Texas State Board of Education to delay revisions to social studies standards
The Republican-controlled Texas State Board of Education plans to push back a revision of social studies curriculum standards to 2025 after facing criticism from conservative advocates and groups. Board members were originally scheduled to vote on the new guidelines this November, updating them for the first time in over a decade. They'll take a final vote this Friday on whether to delay the overhaul of the standards.
If the delay is approved, it will mean the state's social studies curriculum will not be revised until after the November election. All 15 seats on the board will be on the ballot and more conservative members could be elected to the board. Nine are currently held by Republicans.
The board’s decision on Tuesday came after it heard hours of public testimony on the proposed guidelines, also known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. A number of parents and conservative activists urged the board to hold off on approving the social studies standards that would shape what 5.5 million Texas public school students learn in class.
Among them was Mary Elizabeth Castle, a senior policy advisor with the conservative group Texas Values. She said more time was needed to address issues in the proposed standards.
“So far, the drafts that have been presented have not been sufficient, and it is recommended that you slow the process down until we get it right,” she said.
Castle told board members information about the LGBTQ pride movement should be removed from the curriculum guidelines. That prompted board member Rebecca Bell-Metereau, a San Marcos Democrat representing District 5, to ask Castle whether students should learn about the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
“I don’t believe the topic is appropriate for the subject at all,” Castle said. “So, I don’t think it should be addressed.”
Another outspoken critic of the proposed state standards was Jolyn Potenza from Southlake. Schools in that North Texas suburb are facing federal civil rights investigations over allegations of discrimination. Potenza told the board that hundreds of people in her hometown signed onto a petition that argued the proposed social studies standards failed to teach “Texas heritage” and “American exceptionalism.”
The petition read: “It reduces the mention of America’s resilience, trust in God, and celebration of our Declaration of Independence.”
Potenza also argued the process of updating the social studies standards was rushed.
“Who was rushed? We’re rushed,” she said. “History, the past, what happened yesterday, that doesn’t change. What changes is when you rewrite it, you dilute it, you change the focus. And that is exactly what has happened here.”
But people directly involved in developing the new guidelines disputed claims the process was rushed. Lily Trieu, who was part of two workgroups, said most members were educators, content experts and community leaders who poured time into developing the proposed standards.
“Over the last several weeks, fringe political players and special interest groups have been playing politics with this very important work in efforts to distract and delay the process,” she said.
Trieu added that while the current drafts are not perfect, they are “very good” and must replace the current, “outdated” standards.
Mohit Mehta, who was a member of the workgroup on Asian American studies, encouraged the board to approve the standards. He also criticized efforts to label any culturally responsive curriculum as an example of critical race theory — which has become a flashpoint for conservatives.
“This is falsely misleading," he said. "There is not one single mention of critical race theory."
Mehta added the proposed standards do not violate Senate Bill 3, a Republican-backed law the state legislature passed in 2021 to prevent critical race theory from being taught in public schools. The academic concept — which is taught at the university level, not in K-12 — looks at how racism is embedded in the American legal system and other institutions.
Mehta pointed out social studies often fails to reflect the diversity of Texas public school students.
“Texas history is much more than the Alamo," Mehta said. "It’s a history of all of us in this room."
The senior political director for the Texas Freedom Network, a progressive group, echoed Mehta’s point.
“We believe that all students deserve to see themselves represented in the curriculum,” Carisa Lopez told KUT.
She added her group supported the proposed social studies standards.
“There are always tweaks that can be made," she said. "The board always goes in and makes lots of amendments to those drafts, but as a starting document it’s really good.”
Lopez was concerned the process of approving the revisions would be delayed. When public testimony concluded, Republican members of the board moved to do just that.
The push to go back to the drawing board drew criticism from Democratic board members. Aicha Davis, a Dallas area Democrat who represents District 13, wondered if some of her Republican colleagues resisted the revisions because they were representative of diverse experiences. She asked her colleagues what it would take for them to support the proposed guidelines.
“If we’ve had all [these] months of work, all of this testimony from both sides, all of this and it’s still unacceptable, I’m trying to figure out what is acceptable to you,” she said. “And it feels like for the majority of people it’s more acceptable when it doesn’t include discussion on LGBTQ+ social movements, when it doesn’t include discussions on the truth of chattel slavery in America, when it doesn’t include a lot of world religions."
Bell-Metereau also said delaying a decision on the new social studies standards was a waste.
“To throw out a draft seems to me like such a wasteful process," she said. "I always tell my students, ‘Keep your drafts, don't crumple them up and throw them away.'"
Whether or not the State Board of Education decides to delay its overhaul of social studies standards, it is still expected to make a few curriculum changes this year to comply with new state laws, including SB 3.
Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.