Sunday, February 17, 2008

Staving off the Far Right of the Tx State Board of Education

from the TFN Daily News Clips:

"I ask you to please network with other educators so that everyone starts paying attention to what is going on at the State Board of Education. If we do not, the right-wingers will continue to interject their narrow and extremely conservative ideas into all aspects of education."

-- Texas State Board of Education member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, in a letter to teachers and others this week about the far right's increasing power on the state board. The full letter is reproduced at the end of today's News Clips.
State Board of Education member Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, has released the following letter to teachers and others who opposed efforts this week by far-right board members to scrap a new language arts curriuclum that educators and experts had been developing for two years. The state board's chairman, Don McLeroy, had said he wanted to replace that curriuclum with an alternative offered at the last minute by far-right activist/education gadfly Donna Garner. TFN received permission to publish this letter in News Clips.

February 14, 2008

I want to thank all the teachers, educators, parents, and citizens of Texas for taking the time to give public testimony before the State Board of Education regarding the revision of the state’s English-language arts-reading (ELAR) curriculum standards on February 13. I was very proud of each and every presenter who supported the formal ELAR document that teachers and experts have been crafting and the continuation of work towards its realization.

Now, we must continue to be vigilant. The members that were promoting Donna Garne’s alternative document and that was a part of the substitute motion introduced by the Chairman of the Board, Don McLeroy, are planning their next move. A subcommittee was selected by the Chair, so we must watch what they do. I am sure of one thing. They will not rest until they have the contents of the alternative document well-entrenched into the body of the work that the English teachers of Texas have been carefully and meticulously developing for the past two years.

What you saw at that meeting is what the other seven moderate board members have been up against since the right-wing members came to power. Know them by what they believe and who they are supposed to represent. Those right-wing board members are: Don McLeroy, Chair (College Station), David Bradley, Vice-President (Beaumont), Rick Agosto, Secretary (San Antonio), Barbara Cargill (The Woodlands), Cynthia N. Dunbar (Richmond), Terri Leo (Spring), Gail Lowe (Lampasas), Ken Mercer (San Antonio). It is not a fight among Democrats or Republicans, but the reckless idea of the right-wing members of the board trying to impose their social agenda into the fabric of education in Texas. Many of these individuals are home-schoolers who do not even support or believe in public education. They believe in promoting charter schools and vouchers, and that is an agenda that undercuts the work of public education.

I ask you to please network with other educators so that everyone starts paying attention to what is going on at the State Board of Education. If we do not, the right-wingers will continue to interject their narrow and extremely conservative ideas into all aspects of education. In a few months we will be discussing the science and biology textbooks. Their goal is to put Intelligent Design in the same science books with the theory of evolution. I think that these two philosophies have merit, but neither belong in the same textbook nor should they be taught as such. Please alert your science teachers of this fact and join the thousands of scientists from around the country who have signed off against this idea. It is not the will of one person or one group that should be heard but rather the will of the people who live in a free and Democratic society.

I want to thank you once again for your dedication and your willingness to hold fast to the courage of your convictions. I congratulate you and wish you all the best in the hard work that you do every day with this precious resource you work with on a daily basis, the children of the state of Texas.

Yours truly,

Mary Helen Berlanga

"Education, the Way It Ought To Be"
by Donna Garner

Excerpts from this article:

Donna Garner


The standards in the ELAR/TEKS must be understandable to the general public -- to the typical student, parent, classroom teacher, and administrator.

The ELAR/TEKS need to be specific for each grade level so that true accountability for teaching and learning is clearly established. Under No Child Left Behind, grade-by-grade objectives are required to be established from Grades 3 - 8. Because the Texas Legislature passed SB 1031 (effective 9.1.07) and the Governor has signed it into law, high-school students in Grades 9 - 12 will be taking a series of twelve end-of-course tests. The new ELAR/TEKS standards must be grade-level specific so that the new end-of-course tests can be built on the standards.

The Texas State Board of Education has determined that the new ELAR/TEKS are to be (1) measurable, (2) grade-level-specific, and (3) explicit.


