Double Standards

By Drew Lindsay — November 01, 1997 29 min read

Twenty-four days. That’s all it took to write and ratify the Declaration of Independence, arguably the most eloquent document produced by any government anywhere. Thomas Jefferson, of course, deserves the most credit: In that sweltering summer of 1776, he turned around a draft in less than three weeks. His editors also deserve praise, though. The 50-odd delegates of the Second Continental Congress were nitpicky--they went so far as to swap the phrase “utterly neglected” for “neglected utterly"--but they were speedy, too.

The proposed curriculum standards in Texas will never be confused with the Declaration of Independence. Three years in the making, they were forged in a process that moved with the deliberateness of a funeral procession. More than 425 people had a hand in drafting them, and at least 18,000 more weighed in through an elaborate “public comment” process. Total cost to the state: $9 million.

Texans spent three years defining what students should know, only to have a band of renegade teachers denounce the process and set out to ‘do it right.’

Today, however, on a July morning in Austin so hot that even the golden dome of the state Capitol seems beaded with sweat, all the machinations will come to an end. In a large hearing room in the 12-story locus of power that is the William B. Travis State Office Building, the 15 members of the state board of education have gathered. And if all goes according to plan, they’ll OK the standards. Most of the state’s education leaders are talking them up--"Probably the best in the country,” they say--and Governor George W. Bush, son of the former president, is singing their praises, as well.

But there is one woman at today’s meeting who hopes the board will take one last, long look at the standards. Donna Garner is perched on a folding chair in the hearing room’s first row of seats. Clutching a notebook, the 56-year-old teacher peers intently at the proceedings through Coke-bottle-thick glasses, her brow occasionally crinkling in consternation under her graying hair. Once, Garner was a member of the team charged with drafting the standards for English and language arts. Today, though, the 26-year classroom veteran is scheduled to testify against what her team produced. For months, she has been leading a group of teachers writing a document to compete with--and hopefully replace--the state’s proposed English standards. Cut away the politics and egos tangling up the board’s decision, Garner argues, and everyone would admit that theirs is the better document. It is written by teachers and for teachers, she contends, a de facto declaration of independence against the tyranny of bureaucrats and wrong-headed reformers.

Such claims are, of course, overblown: Plenty of teachers in Texas embrace the state’s proposed standards. But the work of Garner and her rag-tag group has drawn considerable praise from education scholars across the country, including cultural-literacy guru E.D. Hirsch. Indeed, this handful of teachers has become such a high-profile nuisance for the state that even the governor has had to take a swat at them--wasting some of the precious political capital that he is supposedly stockpiling for a White House bid in 2000.

In her testimony, Garner will make her last stand against the standards. When it’s her turn to speak, she’ll leave her seat, smooth her long, bright-red dress, and cross the room to a podium and microphone. Public testimony has been rationed today, so she will have only three minutes to explain her three-year crusade before a bell will ring gently, even sweetly, as if twinkling tones could make up for the fact that she’s being told to shut up and sit down. And in those three minutes, in a stern voice that her students probably know all too well, she’ll deliver the message that’s being heard across the country: Standards done poorly are worse than no standards at all.

The standards movement launched nearly a decade ago was based on the simplest of ideas: Schools need common goals. Set those goals and set them high, the movement’s backers argued, and school staffs will soon look like crack crew teams, knifing through the water with everyone working the oars in perfect concert.

In Texas, there’s probably no fiercer critic of the state’s proposed standards than Donna Garner.

Today, standards are so popular that they’re widely seen as the salvation of public education. Yet scarcely few sets of standards produced to date have been greeted with hallelujahs. This seems particularly true of standards for reading and writing. Voluntary national standards unveiled by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association in 1996 were widely bashed. “The rules ooze with pedagogical molasses” and were written “in a tongue barely recognizable as English,” lamented the New York Times in an editorial. English standards produced by the states have fared only slightly better. A recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation gave high marks to standards in only five states; the 1997 American Federation of Teachers evaluation of standards cites only two.

