Short Stuff 24.1

Texas Conservatives Push Social Studies to the Right

The Texas State Board of Education, dominated by Republicans and advised by conservative “experts,” is in the process of revising the curriculum requirements for social studies classes and textbooks. The first draft of the standards, released over the summer, raised alarms among educators throughout the United States.

According to the proposed standards, President Franklin D. Roosevelt will be removed from the list of “significant political and social leaders in the United States.” However, textbooks will teach students to “identify significant conservative advocacy organizations and individuals, such as Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Moral Majority.” No analogous progressive individuals or groups are required.

Cesar Chavez narrowly made it into the standards as a Latino civil rights and labor leader, although evangelical minister Peter Marshall, one of six experts advising the state, argued, “To have Cesar Chavez listed next to Ben Franklin is ludicrous.” Marshall also argued against the inclusion of Thurgood Marshall, first African American U.S. Supreme Court justice. (Justice Marshall did make it into the standards, along with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the Rev. Billy Graham.)

Texas standards are of national concern. Texas and California are the states with the largest student enrollments and represent huge markets for the publishing industry. Publishers write textbooks tailored for adoption in those two states. Then those textbooks dominate the market and tend to become what is available throughout the country.

Watch for more on the controversy unleashed by these proposed requirements. The final vote on Texas social studies standards for the next decade is scheduled for March 2010.

This article incorporates reporting by Terrence Stutz in the Dallas Morning News (July 9, 2009) and Mary Ann Zehr in the Education Week blog “Curriculum Matters” (August 17, 2009).

Joel Pett/Caroonists Group

Teachers’ Unions Champion Democracy in Honduras

The Honduran Federation of Teachers Organizations (FOMH) has played a key role in protesting the coup that kidnapped and replaced the democratically elected president of Honduras in June. President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales was dragged from the presidential palace and put on a plane to Costa Rica just hours before voters were to cast ballots in a nonbinding referendum on electing a constituent assembly to redraft the constitution. Almost immediately, the protests began. In the months since, strikes, marches, honking protest caravans, and street demonstrations have been almost continuous.

Through FOMH, the 57,000 members of the national teachers’ unions in the country have helped lead the campaign to restore democracy. In a declaration issued shortly after Zelaya was forced out, FOMH condemned the coup, called for a return to democratic rule, and instructed its members to “reactivate their strike committees and to organize in a disciplined way with the grassroots leaders of other popular organizations and coalitions in each community to assume an attitude of civil disobedience . . . and to declare an indefinite strike until constitutional order is restored.”

Two teachers have been killed: High school teacher Roger Abraham Vallejo was shot by soldiers as they broke up a demonstration in the capital city of Tegucigalpa; another teacher, Martín Florencio Rivera, was stabbed to death after leaving Vallejo’s wake several days later.

There is a long history to the efforts to unite teachers into strong unions in Honduras. In 1968, teachers won a major victory with passage of legislation that mandated public education for elementary and middle school students. In May 2004, teachers’ organizations demanded a fair pay system and rejected the government’s proposed general curriculum reform, explaining that rather than responding to children’s interests and the country’s needs, it sped up the privatization of education.

Zelaya won the unions’ loyalty in part by raising teachers’ salaries the equivalent of 45 cents an hour. The 16 percent pay hike raised an average $71 per week salary to $83. In a country where an estimated 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, Zelaya had raised the minimum wage from $6 a day to approximately $9.60.

As we go to press, five of the six member unions in FOMH remain committed to the strike and mobilizations. Striking teachers are currently in their classrooms Monday through Wednesdays and in the streets coordinating protests on Thursdays and Fridays.

Parents to FTC: Don’t Push Violent Films on Our Kids 

Thousands of parents signed a petition urging the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop the film industry from targeting young children with advertising for PG-13 films. The petition campaign was organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and timed to coincide with the August premiere of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, rated PG-13 for “strong sequences of action violence and mayhem throughout.”

Between March and August 2009, nearly 5,000 advertisements for five violent PG-13 films and related merchandise were aired on children’s television stations, including Nickelodeon and Disney XD. Ads for the five films—X-Men Origins: WolverineStar TrekTerminator SalvationTransformers: Revenge of the Fallen; and G.I. Joe were shown on children’s channels between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., when young children were likely to be watching.

Star TrekTransformers, and G.I. Joe were also promoted through movie-themed Burger King Kids Meals designed for children well under 13 years of age. All the films were heavily promoted through ads for licensed toys, some designed for children as young as 2.

The connection between the films and the toys is especially upsetting to CCFC members Amanda and Mark Lindberg; Mark is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and served in Iraq. According to Amanda Lindberg: “It is not that romanticizing war is new—our literature and movies have done that for years. The difference now is that we market movies with an intense level of violence to young children with toys that allow young children to re-create violent scenes of which they should never have been aware. In essence, we have taken the movies from ‘war is hell’ to ‘war is play.’”

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Schools Are Safer Without Metal Detectors

The New York Civil Liberties Union, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, and Make the Road New York have released a report arguing that schools can create a safer environment without metal detectors and harsh discipline.

The report, “Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to Over-Policing Schools,” is based on a one-year quantitative and qualitative study of six New York City high schools with “at-risk” student populations that do not use metal detectors. According to the report, these schools have improved attendance, better student retention, and graduation rates, and have “dramatically fewer” criminal and noncriminal incidents and school suspensions than schools equipped with permanent metal detectors.

Since 1998, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani transferred school security responsibilities to the NYPD, the number of police personnel in the schools soared by 62 percent, from 3,200 to 5,200. The police force in city schools is now the fifth largest police force in the country—there are more police in New York City schools than there are on the streets of cities such as Baltimore, Las Vegas, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Excerpted from a blog by Jorge Rivas. Reprinted with permission of Applied Research Center and RaceWire.

Teacher Turnover 200 Percent Higher at Charter Schools

Teachers who work in charter schools are 200 percent more likely to leave their schools than their public school counterparts, according to a study by David Stuit and Thomas Smith at Vanderbilt University.

Stuit and Smith, who presented their findings at the 2009 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, analyzed federal data from the 2003–04 school year for almost 15,000 teachers in 16 states. They discovered that nearly 25 percent of charter school teachers ended up leaving by the end of the year, 14 percent leaving the profession altogether and 11 percent transferring to another school. The average turnover rate in the regular public schools in the same states, in contrast, was approximately 14 percent, half leaving the profession and half changing schools. The study links increased turnover to the fact that charter school teachers tend to be young and more likely to lack certification (and thus formal education training).

This article incorporates reporting by Debra Viadero in the Education Week blog “Inside School Research” (April 14, 2009).