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Textbook Review May Be Particularly Controversial This Year

on 5/21/02.

- Just about any time that textbooks come up for review, controversy is just around the corner -- but that especially holds true this year, educators say.

Once a decade, Texas adopts new social studies texts for its schools, and it 's that time again.

"Every time we adopt textbooks it's controversial, but we think this year will be particularly so," said Cheryl Wright, director of social studies at the Texas Education Agency.

The books are available at North Texas' two education service centers, one in Richardson and one in Fort Worth. Visitors can view the books there or check them out for 10 days at a time. They will be available through November.

The books were supposed to have been available for public review in February, but state officials gave publishers an extension after Sept. 11 so they could include more recent events.

In the two weeks the books have been available in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a slow but steady stream of teachers and school administrators has dropped in, usually one or two a day, The Dallas Morning News reported for its Tuesday editions.

Private schools and home-school parents also have stopped at the second-floor back room at the Richardson center, where the books are stacked . And textbook publishers have sent employees to check out what competing publishers are offering.

After the adoption process is complete this fall, it will be up to individual school districts to determine which of the approved books end up in their classrooms.

The closest examiners of the textbooks are likely to be conservative activists who plan to check the textbooks for bias. They say some books are anti-American, anti-Christian and anti-conservative. Conservatives examine books in most subject areas, but social studies texts have historically gotten more scrutiny because history and economics are inherently more political than other subjects.

"We have hundreds of people who want to look at these textbooks and make sure they're presenting our children with accurate information," said Peggy Venable, state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy. "We don't want them presenting hypotheses and theories as fact."

The importance of Texas' textbook approval process goes beyond the state's borders. Because Texas is such a large market, books approved here are almost guaranteed a measure of financial success and are often shopped to schools elsewhere.

Publishers often create special "Texas editions" of their products, hiring Texas teachers as consultants to create texts with an extra emphasis on Texas facts.

In all, 115 social studies books have been submitted for approval. The State Board of Education is not required to adopt or reject any set percentage of the books, and in previous years, nearly all of the books have been adopted.

In the coming months, state officials will designate teams to search the books for factual errors and to determine how closely each textbook follows the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state curriculum standards on which future students will be tested.

Meanwhile, interested members of the public will pore over the books for themselves.

An alliance of conservative organizations, led by Venable's Citizens for a
Sound Economy, has assembled more than 200 Texans to examine social studies textbooks. They, and any other interested parties, will present their findings at three public hearings scheduled in July, August and September.

Then, in November, the state board then is to vote on which to adopt.

The Legislature attempted to take away much of the state board's powers over textbook review in 1995. Tired of years of fights over topics such as evolution and sex education, lawmakers passed a bill saying the board could reject textbooks only if they were manufactured poorly, contained factual errors or did not cover the state curriculum standards. Power to select textbooks was shifted primarily to local school districts.