In Texas, there’s probably no fiercer critic of the state’s proposed standards than Donna Garner. She’s bird-dogged the process virtually from the moment in 1994 that state leaders announced that they would invest millions in revising the state’s decade-old curriculum guidelines. “I thought that was an exorbitant amount of money,” she remembers. “I figured that all you have to do is get good, tradition-minded teachers, put them up in a hotel for two or three weekends in a row, and they’ll come up with a rewrite that makes sense and works at the classroom level.”

An English and Spanish teacher, Garner works at Midway High in Hewitt, a suburb of Waco; her husband, Wayne, is a football and track coach there. Since Donna launched her crusade against the standards, their modest brick home has buzzed with activity. They’ve converted the former bedroom of one of their two grown boys into a makeshift office, and as a Mother’s Day gift this year, Wayne bought Donna a copier. “He did it out of self-defense, really,” she says. “He was tired of spending all our nights at Kinko’s.”

‘In my opinion, [the standards were] put together by people who are not even residents of Texas.’

Cecile Richards, Texas Freedom Network

For today’s meeting, Donna and Wayne have made the 90-mile drive to Austin with their Toyota sedan stuffed with copies of the final draft of her group’s alternative set of English standards, dubbed the “Texas Alternative Document,” or simply, the TAD. Exactly who wrote the TAD has been a subject of much debate in Austin in recent weeks. There’s even speculation that Garner and her group are a front for conservatives out to derail the standards process. “I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories,” says Cecile Richards, daughter of former Governor Ann Richards and head of a group that tracks so-called Christian conservative groups in Texas. “But in my opinion, that document was put together by people who are not even residents of Texas.”

The TAD lists eight authors. Seven are teachers--five in K-12 schools, one at a junior college, and one at a four-year college--and the eighth is an educational consultant. Still, an air of anonymity clings to the group. According to Garner, the writers met face to face only a handful of times; while working on the TAD, they traded ideas through e-mail, over the phone, and in notes scribbled in the margins of drafts. “I don’t know if they have husbands,” Garner says of the TAD authors. “I don’t know if they have children. I don’t know if they have grandchildren. And I don’t know if they go to church or don’t go to church. We really and truly don’t know each other well, personally, at all.”

What has brought the group’s members together is their opposition to the proposed standards, called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS. Each of the teachers had been chosen to help draft the English TEKS, and each at some point had become disenchanted with both the process and the product.

Garner clashed with many of the 45 members on the team of educators writing the English TEKS from the very beginning. She joined the group in August 1995, nearly six months after its work had begun. She was one of a handful of new appointments that followed Republican George Bush’s November 1994 defeat of Democratic incumbent Ann Richards. By then, the group already had reached agreement on significant procedural and substantive matters--matters that Garner took issue with in her first meetings. Among other things, she told the group that she would not abide by its decision to keep discussions private. “When you’re working in secret, that sends out a negative message,” she explains now. “Everything I do is going to be done in the light of day.” She also told the group she would consider writing a “minority report” if she felt the final TEKS compromised her convictions.

Indeed, it wasn’t long before Garner discovered that her convictions were not exactly popular on the team. According to the teacher, the group was patterning its effort on the ill-fated work of the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. Those standards, Garner believed, were infused with the whole-language notion that children learn the fundamentals of reading naturally and without phonics instruction in letter-sound relationships. Garner had arrived at these first meetings armed with research to argue that the team must require every teacher in the state to teach “phonemic awareness,” or the sounds that make up language, as well as other phonics skills.

Although the team’s leaders told Garner there was simply no time for her to present the research, she soon concluded that hers was a message they didn’t want heard. The group was stacked with whole-language advocates, she decided, and her views were being stifled purposely in the search for consensus. In a letter to a Texas Education Agency official working with the team, she described consensus building as “a type of psychological manipulation” that forces individuals “to adopt the ‘group’ mind-set as being more important than verbalizing firmly held, personal convictions.”

