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2016 Texas Republican Platform - Part 9, Education

Republican ElephantThis entry is part of a series taking a look at the latest Texas Republican Party Platform. For a list of all entries in this series, go to the Introduction. Today's entry is going to take a look at education. Having a school age daughter, I tend to take these personally. Though in a democracy where everybody has the right to vote, a well educated populace is essential, so this should be a concern of everybody.


Parental Rights - The rights of parents to raise and educate their children is fundamental.
1. Parents have the right to withdraw and/or opt-out their child from any specialized program or psychological testing.
2. The State of Texas shall protect, at all costs, the privacy of its students, requiring written parental consent for student participation in any test or questionnaire that survey beliefs, feelings, or opinions.
3. We oppose mandatory pre-school and kindergarten.
4. We oppose teaching of values clarification that focus on behavior modification.
5. Taxpayer rights include the ability to review course materials and curriculum at any time.
6. We urge the legislature to enact penalties for violation of these rights.

I mentioned this a few times now in this series, but I'll say it again. Raising a child is not a 'right' of the parent. It's a responsibility. Children are not property. They are their own individuals, citizens of this nation, and entitled to all the same protections as other citizens. Parents usually are the best ones to raise their own children, but this isn't unquestionable, and doesn't grant the parents carte blanche. As long as parents are acting in the best interests of the children, they should continue to raise them. But when parents' actions go against the child's best interests, then it is the duty of the government to protect those children.

That being said, there are legitimate concerns about state overreach on this issue, and these planks do get to some of these concerns - the Texas Republicans just take it too far to the extreme. Just take the first one as an example. What if a child has some type of severe intellectual disability? A school would place them into a special needs program to give them the best education tailored to their needs and abilities. Why should a parent have 'the right to withdraw and/or opt-out their child' from this program that best serves them?


Local Control for Education-Quality education is best achieved by encouraging parental involvement, protecting parental rights and maximizing local independent school district (ISD) control. District superintendents and staff should be made solely accountable to their locally elected boards. We support sensible consolidation of local school districts. We encourage local ISDs to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of accepting federal money.

Moving to Texas and seeing the shenanigans our State Board has pulled in the past has made me very leary of local control. Their latest, in a headline from just last month, is State Board of Education targets evolution (for links to more examples, look at the end of this entry - CSCOPE, social studies, English and reading, and of course, even more science). When you get down to the individual district level, it's even easier for a small group of extremists to have an outsize effect. Our children deserve better than to have their educations hijacked by ideologues with political agendas.

Besides that, local funding of schools makes it harder for economically disadvantaged regions to provide the extra support for students who need it the most, because those regions have the smallest per capita tax bases. In a report from last year (National Report Card), Texas was one of 14 states with regressive school funding - where wealthier districts did receive more funding than poorer districts. Texas also ranks 39th in the nation in average funding per student.


Funding- We support a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system. School districts that have an adequate tax base should be free to manage their finances without any state recapture of local funds. Those districts that do not have sufficient tax base should be provided resources from general state revenues to meet the Texas Constitution's requirement of an efficient system of public free schools.

See above. In actual practice, local funding of schools hurts poor districts. At least the Republicans are saying that those districts should get funding from the state, but what good does that do? If it takes a certain amount of funding per student, and some districts have budget shortfalls because their tax base can't support their schools, where do you think those general state revenues are coming from - higher taxes from somewhere else. States have a certain budget they need to meet, so there's a certain amount of revenue they have to raise from taxes. Playing with the books over which taxes support which programs doesn't change the overall need, and so won't change the overall tax burden.

Although, there could be something a bit more sinister about this plank. As explained above, if you're wanting to give a certain amount of money per student, it doesn't matter how you do the bookkeeping, because the total tax burden is still going to be the same. What this suggests is that they want rich neighborhoods to be able to keep their money locally and not share, giving even more advantage to those students who already have a lot of advantages, and increasing the gap in the quality of education between rich and poor districts. How selfish do you have to be to want your own child's education to come at the expense of other students? I want a great education for everybody in the state.


Basic Standards-The educational system should focus on basic standards which include, but is not limited to: a curriculum of reading (with an emphasis on phonics), spelling, writing, the arts, music, literature, mathematics, geography, economics, civics, and United States and World History. We encourage teaching critical thinking skills, including logic, rhetoric and analytical sciences within these subjects.

Yay. They got something mostly right. Their education planks have been pretty abysmal in the past. Still, I can't help but notice a pointed omission of the sciences.


Scientific Theories- We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories, such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.

I just wrote something related to this, Is Evolution Falsifiable?. The issue is that although all good science should in principle be falsifiable and open to challenge, some concepts just have so much evidence backing them up, that it's hard to conceive of anything that would overturn them now given our current knowledge. I used the roughly spherical shape of the Earth as an example. What type of conceivable evidence could there be to challenge or overturn this scientific concept that wouldn't be so earth shattering that it would make us question everything we thought we knew? In practice, how much is it really 'subject to change as new data is produced'? The broad strokes of evolution are similarly 'proven' as much as science can prove anything. It may be challengeable in principle, but it's as much a fact as anything can be called a fact.

