Sunday, May 23, 2010

Nothing certain as dearth in Texas

[At the risk of skewing the Blogger/Google stats about my blog even more, this week's pact post will be again be more reactive than proactive and will contain certain right-of-center terms.]

From a bird's-eye view, there's a national pattern emerging that has been succinctly described as lost they damn minds to explain everything from why there are still black Republicans, to why there are any minority Tea Partiers, to why people will pay to hear Sarah "Half a term is better than none" Palin's word salad, to why certain state officials (Virginia, Arizona, Texas) have done things that are clearly racist to all but the most obtuse-- all while mainstream media pundits continue to "debate both sides of the issue."

I believe that Rand Paul of Kentucky has been sufficiently hoist on his own petard as he trampled on his own primary victory by first being just a little too honest about the 1964 Civil Rights Act in a May 19 Rachel Maddow interview:
... and then deciding he'd had enough and refusing to appear a few days later on Meet the Press. I can't add much to what's already been well said. I don't know what's in his heart (ignorance or racism) and I don't care, because his smarmy meanderings deny history and contribute to a racist result. From his own comments, he'd clearly allow a return to Jim Crow days-- and on that basis alone, he doesn't need to be a U.S. Senator.

So let's move on from Dan'l Boone country to Texas, where the State Board of Education has been even more direct in their denial of history than waffleberry Rand Paul. On May 21, they officially adopted new curriculum standards for history. This year's conservative rewrite follows last year's revised science standards, which generated a bit of controversy themselves and stopped just short of saying the universe began in the year 4400 B.C.

A decent summary of the Texas proceedings can be found at the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) Insider blog. For an alternative one-pager, try the TPMmuckraker summary. Bottom line: Newt Gingrich and Phyllis Schafly in, overt discussion of Christianity in, minorities (including President Obama) barely tolerated, left-of-center figures out.

I take the impending ignorance of Texas grads seriously because I have young family members in K-12 schools there. One is old enough to miss most of this controversy and will only have a couple of years under the new standards. The other is young enough to be impressionable and will be fully immersed when the new textbooks arrive. I find myself thinking I should send CARE packages of books and videos on black history. One of the kids isn't a reader but the videos might "take."

I also find myself thinking about boycotts. There's just been a push to boycott Arizona over their recent immigration laws. Haven't heard a peep about boycotting Texas, but...

One sector that won't boycott Texas anytime soon would be the textbook publishers. They have their own difficult calculus to deal with. Texas as the 800-pound gorilla may not be a sustainable model much longer, in this age of customizable textbooks, print-on-demand, and e-textbooks, but they're still in charge.

By contrast, the higher ed textbook model is essentially broken already-- the publishers are really pushing e-texts and even book rentals to keep the doors open. They have put their best (and, might I add, best-looking) sales reps on the job to sell their hardcover, high-cost wares to the profs. I don't think it's working, though it's an impressive last hurrah. This has to trickle down to K-12 soon and influence Texas, California and New York, which I believe are the next-largest gorillas. The latter two each have distinct K-12 standards and I hope they won't adopt Texas history just to please the publishers' desire for hardcover sales.

I've also been concerned about the general welfare of the upcoming generation of grads beyond my own family, and I can imagine a need for remedial U.S. history to join the remedial English and math that already plagues so many of our incoming college students.

Remediation is an add-on to my system's 4-year model, but it's destined to shrink, not grow. It's already been pushed to the community colleges at CUNY on the "other" coast. And California State (CSU) is picking up on that idea:

Despite calls to maintain the status quo, the trustees of the California State University system approved this week the "Early Start" program to address remediation rates that often top 60% at various campuses, and hover near 47% in English and 37% in math system-wide.

Starting in 2012, prospective freshmen who fail the CSU proficiency placement exams must take CSU-sponsored courses to address the deficiency before arriving at college. CSU anticipates this program will reduce the amount of remediation the campuses must offer and help their new students arrive ready for college-level work...
This is touted as "wholesome and gentle" at the above link, but low-income (including white and minority) students are really going to feel the squeeze. From the K-12 side they will be deemed ready to move on if they pass the high-school exit exam and graduate. The CSU English and math placement exams will, in the percentages described above, say they're not ready for college.

The current solution for most students needing remediation is to admit them, and offer a combination of late summer and first semester remediation on campus. The "new and improved" solution is actually a very old one: Get any remediation done on your own before showing up. In principle, one can argue that 4-year colleges shouldn't do remediation. In reality, there's a gap and a need. Our community colleges are full now, so everyone needing remediation won't be able to get it, starting in 2012.

[NOTE: Several parts of this post were adapted from comments I posted on a thread at P6.]

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