This handful of teacher-critics has become such a nuisance that even the governor has taken a swat at them.

The writing team’s leaders paint a different picture of the meetings. Their document never embraced whole-language strategies, they say; the group studied a large body of research from a variety of sources. Garner was simply unyielding in her views, says Shirley Wright, a co-chairwoman of the group. “I don’t know if there was any more that we could have done. I guess if you come to a committee such as this with an agenda, it makes it hard to hear what others have to say.”

Although a few members of the writing team backed Garner, she found more allies on the state board review committee, which began meeting in February 1996. Garner knew at least two of that group’s 40 or so members--Pat Waterman, chairwoman of the English department at Midway High, and Naoma Huff, a junior college teacher and the wife of one of Garner’s college professors--and she found them equally disturbed by the early TEKS drafts. Soon, the three were comparing notes with others they heard grumbling about the process.

These dissenters had many objections. First, they wanted the document to require that grammar, phonics, phonemic awareness, and vocabulary be systematically and directly taught in the early grades. Research had ended the language wars years ago, they argued, with whole-language the hands-down loser. Yet early drafts of the English TEKS did not even mention the alphabet.

Second, Garner and her group fought the document’s format. The first drafts of the English TEKS grouped standards by grade clusters, essentially creating one set of standards for K-3 students, another for 4th through 8th graders, and another for high schoolers. Garner and her cohorts, meanwhile, pressed for grade-specific standards, arguing that teachers and students must walk into the class every fall knowing exactly what’s expected of them by the school year’s end.

Third, Garner’s group lobbied to include lists of recommended books and authors that children should read. Children must read age-appropriate material, they argued, and teachers need a guide to the seminal works in literature.

Many of the brickbats hurled at the Texas standards echo the criticism of English standards in other states.

And finally, Garner and the others claimed that the document’s writing was so jargon-filled and abstract as to make it indecipherable. A February 1996 draft, for example, stated that the high school student “establishes and adjusts both immediate and overarching purposes for reading.” Such obtuse language, Garner’s group argued, would confuse not only teachers and parents but also curriculum writers and testmakers. Indeed, because results from Texas’ statewide tests are figured into a teacher’s performance evaluation, Garner and her group argued that the TEKS had to be crystal clear so that teachers knew exactly what they were going to be held accountable for. “As teachers, we are evaluated on how clear and how specific our goals are,” explains Pat Waterman. “And I feel that anything directed from the state ought to be very clear and very specific as well so that teachers know exactly what they should teach.”

Over time, the document moved in the direction Garner’s group pushed. A grade-by-grade format was adopted--albeit, with language repeated at times almost verbatim from grade to grade--and sections on phonemic awareness were beefed up. But the writing team balked at requiring extensive grammar or phonics work, arguing that such mandates would tie the hands of educators who were successful with other reading-instruction strategies. “We have to have a way to reach all children in Texas, and we have to teach a lot of children who don’t speak English,” says Shirley Wright. “We were never saying those things weren’t important. But don’t spell out every grammar rule and every punctuation rule or become so obsessed with it that the child doesn’t have a chance to learn another way.”

By last fall, however, Garner and the other dissenters found that their chorus of criticism had a few more voices. Indeed, the standards were being trashed by critics from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Donna Ballard, a back-to-basics advocate and a leader of the six-member, arch-conservative faction on the state board of education, ripped the TEKS for slighting phonics instruction. Meanwhile, John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, called the TEKS “bureaucratic gobbledygook” and cited passages from the English standards as proof.

Governor Bush delivered the harshest criticism in a November speech to the state’s business leaders. Bush aimed his barbs at the standards in all subjects, but he was particularly agitated over a passage from the English TEKS stating that students would be expected to analyze “the influence of the speaker’s verbal and nonverbal behaviors on the listener’s perception and acceptance or rejection of the message.”

