School & District Management

Texas School Board Backs More Inclusion in Social Studies Draft

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 29, 2009 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Members of the Texas board of education have directed writers of new social studies standards to reinstate two cherished holidays and solidify the positions of prominence of two historical minority figures.

In the latest go-round of revisions of academic content standards in a state where the task is often rife with controversy, the board told writers not to delete Christmas and Rosh Hashana, as had been proposed in a draft. It also rejected calls from some Texans to downplay Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, and Cesar Chavez, the well-known organizer for farmworkers’ rights, as some reviewers had recommended.

At a meeting this month, the board heard testimony from five of six reviewers who had been appointed to make recommendations for the new standards. They also listened to testimony from representatives of most of the standards-writing teams.

What’s included in Texas social studies can have an impact on education nationwide because it is one of the biggest textbook-adoption states, meaning decisions are made at the state level about which books can be bought with state money. Publishers often look to Texas standards when deciding what to put in textbooks used throughout the country.

“The writing teams have left Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall in the same grades they’ve always been taught. The concern that we would eliminate them is unfounded,” Gail A. Lowe, the board’s chairwoman said in explaining the guidance its members gave to writing teams at the meeting.

In addition to the inclusion of Justice Marshall, as in the current social studies standards, Ms. Lowe added, they make several references to the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racially segregated schooling. The late justice, as a civil rights lawyer, successfully led the fight for school desegregation.

“Thurgood Marshall’s legacy has been strengthened in our standards, not removed,” Ms. Lowe said.

Another controversial matter that had cropped up was which religious holidays would be included in the standards.

Ms. Lowe said that the writers of the 6th grade social studies standards proposed deleting Christmas and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, from the current standards because they were trying to select only one holiday for each of the five major world religions. They left in the proposed standards Easter as a Christian holiday; Ramadan as a Muslim holiday; Yom Kippur as a Jewish holiday; and Diwali, a festival of lights recognized by Hinduism and Buddhism.

“We heard immediately from constituents that that was a change they didn’t want made,” Ms. Lowe said. She said the board gave “clear direction” to the standards-writers to put Christmas and Rosh Hashana back in because they are so familiar to many students in the United States.

Evolution Comparison

So far, according to Ms. Lowe, the debate over the social studies standards hasn’t been as contentious as what occurred over evolution when Texas was revising its science standards. (“Retooled Texas Standards Raise Unease Among Science Groups,” April 8, 2009.) She said she believes that’s because state board members have been “more cohesive” in their expectations of the social studies standards and the direction they’re giving the writing teams.

During the rewriting of the science standards, Don McLeroy chaired the board. He was ousted from that post when he failed to gain sufficient support from state lawmakers for his reappointment. Some complained that the board had become consumed with divisive social and cultural issues under the leadership of Mr. McLeroy, who still holds a seat on the panel.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, said that “social studies has the potential to be more controversial than the evolution debate because there are more topics that people feel passionate about, and people understand history better than they do science.”

She said the board has indicated it wants a balance in the standards of historical or influential people who are considered to have liberal and conservative perspectives.

Some critics have been arguing that one political persuasion deserves more weight than another in the final document.

Jesus Francisco de la Teja, a history professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, one of the reviewers who testified at the Sept. 17 meeting, said in an interview last week that the most vocal critics of the proposed standards seem to focus on whether certain historical or influential individuals are cited. But many of those individuals are named as examples that teachers can refer to in lessons; the standards don’t require educators to teach about them.

“My opinion is we might do better to avoid some of these controversies by getting rid of all examples,” he said, and name only people, places, and events that are required teaching.

At the board meeting, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a Democrat, asked the board not to downplay Mr. Chavez, the late founder of the United Farm Workers.

Yannis Banks, a spokesman for the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called for the inclusion of Justice Marshall, saying that omitting him would be an insult to his legacy. In the draft proposal discussed at the meeting, the justice had been added to the 8th grade standards and remained in the 1st grade ones.

The board is slated to receive a second draft of the standards in October, followed by another round of discussions in November. It expects to hold a final vote in March.

Related Tags:

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as Texas School Board Backs More Inclusion In Social Studies Draft Texas Board Backs More Inclusion in Social Studies


Student Well-Being Webinar After-School Learning Top Priority: Academics or Fun?
Join our expert panel to discuss how after-school programs and schools can work together to help students recover from pandemic-related learning loss.
Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management In This District, Students Are Part of the Mental Health Response
Lack of transportation, unreliable internet and other barriers can sometimes make it hard to find mental health care in rural settings.
5 min read
Hands holding a monochromatic head shaped puzzle of a classroom with three colorful pieces of green grass, sunshine, and trees floating around the puzzle . Mental health concept.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty Images Plus)
School & District Management Opinion When It Comes to Leadership, Self-Awareness Matters. Here's Why
One leader learned she had a habit of shutting down others' ideas instead of inspiring them. Here's how she changed.
Robin Shrum
6 min read
Picture1 6.19.32 AM
Robin Shrum
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Bewail Summer Vacation for Students, Rethink It
Students experience summer vacation differently, depending on family resources. We should rethink the tradition with that in mind.
2 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Women in K-12 Leadership Don't Get Enough Support. Here's What Needs to Change
Fairer family-leave policies, pay transparency, better data collection, and more on-the-job support are elements of the plan.
7 min read
Illustration showing diversity with multi-colored human figures.