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State board's vote on revised social studies curriculum standards scheduled for Friday

AUSTIN -- Members of the State Board of Education signaled their intentions Wednesday to move forward with a final vote on revised social studies curriculum standards this week, rebuffing calls for a delay during a marathon hearing that spotlighted the deep divisions over the changes.

Former Education Secretary Rod Paige and others expressed opposition to the new standards. He urged board members not to let personal ideology determine "what is taught to our children."

The revisions, which were tentatively approved in March, have drawn nationwide attention amid charges that conservative Republicans on the board are trying to alter history and inject their political beliefs into the curriculum.

Minority groups contend that the standards have also diminished the historical role of African-Americans and Hispanics. Supporters defend the changes as balanced and accurate, contending that the controversy has been distorted in the news media. The board will consider amendments today and has scheduled a final vote on Friday.

Critics of the changes, including Hispanic and African-American legislators and the national head of the NAACP, urged board members to postpone the vote because of the public outcry against the new standards.

"If the textbook that we give to our children is not fair, we are hurting our children," said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. "Delay the process and let's do what's best in the interest of the children."

National interest

Several Republican members of the GOP-dominated board, including Pat Hardy of Fort Worth, opposed a delay, saying the board needs to approve the changes to get the new curriculum into classrooms for the 2011-12 school year. The revised standards, which will also help shape new textbooks, will be used by 4.7 million students and will remain in effect for more than a decade.

"I do think we do have a time restraint," said Hardy, a former longtime schoolteacher. "In order to get this done, we need to go forward."

The curriculum revisions have been in the works for nearly two years. "By delaying this process," board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, said, "we're doing nothing but increasing the amount of disagreement."

Outside, satellite trucks indicated the nationwide interest in the debate. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 lined the boardroom. Others watched the proceedings in a spillover room.

Signs that sprouted from dueling rallies during a lunch break underscored the differing points of view.

"Don't Mess with Textbooks" and "Don't Make Texas Schools a National Joke" were among the messages at a rally sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, which opposes the changes. Dozens gathered at an opposing rally sponsored by the Liberty Institute, which backs the new standards, wielding banners reading, "It's Legal to Love America" and "Stop Liberal Revision of American History."

A diverse lineup of 207 witnesses signed up to testify, but little more than a dozen had taken the lectern by early afternoon as speakers became entangled in questions by board members. Board officials had projected that the hearing could extend to midnight, even without any delays.

Scheduled witnesses included pastors, teachers, parents and an array of advocacy groups.

'History is what it is ...'

Terry Ann Kelly of Grapevine, a mother of five who was up until 4 a.m. working on her testimony, applauded the board's efforts to support the country's founding principles despite "great pressure from a very small but very loud group" of opponents. "Good for you," she told members.

Placido Salazar, a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star, was seated in a motorized wheelchair waiting his turn to testify. Salazar, a member of the GI Forum, said he wanted to protest the "gross misrepresentation of minorities" in the new standards.

"They want to pretend that Texas history began with the arrival of Sam Houston and Davey Crockett, and they were the first illegal immigrants," Salazar said, noting that Mexicans and American Indians were here long before Anglo settlers reached Texas from the United States.

The Rev. Stephen Broden, an African-American minister from Dallas, said he supports the revised standards and warned that it would be a "gross misrepresentation" to make any changes that would exclude the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage. He also said it would be a "very false charge" that minorities have been excluded in the new standards.

But Paige, the first African-American to serve as education secretary, called on the board to "take another look" at how minorities and the civil-rights movement are portrayed.

Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, also expressed concerns about the portrayal of African-Americans. "We are concerned about quality, not quotas," he said. "We want our kids to learn the whole truth, not half of it." He said his organization has received many e-mails from people "concerned about the impact on the children."

Jealous, the first NAACP national president to appear before the state school board, echoed calls for the members to delay action on the standards. "Let's slow down, back up and then move forward together," he said.

DAVE MONTGOMERY IS CHIEF OF THE STAR-TELEGRAM'S AUSTIN BUREAU. 512-476-4294

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