Controversial education leader under fire
April 23, 2009
Don McLeroy's controversial leadership as chairman of the State Board of Education could jeopardize his confirmation to keep the job after a rocky reception Wednesday night before the Senate Nominations Committee.
Written by Gary Scharrer, The San Antonio Express News
AUSTIN — Don McLeroy's controversial leadership as chairman of the State Board of Education could jeopardize his confirmation to keep the job after a rocky reception Wednesday night before the Senate Nominations Committee.
McLeroy may have trouble getting at least 21 of the 31 Senate votes needed for confirmation, Nominations Chairman Mike Jackson, R- La Porte, said.
“It's my preference, if that is going to be the case, that we don't bring him forward (to the Senate floor). There's no sense in doing that,” Jackson said.
McLeroy faced severe criticism from two committee members and several citizens who called him unfit to lead the 15-member board because of his strong religious beliefs that they said conflict with his role in shaping public education policy for 4.7 million Texas public school children.
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, a member of the Nominations Committee, promised to fight McLeroy's confirmation. Gov. Rick Perry would have to appoint a new chairman if the dentist from Bryan were not confirmed.
The board chairman plays a key role in crafting evidence-based education curriculum and adopting quality textbooks, Shapleigh said.
“Don McLeroy has used his role to inject his personal religious views into curriculum and textbooks, making Texas students less prepared to compete in a knowledge-based world,” Shapleigh said.
More than a dozen bills pending in the Legislature would reduce the State Board of Education's influence, including stripping the board of its control over curriculum and school textbooks.
"You have created a hornet's nest like I've never seen here," Shapleigh told McLeroy.
McLeroy acknowledged that he is a “young Earth creationist” who believes the Earth is about 6,000 years old.
But McLeroy emphasized that he has not pushed his religious viewpoints into public education policies.
McLeroy recently fought for new science curriculum standards that require students to analayze and evaluate various scientific theories.
“There's nothing religious about those standards,” he said. “Our children will critically examine the scientific explanations for cells or the origin of life ... I think that by being honest with our kids, we will get really good scientists.”
Ron Wetherington, an anthropologist at Southern Methodist University and one of the experts appointed to recommend new science curriculum standards, urged lawmakers to reject McLeroy's appointment.
Although calling McLeroy "very congenial," Weatherington said the chairman has embarrassed the state of Texas by promoting anti-science through his "personal views as a young Earth creationist."
Two witnesses defended McLeroy, including State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.
“We made it very clear that children would have the freedom to raise their hand and have the right to ask questions in science classrooms,” he said.
And Jonathan Saenz of the Texas Free Market Foundation blamed the opposition to McLeroy's leadership on “a rehearing of what's happened over the past year.”
McLeroy has led a narrow board majority on controversial issues, including the establishment of standards for a new Bible course, and new curriculum standards for English, language arts and reading.
“The folks who lost the battle are here to take it out on one member — Chairman McLeroy,” Saenz said.
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