It's telling that the Texas Republicans have singled out 'life origins and environmental change'. It reveals that their motivation isn't actually to help students better understand the scientific progress and the limits of all knowledge and understanding of the universe, but to cast doubt on these particular concepts that they don't like. It's also telling that they use the 'strengths and weaknesses' language. I've written about this before, both in Strengths and Limitations and Virginia's New Strengths & Weaknesses Bill. These have become a somewhat standard tactic for creationists and climate change deniers to try to sneak their junk science into the classroom through the back door.


National Core Curriculum- We oppose use of national or international standards in the State of Texas (i.e. Common Core, CSCOPE, United Nations Inclusion, etc.) We also oppose the modification of college entrance exams to reflect any national core philosophies. Any ISDs that violate state law banning the use of a national core curriculum or standards shall lose all state funding until said curriculum or standards are removed and no longer utilized in classrooms.

This is just hypocritical. They preach local control of schools, but here they're trying to dictate the materials that local districts are allowed to use. What if a local ISD likes the national core curriculum or standards? Why shouldn't they be allowed to use them?


Sex Education- We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We support the teaching of biology of reproduction and abstinence until marriage. We should prohibit entities and their affiliates that contradict our beliefs from conducting sex education and/or teacher training in public schools. We oppose all policies and curriculum that teach alternate lifestyles including homosexuality, transgender and other non-traditional lifestyles as normal.

I touched on this in the last entry, but I'll expand on it here. Here's a good resource listing many of the claims from those promoting abstinence only education, and explaining, with references, how most of those claims aren't true, Advocates for Youth - The Truth About Abstinence-Only Programs. In short, abstinence-only education programs have very little if any effect on the age at which teens become sexually or the frequency of teen sex. Worse, because the teens aren't getting comprehensive sex ed about STDs, condoms, and contraception, abstinence-only education leads to higher teen pregnancy and STD infection rates.

As I pointed out in the last entry, Texas has the 3rd highest teen pregnancy rate out of all states in the US. And it's not like it's a ranking where all the states are close - Texas's teen pregnancy rate is more than 2 ½ times higher than New Hampshire (source). That's abysmal. If the actual goal is to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs and not just moralizing, then abstinence-only is a failure, and comprehensive sex-ed is the best approach to protecting our state's youth.


Facility Utilization-We support public school facilities such as restrooms, locker rooms and showers being reserved for the use of students based on biological birth gender.

I covered this already in the civil rights entry in regards to public restrooms, but here they're taking the same position on school restrooms. I'll just quote what I wrote there, to show the negative impact a similar law already passed in North Carolina has had. "Here's an article, What it's like to live under North Carolina's bathroom law if you're transgender. There's no easy choice for a transgender person. If, for example, they're biologically female but identify as male, then that means the only legal bathroom for them is the ladies room. So, as a man, in order to use a public restroom, they have to walk into the ladies room, making for an extremely awkward situation. Or, they could break the law and use the mens room. Or, as a lot of transgender people are doing, they can be very careful about how much fluid they drink so that they won't have to use a restroom in public. That's just insane, to put that type of pressure on citizens just to use the bathroom."

And in their eagerness to discriminate against transgender people, they're dragging in people with developmental abnormalities who don't fit neatly into 'natural man' or 'natural woman' categories. Not everyone has a 'biological birth gender' that neatly fits into male or female.


Religious Freedom in Public Schools- We urge school administrators and officials not to infringe on Texas school students' and staff's 1st Amendment rights to pray and engage in religious speech, individually or in groups, on school property without government interference. We urge the legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.

There's a kernel of truth in that plank, mixed in with a bunch of misleading or wrong statements. Some teachers or other school officials, often out of misunderstanding the First Amendment, try to keep religion completely out of schools, prohibiting students' right to express their faith. Here's a page on the ACLU site listing some of the cases where they've defended students against the schools, ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression in Public Schools.

However, those cases are by far the minority when it comes to religion and public schools. Far more often, it's the school officials abusing their positions, and using the schools to illegally promote religion. A browse through another section on the ACLU site shows just how many of these cases there are, Religion and Public Schools.

This is not to say that teachers don't have First Amendment rights. They're perfectly free to discuss or promote religion outside of their capacity as teachers. It becomes a problem when they do so on the clock as representatives of the government.

And regarding the platform's mangling of history on the religious inspiration of the U.S. and our founding documents, I already covered that in Part 2, Religion. For anyone who thinks the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, I challenge them to find one reference to God in our nation's founding document, the United States Constitution. The closest you can get is the date, "in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven". But if that's enough to make the Constitution Christian, then using the term 'Wednesday' must imply that we still worship Woden. It's just an artifact of how our language and calendar developed. The U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation, and the Bible was not the basis for our founding documents.

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So, these education planks are what I've come to expect from Republicans - attacks on science, misrepresenting history, trying to inject religion where it doesn't belong, and policies that would harm the overall education system in the state.


Continue to Part 10, Guns

 

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