Sunday, June 1, 2008

English Coalition Lobby gets a Spanking

Back-to-Basics Phonics and Grammar -- Big Winners
by Ken Mercer, Texas State Board of Education

If you are mean, lie, or cheat, you deserve a spanking. That is exactly what happened to the “Coalition” lobby at the May 21 - 23 meeting of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).

That Coalition supports whole language, holistic scoring of essays, project-based learning, inventive spelling, and no direct systematic instruction of grammar/usage.

The results of the powerful Coalition philosophy are devastating. The Commission for a College Ready Texas reported that 50 % of college freshmen in Texas are unprepared and enrolled in remedial or developmental education.

At the May 21, 2008, SBOE meeting, a parent and her son testified about the failures of the current reading, writing, and grammar standards.

As with prior public meetings, the Coalition was repeatedly cautioned by SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy (R - College Station) to refrain from rude outbursts and intimidating testifiers. In the real world, if you ever treated a concerned customer that way, you would be fired.

In the same meeting, a retired educator testified in favor of strong phonics and back-to-basics grammar, only to be met by Coalition members who hatefully stuck out their tongues.

What wonderful role models for our Texas children these Coalition members were!

Last fall, the Texas Education Agency contracted StandardsWork (SW), a nationwide professional facilitator, to help bring forth the final standards document. The SBOE in their March 2008 meeting voted 15 - 0 to make the SW document the base document upon which the teacher workgroups (meeting the first week of May 2008) were to make their final changes.

However, thanks to the intense questioning at the May 22 SBOE meeting by McLeroy, Gail Lowe (R - Lampasas), Terri Leo (R - Spring), and David Bradley (R - Beaumont) the truth came out. The March document passed unanimously by the SBOE was switched to a new, never before seen Coalition document.

The Coalition retained control of their document for several days after the teacher workgroups completed their meeting, perhaps making further changes before giving it to the TEA or SBOE.

Member Geraldine Miller (R-Dallas) protested strongly that the Coalition had “hijacked” the process, and Cynthia Dunbar (R - Richmond) stated the Coalition had made a mockery and a "circus" out of the process.

Member Barbara Cargill (R - The Woodlands) said she was ashamed and embarrassed to learn that SW had found Texas to be the most difficult state in the nation with which to work.

That is why I made the motion (passed 9 to 6) to accept the SW document that: (1) had two and one-half years of educator input, (2) passed 15-0 at the March SBOE meeting, (3) met the legal requirement of being posted on the Texas Register, and (4) allowed twenty-three million Texans the legally required thirty days to review the proposed new standards.

The “hijacked” Coalition document failed to meet any of those requirements.

SBOE Member Rick Agosto (D – San Antonio) successfully amended my motion to include the input of previously agreed-upon Hispanic experts.

Member David Bradley then notified the SBOE that he intended to bring on May 23 a substitute amendment, one which was the exact document the SBOE just passed plus the important grammar/usage input from the teacher workgroups.

To ensure a fair and transparent conclusion, I voted for Member Lawrence Allen’s (D - Houston) motion that ultimately resulted in almost three additional hours of section-by-section review before the vote on the final document was taken.

The majority of the SBOE voted 9 to 6 for strengthened phonics, grammar, and ten reading comprehension sections. We soundly defeated desperate pro-coalition amendments to water down phonics and add the failed whole-language reading “strategies” to the main document.

I wish to say to the hard-working classroom teachers that the intimidating actions of the Coalition lobby embarrassed the entire education field.

It is my belief that the Coalition lobby was mean, they lied, and they cheated. In the end, they got a very well deserved spanking; and the school children and educators of Texas have content-rich standards for phonics, reading, writing, and grammar.

Ken Mercer was elected to the State Board of Education in 2007. He chaired the 2008 Teacher of the Year Committee and is Vice-Chair of the Committee on School Initiatives.


Anonymous said...

I was disgusted by the Statesman's biased reporting on this matter the day the English standards were passed, and I smelled a rat when reading it. The dog that didnt bark in the Statesman story was the views of the 9 SBOE board members who passed it, and any real statements of the substantive difference. All the Statesman did was report and quote the negative reactions from the other side, including the 'professional educators' who were displeased they didnt get their way.

Thanks Ken Mercer for doing the right thing for Texas schoolchildren. We need read standards for kids based on the core competency and content of English - literacy, grammar, usage, writing/essay skills, rhetoric, literature. And free from indoctrinating concepts.

And thank you Randy for sharing this. Is there a link to the original source btw?

Randy A. Samuelson said...

There is no link to the original source. Ken Mercer wrote this op-ed and sent it out over his email list on Friday evening. I copied the original text into the blog and sent him a link that he can use to cite in future blogs or correspondance. If I get anything from Terri Leo, I'll post it, too.