“I don’t know what that means,’' he told his audience. “Moreover, I don’t know how you test a child on that sentence. We must state plainly what we want students to know and when we want them to know it. No touchy-feely essays or learning by osmosis. No holding hands until the karma is right. Just straightforward lists of state expectations.

“I intend to make sure that the TEKS is fundamental education,” he added. “If it ends up with mush in there, I won’t be satisfied.”

Many of the brickbats hurled at the TEKS echo the criticism of English standards in other states. The conservative Fordham Foundation and the liberal American Federation of Teachers have done the most exhaustive studies of states’ work. The groups do not agree on everything--the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Fordham Foundation, for example, argues that English standards should require explicit and systematic instruction in decoding skills, while the AFT’s does not. But both conclude that most state standards are too vague and too long. “The question I kept coming to was: How did these standards get by so many people when they say so little?” says Sandra Stotsky, author of the Fordham report and a Harvard University researcher.

‘As teachers, we are evaluated on how clear and how specific our goals are. And I feel that anything directed from the state ought to be very clear and very specific as well.’

Pat Waterman, teacher

There are many answers. For one, it’s clear that with standards, beauty is in the eye of the beholder: What the Fordham Foundation and the AFT consider strengths in standards are viewed by some as weaknesses. Some states, for example, argue that detailed standards make curriculum “teacher proof” and interfere with local control of schools. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of states haven’t included lists of suggested readings in their English standards; although both the Fordham Foundation and the AFT advocate such lists, state officials counter by genuflecting at the shrine of local control and arguing that individual communities should decide what their children read.

Still, it’s clear that some standards are poorly written, convoluted, and bloated. Sometimes, disagreements over politics and ideology have made hash of the document’s language. But many standards-writing processes are simply mishandled. Some states have viewed the task as an exercise in democracy and assembled mammoth writing teams of individuals selected purposely to represent different viewpoints. In such large groups, “you have to go to the lowest common denominator and fuzz the language up,” says Chester Finn, president of the Fordham Foundation and a former education official in the Reagan administration. “You have to make something incredibly general to get everyone to say, ‘Yes.’ If I say, for example, ‘Tonight’s menu in the District of Columbia is food,’ everyone will be happy. But if I say, ‘You can have chicken,’ there’ll be some people upset about that.”

Even worse, the temptation on such large writing teams is to load up documents with each individual’s pet concerns, forgetting that standards are supposed to outline essential skills. “A lot of the problem so far has been that the standards-setting process has been about listing every last thing that people think would be neat for children to learn,” contends Douglas Carnine, director of the Eugene, Oregon-based National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators. “It’s a process that treats inclusiveness as much more important than clarity and specificity.”

Standards backers worry that vague, flabby standards will do little good. Standards are supposed to put everyone--students, parents, teachers, curriculum writers, textbook publishers, and testmakers--on the same page. But so far, that page has been written so poorly that everyone interprets it differently. “We have built up all these expectations over the years that standards will improve test scores,” says Matthew Gandal, author of the AFT’s report. “But if the tests measure things that aren’t in the standards, you’re setting teachers and everybody else in the schools up for a big fall.”

Garner and her cohorts began constructing the TAD in May 1996, months before the TEKS writing team would complete its work. They claim that the idea for an alternative document evolved naturally out of their opposition to the TEKS. “The intent was to share with them what we were thinking and get our ideas on paper so that they weren’t just something out there in the air,” says Joyce Harrison, a Houston teacher and member of the state board review committee. “We thought they’d take a serious look if we presented it this way.”

The eight dissidents from the TEKS process were the TAD’s lead writers, but they turned to sources far and wide for help. “They did their best to build on the best that was already out there,” says Matthew Gandal, who heard from Garner a number of times as the TAD took shape. “They didn’t care that they were taking from what others had done. They were out to produce the best document they could.”

Standards are supposed to put everyone on the same page. But so far, that page has been written so poorly that everyone interprets it differently.

