TEA monkeys with evolution
The latest flap at the Texas Education Agency was over the forced resignation of the agency's science curriculum overseer, Chris Castillo Comer.
The resignation of the former science teacher came after Lizzette Reynolds, TEA's senior adviser on statewide initiatives, a former state and federal education minion for George W. Bush, complained about an e-mail Comer had forwarded.
"This is highly inappropriate," Reynolds' message to her superiors at TEA complained. "I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor's Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports."
Comer's infraction had been to pass along a message concerning a presentation by an author who contends creationist politics are pushing the effort to have intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Comer topped the message to several people with this insubordinate remark: "FYI."
The state board to which Reynolds referred, which has recently been tinkering with math textbooks, is a 15-member body elected from single-member districts. Several of the members are Christian conservatives. If experience is a guide, few people know who is on the board, even from their own districts.
The board was not popularly elected as a separate entity for most of Texas' history.
The Reconstruction Constitution of 1869, written in the wake of the Civil War, had a state superintendent of schools appointed by the governor, and a three-member State Board of Education made up of the governor, comptroller, and the superintendent.
In the 1876 constitution, after Reconstruction ended and local school districts were allowed, the superintendent position was abolished. It was restored as an elective functionary in 1884.
In 1918, Annie Webb Blanton was elected superintendent - the first woman to win a statewide office in Texas.
In 1923, the Legislature approved an appointed state board of education, and in 1928, the constitution was amended to expand the board to nine members appointed by the governor, with the approval of the Senate.
When Texas centralized education at the Texas Education Agency in 1949, the Legislature changed the state board to elective, with a member from each congressional district (then 21). The board would choose its own chairman from its members, and would appoint the TEA commissioner.
In 1984, in the House Bill 72 school reforms that followed the Perot commission's proposed revamping of the system, the state board was again made appointive, with 15 members, and the governor designating its chairman. The board would choose the commissioner, subject to clearance by the Senate.
In 1991, the Sunset Advisory Commission began to have the governor appoint the education commissioner, rather than the state board - though from a list of candidates drawn up by the board.
In 1995, the governor was given the power to appoint the commissioner without recommendation by the state board, though with approval of the Senate. The Legislature also quietly jerked most of the board's textbook selection power.
The current commissioner, Robert Scott - recently permanently elevated to that position after two stints as interim commissioner - allowed the forced resignation of science curriculum adviser Comer.
Whether this creates an intelligent design for Texas' schoolchildren in what they learn about the science of evolution remains to be seen. More than a hundred biology faculty members from universities across Texas don't think so. They sent Scott a letter saying that TEA employees shouldn't have to be neutral on evolution.
Could TEA's apparent stance on intelligent design be evolution in reverse?
Contact McNeely at dmcneely@austin. rr.com or (512) 323-0248.