Because there are two entities in every classroom (the student and the teacher) and each has a different point of view, I recommend that each page in the standards document be formatted into two columns. The left column should tell teachers what elements shall be taught at each grade level according to the curriculum requirements adopted by the Texas State Board of Education. Teachers, however, should not be told how the curriculum requirements should be taught. That decision needs to be left to the creativity of each teacher. The right column should tell students and their parents what the students should learn.

With this simple format, teachers can look down the left column to see what it is that they need to teach; and students and their parents can look down the right column to see what students should learn. By having a simple, easy-to-understand format, stakeholders throughout the state will know what the goals at each grade level are; and the chances of bringing about widespread education reform in our public schools will be dramatically increased.



To meet the SBOE mandate, the elements in this strand must be measurable (assessable), grade-level-specific, and explicit.

Because all teachers need to stress good listening and speaking skills to their students, it is my recommendation that the responsibility for teaching these skills should be shared across the curriculum.

I recommend that in Pre-K through Grade 2, listening and speaking should be a part of the language arts in general. In Grades 3 - 12, the emphasis in English classes should be limited to group discussion processes and oral presentation skills. To graduate, all Texas high-school students must take a speech course where they learn and practice the fundamentals of good speech communication; therefore, English teachers (Pre-K through Grade 12) should not be charged with a heavy emphasis on the teaching of listening/speaking skills since students will receive this instruction in their speech communication class before they graduate.


Reading should be the umbrella under which the following should be taught directly and systematically in Pre-K through Grade 2:

Children's literature, retelling, singing of rhymes, telling of stories, syntactic awareness (grammar), phonemic awareness, decoding, phonics, fluency, word analysis for purposes of word identification, beginning of general comprehension, penmanship, print concepts, spelling, independent reading, alphabetic knowledge, composing and editing of writing, literary emphasis, inquiry strategies, literary terms, listening skills, speaking skills, word attack skills, narrative writing


This strand should address fiction, poetry, and dramatic literature. It is important for children to learn to read in Pre-K through Grade 2 and then begin to move toward reading to learn as they move into Grade 3. By Grade 3 students should be reading the great pieces of children's literature for themselves and in large quantities so as to build automaticity, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and textual knowledge.

Students need to be taught higher-level reading skills such as drawing conclusions, inferences, fact/opinion, predicting outcomes, making generalizations. The emphasis in the classroom should be on the printed word.

I suggest that each grade level should focus on a specific literary emphasis and on specific literary terms taught in conjunction with the literary selections. For instance, this could mean that in Grade 3, students would read about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In Grade 4 the emphasis might be on myths and legends from around the world. In Grade 5 the emphasis could be on famous people; Grade 6 could be on classical mythology. Grades 7 - 10 could emphasize literary terms and devices as used in great pieces of American and world literature. English III should emphasize American literature, and English IV should emphasize British literature.

Particularly in Pre-K through English II, English teachers should emphasize what is actually in the literary work and should not attempt to spend too much time on the historical context in which the selection was written.

By English III, however, English teachers should place more emphasis on the historical context of a selection and its influence on the culture. Students in English III and IV should be taught to compare and contrast various works, research the accuracy of information presented by the author, analyze and synthesize information from a variety of sources, and recognize styles and characteristics of major works. Students should be taught to determine the true intent of the author without imposing the subjective interpretations and judgments of the reader.


This strand should address expository, persuasive, and practical texts (e.g., business letters and envelopes, written instructions, bus schedules, etc.) in written form. Students should also learn the differences between paraphrasing and summarizing. They should learn about quoting and plagiarizing, critical thinking, and critical reading.


This strand should scaffold vocabulary skills so that they increase in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next and so that they connect with the specialized vocabularies presented in the literary selections.


This strand should emphasize significant spelling rules, word families, similarities and differences in the spellings of groups of words, and specialized spelling lists. A strong emphasis on the spellings and meanings of homophones should be taught at each grade level.


This strand should address expository, persuasive, practical, and "creative" writing with grade-by-grade development of the elements of composition. Students should be taught a steady progression of skills which move learners from writing correct words to correct phrases, sentences, paragraphs, compositions, and research papers.

Before students are taught how to write multi-paragraph compositions, they need to learn the fundamental parts of a good paragraph (e.g., audience, topic sentence, supportive ideas, conclusion, transitional devices, coherence, and point of reference when appropriate). Then they need to be taught how to progress from a good paragraph into a multi-paragraph composition, making sure students understand how a topic sentence in a paragraph transitions into a thesis statement in a composition.