Some of the TAD was modeled on Virginia’s standards--standards that have drawn praise for their clarity and precision but scorn from some educators who claim they will encourage “back-to-basics” teaching and rote learning. When working on standards for the early grades, the teachers relied on research by Reid Lyon of the National Institutes of Health and Barbara Foorman at the University of Houston--research that indicates that many children cannot learn to read naturally and need explicit phonics instruction. Garner also solicited comments and edits from a number of other experts, including Marilyn Jager Adams, the author of the widely acclaimed Beginning To Read and one of the country’s top reading experts.

In addition to all their credentialed help, Garner and the others wanted a view from the trenches. They sent drafts to top-performing districts and schools across Texas soliciting comments and revisions, and Garner turned to friends and colleagues at Midway who spent hours reviewing and sharpening the TAD.

In all, Garner figures that roughly 50 classroom teachers have their fingerprints on the document. Many are longtime teachers, and they’ve seen state lawmakers and bureaucrats roll out initiative after initiative to great fanfare. In the TAD, however, they have a chance to say what they--the teachers--think it takes to improve learning. That chance doesn’t come often when you have daily responsibilities in the classroom. Administrators, consultants, curriculum directors--they influence policy because they work a 9-to-5 schedule and have offices and secretaries and computers. When you’re a teacher, even something as simple as a conversation with a state official means you’ve got to somehow wangle time on the phone in the faculty lounge. And should you want to go to Austin and put in your two cents at a state board meeting, you have to cash in a precious day of personal leave--that is, if an administrator doesn’t convince you that rocking the boat is not the best idea for your district, your school, or your career.

Few of the teachers who worked on the TAD have their names on it, but the document carries their thoughts, their expertise, and, in some cases, their very words. And those words now have a chance of becoming policy. “We have been beaten up with everybody’s new fad,” explains Katherine Hahn, an English teacher at Midway High who helped write the TAD. “Some new research comes out, an entire curriculum is based on it, and in two years, we find out we know more now, so toss that. The teachers are just going, ‘Oh my gosh, just hand me another notebook this thick and tell me what I have to do. Don’t give me any credit for knowing my kids, knowing what I’m supposed to do, and for knowing my field.’

“Our voices are getting lost in the wilderness. But who is out here in the trenches doing this? Who do you entrust our children to? And here, we are saying, ‘Wait, we need this.’ And it’s with one voice.”

Garner and the TAD group unveiled their handiwork in October 1996 at a news conference at an Austin hotel. Their document, they told the gathered media, corrected the disastrous flaws of the TEKS. First and foremost, it was strongly rooted in teaching phonics and basic grammar. Under their plan, instruction in the alphabet and the more than 40 sounds of the English language would begin in the state’s prekindergarten programs, and 1st graders struggling with phonemic awareness by the second semester would get one-on-one help--an intervention many researchers believe is critical at that age.

The document was also organized grade by grade, with skills and complexity advancing from one level to the next in what Garner at one point called “a rope bridge across the chasm of ignorance.” Perhaps the TAD’s most controversial element, however, was its extensive lists of suggested readings, which aimed to introduce 2nd graders to American myths and tall tales, 7th graders to such classics as The Call of the Wild and Johnny Tremain, and 12th graders to British literature ranging from Beowulf to Yeats.

The reading lists also included some biblical texts--a red flag to those convinced the document was the product of the religious right. TAD members eventually stripped some of the selections to answer the criticism, but they defended others as key to understanding the great works of literature. “Those biblical selections have allusions that are going to be in all the major works,” explains Betsy Berry, another English teacher at Midway. “I have students that when I teach Paradise Lost, they’ve never heard the story of Adam and Eve. Never heard it.”

Donna Ballard and other conservative members of the state board immediately embraced the TAD. They had followed the work of Garner’s group closely--indeed, four TAD members represented them on the state board review committee--and now they were pleased to have something concrete to offer in opposition to the TEKS.

“Our voices are getting lost in the wilderness. We are saying, ‘Wait, we need this.’ And it’s with one voice.”

