:
"The founding era and the founding fathers are not just a topic of instruction for us; it is most important first to understand, that they are the meat we feed upon…. Therefore, our task is not to ask whether we should regard the founders with tender care and understanding; our task is to find the means to do so."
And in Texas, with our new standards, we are finding the means to do so.
The left doesn't like these new standards. The Dallas Morning News editorial board complained that the top priority for our State Board the following year should be to revise those standards. They stated: "The standards were so controversial that they sparked protest in Texas and around the country… Among the bizarre revisions: the board super-conservatives insisted on making Joe McCarthy look as if he was onto something about communist infiltration…." It sounds like they need to go back to college. I'm sorry, it sounds like they have been to college.
One of my favorite history standards is found in World History. Our students are now required "explain how Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict." Another is found in high school Government: "examine the reasons the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America and guaranteed its free exercise by saying that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and compare and contrast this to the phrase, "separation of church and state." There is a lot of misunderstanding about where we find the phrase "separation of church and state." The answer is simple; it is in Texas' new history standards so that our children will know that it is not in the Constitution!
VIII. Our Posterity
The battle over the education of our children is one that we cannot afford to lose. We cannot simply retreat into our churches and hope that things will get better. This is why I appreciate what you are doing here this morning.
America's only hope is our Posterity. Too many in our previous generations are now hopelessly lost. Yuri Bezmenov, former Soviet KGB agent, speaking of many in our country in leadership positions, stated "You are stuck with them. They are contaminated. They are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli... You cannot change their mind, even if you expose and authentic information…."
Benjamin Wiker, in his excellent new book, Worshipping the State, documents the long slow process by which these generations were lost-how the secular left first captured European political philosophy and then in the latter half of the 1800's-the American university. All this eventually led to their control of public education.
However, he concludes by offering some hope and a solution. He says that all we "need to achieve in education in order to undermine the establishment of liberal secularism is-brace yourself!-to ensure that what really happened in the past be taught in our history classes." We can do this in Texas.
The Importance of Religious Convictions
But how do we equip our youth for this battle?
My suggestion is we must first solidify their religious convictions. America was founded on her religious convictions; the result was American Exceptionalism; President Lincoln even said we were "the last best hope of earth."
However, too many Americans have been taught that religion is inimical to freedom. We must combat this false knee-jerk reaction that mixing of religion and politics is a threat to freedom. M. Stanton Evans, in his book The Theme is Freedom, calls this myth the "Liberal History Lesson." It says that "Our religion and our liberty…have always been in conflict. Freedom, democracy and intellectual inquiry allegedly flourished in the pagan era, only to be crushed to earth in the Christian Middle Ages." And, "that freedom reappeared when 'humanist' scholars of the Renaissance and Enlightenment threw off the shackles of religion of the ancients…" This idea has one major problem; it is not true.
When you stand in the center of the Jefferson Memorial facing the White House and look up to your right, you will read these words of President Jefferson, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberty of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
Our liberty, according to Jefferson, is not the result of our good nature, our intellect or our good intentions; it is the result of a religious conviction that it is a gift from God. I agree with Jefferson. Unfortunately today, traditional religious convictions are not cherished and championed; they are mocked and ridiculed everywhere by secular-minded modern men-especially elite opinion makers, late night TV comedians, and some in high office.
Three Religious Convictions
I believe the Bible; the Bible says "God created the heavens and the earth; God created man in the image of God; and that man is a sinner. Again, what I see in the world around me supports what the Bible says. These convictions are simple and obvious truths; they are not obtuse theological points. When clearly presented, they would probably be acceptable to almost everyone; only a strict materialist would find them objectionable.
Let us take a brief, closer look at these three convictions.
The Religious Conviction That God Is the Creator
Our foundational conviction is in a transcendent God who created the heavens and the earth-the God who is there. God is the source of all truth and morality.
This religious conviction also led to the development of the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages which then led to the achievement of modern science.
The Religious Conviction That Man Is Created in the Image of God
Our next religious conviction is that all men are special having been created in the image of God. David Brog, in his recent book In Defense of Faith, convincingly describes how the secularists' attempts to purge religion from our society would purge the moral high ground from where they preach. He states that "morally they were born on third base and think that they have hit a moral triple;" "they begin life on a high moral summit and believe they have scaled a high mountain."
Clearly, the source for the moral power on which the foundation of our country is based is the Judeo-Christian idea that all men are created in the image of God. Our whole idea of liberty, of the Declaration's "all men are created equal", and of the importance of the individual is grounded in this great truth.
The Religious Conviction That Man Is Fallen
The third religious conviction-that man is a sinner-is absolutely necessary to understand how our Constitution was designed to work. With a clear understanding of man's sin nature, our founders made it difficult to govern-that is, they made it difficult for tyranny to succeed. Thus they adopted the separation of powers doctrine with its numerous checks and balances.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the modern leftists, when thwarted in their dreams, wrongly describe our government as dysfunctional. But, when the Democrats over-reached and passed an unpopular healthcare bill, the Republicans took over of the House of Representatives less than one year later. Our Constitution worked flawlessly!
If we lose the religious conviction that man is fallen, we run the risk of a totalitarian state.
It is a historic fact that Christianity has given us our freedom. Back in 1926 this was exceedingly clear to President Coolidge; he concluded his speech on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration with these words:
"We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed…."
Coolidge said, we must "cling" "to the things of the spirit;" others today mock the idea. Nothing describes how America has changed better than this. We must be able to make the case for reviving our religious convictions to our friends and children. We are asking them to recognize some obvious and simple truths about God, this world and man.
Let's go to work.
Get a master teacher in every classroom,
Have our students, some young Ann Hettingers, point out that evolution "has no clothes,"
Teach our children what actually happened in history class, and
Revive key religious convictions in our friends and youth.
Former Chairman, Texas State Board of Education
4343 Carter Creek Parkway Suite 105
Bryan, Texas 77802