After a couple of weeks playing phone tag, Unfair Park finally managed to connect with George M. Clayton, the District 12 State Board of Education candidate opposing incumbent Geraldine "Tincy" Miller in Tuesday's GOP primary. Clayton has been something of a mystery man to the Republican Party folk and state board watchers we've spoken with, and we wanted to ask him why he's running.
"I think the state board needs an educator," replied Clayton, 60, an academic coordinator and English administrator at North Dallas High School.
Clayton said he particularly incensed by the "stranglehold that standardized testing has on education in Texas."
Says the teacher, "In spite of all the lies you hear from some those [board] members and members of local ISDs, teachers do teach to the TAKS test, and that's all they do. And the reason they do that is that if they don't do well on the TAKS test teachers are threatened and stressed out constantly under the threat of losing their jobs."
Texas student are required to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills -- or TAKS -- test to graduate high school or be promoted in grades 3, 5 and 8. It's being replaced by a new, similar exam, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) in 2011. (Education bureaucrats are like the military in their love of unwieldy acronyms.)
Complaints that education in Texas has been reduced to "teaching to the test" are common, particularly among teachers, but there's one problem with Clayton running for the State Board of Education on an anti-standardized testing platform: The SBOE has precious little to do with the TAKS or STAAR. The exams are mandated by the Legislature and developed by the Texas Education Agency. The board's role is oblique, at best: It designs the classroom curricula that will be eventually be covered by the tests.
And it's the raucous battles over curricula standards that have brought attention in recent years to a board that once was a quiet little backwater in Austin, as a group of seven Christian conservatives have led battles over sex education, the teaching of evolution and the perceived "liberal" content of social studies and history books.
Unfair Park tried to pin Clayton down on where he stood on the GOP conservative spectrum -- using a form of reportorial shorthand. We asked him how old the Earth is, figuring anything in the 10,000-year range would peg him as a religious conservative.
"I'm not going to cut it half and count the rings," Clayton replied cannily.
OK, slippery answer. (Also wrong, but never mind.) We tried again: Should evolution be taught in science classrooms?
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Clayton said evolution is and should remain in science classrooms, but he thinks the alternative theories supported by the religious right -- intelligent design and creationism -- can "find a real nice home" in humanities, philosophy or world history classes.
"It's seems to me you can't be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism]," Clayton said. "It's an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism."
Right. Of course. You can't have physics without metaphysics. Can't teach marine biology without mentioning mermaids.
And we still can't figure out why anyone in his or her right mind would want to serve on the State Board of Education.