Katherine Hahn, a teacher who helped draft alternative standards

Leaders of the TEKS writing team, meanwhile, remembered that Garner, at her first meeting, had said she might write a “minority” report. Seeing how the conservatives now cheered the TAD, they speculated that she had come to the committee intending to write a competing document. “In my opinion, that document was a slap in the face to the members of the writing team who put such effort into the original text,” says co-chairman Joseph Rubin. “I and other members on the writing team heard in their criticism of our work contempt for the teacher. Which is strange, since Mrs. Garner and some of them are teachers, and which makes me think that there are external influences working on her.”

By the spring, however, Garner had solicited--and received--endorsements from big-name education scholars. Sandra Stotsky, author of the Fordham Foundation’s report, praised the TAD “as a model for the rest of the country.” E.D. Hirsch declined to endorse the entire TAD, but he praised its reading lists, its grade-by-grade structure, and its grammar sequence. “On these three points,” he wrote to Garner, “your document is superior to the [TEKS], and I would hope that your excellent work in these areas will find its way into the final document.”

Politically, things started to look good for the TAD, as well. Since the fall, the six-member conservative faction on the state board of education had urged that parts of the TAD be incorporated into the TEKS English standards. In May, though, they proposed junking the English TEKS altogether and substituting the TAD. The motion failed on a 7-to-7 vote (one board member was absent), but the near-miss gave the media the chance to chew on something that heretofore had seemed impossible: The board in its final vote on the TEKS in July might throw out a document that took three years and millions of dollars to produce and adopt something cooked up by a handful of teachers.

Those heady days didn’t last long. Donna Garner’s renegades had succeeded in building standards that posed a legitimate threat to the state’s proposal, but as the board vote neared, that threat diminished with each passing day. The TAD was hurt, in part, by criticism that it was the work of only eight educators. How could eight people presume to be the voice of all teachers in a state with 1,044 districts? In an op-ed circulated to newspapers statewide on June 25, Mike Moses, the state’s commissioner of education, asserted--wrongly--that the names of the authors of the TAD “are not known or identified in this document.” The TAD, he added in a letter to board members, “has not been subject to the type of intense scrutiny and review that is absolutely necessary if it is to be viewed as credible and usable in the field.”

How could eight people presume to be the voice of all teachers in a state with 1,044 districts?

The TAD group’s close ties with the so-called religious right also proved a double-edged sword. On the writing team, Garner had often been backed by Stephanie Cecil, the education liaison for the state Eagle Forum, the gadfly advocacy group of conservative commentator Phyllis Schlafly. And without the support of Donna Ballard and other conservatives on the board, the TAD probably would never have even gotten a hearing. But such backing also guaranteed the TAD fierce opposition. Garner says one board member liked their document but made it clear he would never vote for it. “I will go to my grave fighting the religious right,” he said.

Perhaps most important, as the TAD won a higher profile, it became seen as flawed. The TEKS standards may have been vague and unspecific, but even some of their critics argued that Garner’s group had overcorrected for those failings. The TAD, for example, listed 60-odd Latin roots and Old English and Greek prefixes for 8th grade students to master. It also noted with excruciating exactness the grammar and punctuation rules to be taught in the early grades, even citing seven specific verbs that 1st graders would be expected to conjugate: “come,” “see,” “go,” “do,” “bring,” “be,” and “have.” Such detail made the TAD “more appropriate as a textbook on teaching rather than an outline of the state’s education expectations,” declared the Dallas Morning News in a June 29 editorial. Even some of the researchers whose work Garner had tapped found the TAD too prescriptive. In a letter to Moses, Isabel Beck of the University of Pittsburgh said that the alternative document suggested a reading “hierarchy,” with students mastering how to decode words before actually reading stories. Reading, Beck argued, should be taught instead “in a more spiral fashion,” with students reading stories that have the letter-sound correspondences they are learning.