Students must be taught the four writing genres (i.e., narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive) and their distinctive characteristics, helping students to develop facility to utilize each of the four types at will.

Under the narrative genre, students should learn such concepts as author's point of view, theme, audience, narrator, dialogue, development of characters, structure of paragraphs, outlining, plot, setting, foreshadowing, chronological order, and sequencing.

Under descriptive writing, students need to learn the use of vivid verbs, mood, order of importance, gathering details, chronological/spatial/logical order, figures of speech, similes/metaphors, descriptive adjectives, the use of sensory details, and logical order.

Expository writing must be text-based (i.e., reading-based) with evidence provided from something a person has analyzed (e.g., factual phenomena in science or history). Students must be taught the differences between expository and persuasive writing so that they do not insert their personal feelings, emotions, and/or opinions into expository writing. They also must learn to use third-person pronouns in their expository compositions.

Under expository writing, students need to learn to establish the credibility of sources, fact/opinion, source attribution, plagiarizing, paraphrasing/summarizing, and supportive details. Learners also need to learn a step-by-step progression of research skills which can start with simple steps in Grade 3, culminating in the literary criticism/analysis research paper in English IV.

Under persuasive writing, students need to learn the persuasive writing strategies such as sensory images/explicit words, action verbs, descriptive adjectives and adverbs, defining terms, giving accurate information, exaggeration, drawing attention to similarities and differences, examples, metaphors, personification, indirect references, description of personal qualities, personal stories, dialogue, and comparison of two sets of ideas/situations/things.


This strand should address a competency-based, formal study of grammar and usage (e.g., punctuation, capitalization, spelling, syntax) which increases in depth and complexity from one grade level to the next.

Because of its tightly sequenced elements, I recommend the use of the grammar strand found at . (Please scroll down to Subchapter D, Teachers' Supplementary Guide, 110.55. Grammar, Grades 4-12.) Since the writers of this grammar strand have claimed no authorship or copyright privileges and the strand is free for the taking, the writers of the new ELAR/TEKS should import this grammar strand directly into the new standards.


I am torn about naming this a separate strand. I really believe the skills taught here should go under expository writing and should build at each grade level until students are finally able to write a well-written research paper.

The problem with having a separate Research strand is that the ELAR/TEKS writers will have to make sure the Research strand elements are aligned exactly with the Composition strand elements. If they do not align exactly, students might find themselves being required to write something for which they have not had suitable prerequisite instruction.


Please see the list of recommended literary selections (Pre-K through Grade 12) at . (To see the complete list, please go to Subchapter D, Teachers' Supplementary Guide, 110.52. Reading Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 3 AND to 110.53. Reading and Literature, Grades 4 - 6.)

The only changes I would make would be to add pieces of Biblical literature at each grade level which would prepare students for literary allusions and themes which are so common in classical pieces of literature and on college-readiness tests (e.g., Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, ACT, SAT, CLEP exams): David and Goliath, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Noah's Ark, The Tower of Babel, Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors, The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jonah and the Whale, The Parable of the Lost Sheep, selections from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), New Testament, King James Bible.

Students must also know these Biblical allusions to be equipped for college courses: The Journey in Canterbury Tales; The Fall in Paradise Lost; The Quest in Idylls of the King; the battle between Good and Evil in Paradise Lost; Heaven vs. Hell in The Divine Comedy; Fire vs. Ice in Dante's Inferno; the archetype of the Hero as seen in Joseph, Moses, Elijah, Jesus Christ; the Devil Figure called Satan; The Woman Figure (The Platonic Ideal) inspired by the Virgin Mary; The Trinity, The Cross, Temptation/Sin, Forgiveness/Redemption, Obedience/Punishment, Creation, God as a Power, Angels/Devils, Heaven/Hell, Twelve Tribes and Apostles, Self-sacrifice, Forbidden Knowledge, Courage in the face of great danger, Value of Suffering, Prejudice (racial, political, and religious), Human Nature, Faith in Human Nature, Triumph from Adversity, Poetic Justice, and other Biblical archetypes and themes.

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