Dear Fellow Friends and Educators,
The State Board of Education met last week for the first time this school year. Topics of discussion included textbook funding and a controversial resolution to keep a pro-Islamic bias out of future textbooks. However, the biggest triumph was the passage of an updated version to the Dyslexia Handbook, a goal I wanted to accomplish before I step down from the Board.
I created the Dyslexia Handbook shortly after joining the Board to give teachers an easy-to-use tool for teaching and understanding children with dyslexia. After dealing with the affects of my son’s dysgraphia (a form of dyslexia), I knew how easy it was for these children to fall through the cracks in school and never recover from it. Thereafter, I made it my primary aim to be an advocate for dyslexic children. I have worked with the top experts in the field to produce a resource that has the most up-to-date research on this issue. The Dyslexia Handbook has proven invaluable, giving teachers the information they need to observe success in these students.
We have updated the Dyslexia Handbook many times since it was created. While a more thorough revision of the Handbook will be made after the 82nd Legislature, these most recent updates were all based on changes to existing – or the creation of new – laws.
The proposed changes also incorporate new information related to recent scientific studies and best practices for diagnosing students with dyslexia. The recommendations were unanimously accepted by the Board. These proposed changes bring us one step closer to a time when all of Texas’ dyslexic students have a chance at educational achievement. To get a copy of the updated Handbook, which should be available soon, go to the TEA Web site at: http://www.tea.state.tx.us.
Perhaps the most complicated issue we faced last week was textbook funding because of the circumstances of the economy today. The State is forecasting an $18 billion shortfall, and the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker have asked that every state agency to cut their budgets by five percent for this biennium and cute their base for the next biennium by five percent while also bringing in 10 percent options. Consequently, the Education Commissioner, Robert Scott, announced that he is cutting Reading and Science textbooks out of the TEA’s budget.
The State Board of Education is given the task of overseeing the Permanent School Fund, and thus votes on the payout percentage, which is critical for funding textbooks. If they vote on a percentage that is too high, they risk depleting the Fund for future generations to come. Therefore, we must always be conservative in what we decide. The Committee on the Permanent School Fund voted on a 3.5 percent payout percentage for this year. So, with the cuts being made by the Commissioner, we had to make some tough decisions.
While we could not come up with a perfect solution, we settled on ordering supplemental science materials for the high school students. The high school students will be taking end-of-course exams for the first time this spring, and therefore need updated materials to prepare for their tests. While the 3rd through 8th graders will also be taking a new TEKS exam, their current materials do a better job of covering the necessary information for the test. This leaves it up to the local school districts to pay for any textbooks or materials not covered by the State. Commissioner Robert Scott assured the Board that students would not be tested on any subject for which they don’t have materials, opening the possibility that the new tests will be postponed until next year. Finally, the Board also voted to change the timeline for publishers to submit bids for textbooks and to open the bidding process in order to encourage competition and drive down the future cost of textbooks.
Perhaps the topic that received the most attention was a resolution that instructs publishers to reject textbooks with a pro-Islamic bias. The resolution narrowly passed by Board on a 7-6 vote (two members were absent).
The resolution was first presented to our Board in July by the man who lost his primary race against one of our incumbent board members from Lubbock. Apparently, his information came from old textbooks published in 1999 (prior to 9/11), along with an Advanced Placement college-level book that is not reviewed by the SBOE.
Some of us were surprised to see the resolution on our September agenda. When I realized the Chairman and/or the TEA had not checked the resolution for inaccuracies before placing it on our agenda, some of us tried to postpone and amend the resolution to make sure all books would reflect our new History TEKS for fairness, balance and accuracy. (A resolution is not binding and has no authority over future State Boards of Education.) No one on our board wants the World History books to be pro-Islamic bias and anti Christian…in fact, some of the publishers looked over the resolution at the meeting and found several errors.
Emotions led the final vote rather than thoughtful and rational reason. As a proud Reagan Christian Conservative, I could not vote for a resolution that had not been properly reviewed and checked for accuracy.
If you have any further questions, feel free to contact me via my Web site at http://www.tincymiller.com.
Wishing you a blessed and joyful new school year.
Geraldine “Tincy” Miller
State Board of Education, District 12
Member since 1984