In the political arena, Garner and her group failed in their bid to pressure Bush to endorse the TAD. Garner had limited political experience--she had once hobnobbed with U.S. congressmen while serving on a federal panel on immigrant education, and she had lobbied the state board to reject federal Goals 2000 money--but she was savvy enough to understand that the governor’s earlier criticism of the TEKS now put him in an awkward position. And she and the other TAD members knew enough to alert the media to their David vs. Goliath struggle. After the board’s 7-to-7 vote in May, newspaper columnists in Texas and outside the state challenged Bush to back the TAD, tweaking the first-term governor with not-so-veiled references to his father’s “Read my lips” flip-flop on taxes. “Where is Governor George W. Bush Jr.?” wrote Debra Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle. “While he criticized an earlier TEKS draft, he has failed to come out solidly for TAD. Sort of like dad, President Mush.”

The TEKS that Bush would review in June, however, were much improved from the ones he had blasted in November. Not long after Bush’s critical remarks, Moses disbanded the TEKS writing teams, thanked them for their service, and then turned his staff loose on the documents. Within a few months, they had whittled down the TEKS for all subjects from 1,800 pages to 1,000. At the same time, state officials were revamping the TEKS turned over by the English writing team. The team had done a very good job, says Robin Gilchrist, head of the state’s reading initiatives. “We just took it from that point and made it match up better with what research said.”

‘That document was a slap in the face to the members of the writing team.’

Joseph Rubin, co-chairman, TEKS writing team

By June, the TEKS’ facelift was nearly complete, and even some of the researchers who had helped Garner now hailed them. Marilyn Jager Adams, the reading researcher who reviewed both the TEKS and the TAD as they evolved, declared that the contest between the two documents had improved both, but the TEKS were better. “This is the political process at its best,” she wrote to Moses. “Texas and its citizens are to be congratulated.”

Finally, on June 30, Bush threw his support to the TEKS. “This document in terms of the reading program puts Texas on the leading edge of educational change,” he said. The TAD, he proclaimed, was simply too prescriptive. It may have been a document written by teachers and for teachers, but according to Bush, very few teachers would like it. “Teachers,” he said, “don’t want to be told what to do on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis.”

Fall has come to Waco, and Wayne Garner and his Midway High football team are sweating through temperatures in the 90s as they prepare for their homecoming matchup. Donna Garner, meanwhile, is busy preparing for the celebrations and dance to follow the game.

The battle over the TEKS is officially over. As expected, the state board adopted the standards in its July vote. Nine members of the board--six Democrats and three Republicans--voted for them, and the six hard-right conservatives voted against them. There were plenty of fireworks--some board members went so far as to threaten a lawsuit over parliamentary procedures. But in the end, Garner never even got the chance to make the case for the TAD. She was 73rd on the list of 78 speakers scheduled to testify, and the board cut off public comment after hearing from roughly half the list. The six board members who would vote against the standards argued that the witness list had been rigged to give preference to TEKS supporters, but their cries went unheeded. The board moved on to its vote, and Donna Garner had never even left her seat.

That was nearly three months ago, but no one seems ready to quit the fight. With the TEKS due in the schools in a few weeks, Commissioner Moses is touting the document again in an op-ed running in newspapers statewide. The TEKS have rigor, he promises, and they’re endorsed by many “esteemed scholars.” Researchers who worked on the TAD, he notes, eventually endorsed the state’s work, “proving that working together in a constructive manner improved this process and strengthened our curriculum standards.”

Donna Garner, too, is still talking about the standards. Shortly after the board vote, she fired off an op-ed of her own that denounced the TEKS and solicited support from foundations, businesses, and philanthropies to foot the bill for reproducing the alternative document. The TAD is getting praise from all corners of the country--calls have come in from North Carolina, Nebraska, and as far away as Alaska--but Garner wants most of all for the teachers in Texas to see it so they can judge for themselves whether it’s better than the TEKS. “When the TEKS get to the schools, I really want them to have the TAD,” she says. “Then, we’ll just see what happens.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1997 edition of Teacher as Double Standards