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Books Face Gantlet of Reviews, Ideology

BY Matt Frazier
by Matt Frazier on 7/14/02.

A battle begins in Austin on Wednesday that will influence the
education of children in Texas and throughout the nation.
The State Board of Education is kicking off a series of public
hearings to gather opinions before choosing which social studies
books will shape Texas' children's views of history and the world
around them.
Seventy organizations and individuals already have signed up to
speak. Some political and education analysts say the outcome will
be a key test of Texas' textbook selection process. They want to
see whether the state board can put aside party politics, absorb a
barrage of opinions from lobbyists and choose the most accurate,
complete textbooks.
Because Texas is the nation's second-largest purchaser of
textbooks, the board's decision will affect the education of
students throughout the nation. Books approved in Texas are
virtually assured some financial success and often are shipped
to schools in other states.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a key player in past textbook
debates, says it has discovered 553 errors in the recommended
books, as well as hundreds of cases where key historical figures
and events were misrepresented or ignored.
Publishers eager to earn the $344.7 million Texas will spend on
books this year have already been working with such concerned
groups to correct factual errors and consider possible revisions to
make the texts more acceptable.
The Texas Freedom Network has launched an "I Object!" campaign,
claiming groups such as the foundation will try to censor texts and
impose conservative and religious agendas on the new textbooks.
Groups such as the foundation, however, counter that the Texas
Freedom Network is pushing its own liberal viewpoints.
Education board members say that despite the politics and
rhetoric, the result of the review process has been steady
improvement in textbook quality.
Bill Miller, a lobbyist and political consultant, said there's
little question that the review process has helped catch errors
before they make it to classrooms.
"Whether it has gone too far - I think we are bordering on that,"
Miller said. "That would be damaging to education."
Constant battles
In the past, groups have complained about how textbooks portray a
variety of subjects, including God, sex, slavery, evolution,
patriotism and gender bias.
The constant battles prompted state legislators in 1995 to limit
the State Board of Education's textbook selection powers. The board
cannot directly alter textbook content but can reject books because
of errors or failure to follow the state curriculum.
Groups such as the Texas Freedom Network have complained that
conservatives and religious right groups have had too much
influence on textbooks.
Those complaints came to a head last year when the Texas Public
Policy Foundation and other conservative lobbying groups said a
proposed environmental science book unfairly portrayed the
significance of acid rain, deforestation, global warming and other
environmental issues.
The state board voted along party lines to reject the book.
Republican board members say they and Democrats were elected to
represent their constituents' wishes in educating their children.
Because Republicans have had control over the board since 1996,
more conservative, patriotic philosophies have appeared in
textbooks, they say.
"We are just trying to do our jobs and make sure we have
accurate, error-free textbooks in our children's hands," said
education board member David Bradley, a Republican. "I think we've
seen vast improvement in our textbooks."
Although Republicans outnumber Democrats, board member Rene
Nunez, a Democrat, said there is enough philosophical diversity on
the board to keep textbooks from following extreme agendas.
"I think it's worked, contentwise," Nunez said. "The textbooks
are improving."
Hundreds of errors
Famed African-American Rosa Parks made headlines in the 1950s
when she took a seat in the middle section of a public bus where
blacks and whites were allowed to sit together.
Or, at least that's what Texas students would learn from one of
the textbooks proposed this year, according to the Texas Public
Policy Foundation. In fact, there were no such bus sections, and
Parks made headlines by sitting in the whites-only area.
This year, the state seeks to update textbooks for a variety of
high school subjects under the broad heading of "social studies,"
including U.S. history, comparative government and politics, human
geography, psychology and sociology. English and Spanish textbooks
for elementary and middle school also are being reviewed.
All but one proposed text passed preliminary state review this year.
The San Antonio-based foundation asked 16 university professors
and public school teachers to study how well proposed replacement
texts meet state essential knowledge and skills requirements.
Including Rosa Parks' bus seating error, the organization said it
discovered 553 errors in the books and hundreds of instances where
key historical figures and events are misrepresented or ignored.
After spending almost $100,000 on the three-month review project,
the organization does not think any of the proposed books deserves
to be removed from the state's acceptable list. But the group
believes changes must be made.
"We gave our reviews to the publishers about two weeks ago," said
Chris Patterson, director of education research for the foundation.
"If it is possible, we hope some can add material to make their
textbooks more historically comprehensive."
Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy also is collecting a list of
mistakes. The group says it rejects revisionist history, anti-free
market, anti-American sentiment and "politically correct textbooks"
that promote student advocacy.
April Hattori, spokeswoman for education book publisher
Glenco/McGraw Hill, said the company is studying some of the
reviews and is "very willing and happy" to correct factual errors
in its book samples, but that content is guided overall by
educational experts and Texas requirements.
But the Texas Freedom Network argues that, for many conservative
groups, complaining about mistakes and balance is cover for a
deeper agenda.
"We are seeing the same thing this year we saw last year," said
Ashley McIlvain, spokeswoman for the network. "Groups certainly did
identify factual errors. But when it came right down to it, they
were rejecting books based on philosophical objections they had
with the author."
Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers
Association, agreed.
"Politics is being interjected," Kouri said. "What we are going
to be watching this time is how successful this new attack strategy
is going to be. Is the board going to start knocking off three,
four or five books at a time, or forcing companies to go back and
rewrite books in order for them to have a chance to be adopted by
local school districts?"
Matt Frazier, (817) 548-5403
State textbook review panel
Texas is one of 22 mostly Southern states that use a statewide
textbook adoption process. The process begins with the State Board
of Education issuing a proclamation to publishers that details the
subject areas for review, content needed to meet state
requirements, the maximum acceptable per-student costs and the
estimated number of books required.
Members of the state textbook review panel search for factual
errors while determining whether the proposed texts cover knowledge
and skills deemed essential by the state.
Based on these evaluations, the commissioner of education
prepares a preliminary report detailing which textbooks should be
placed on the conforming list, nonconforming list or be rejected.
School districts choose books from the conforming list.
The board then conducts public hearings in Austin on Wednesday,
Aug. 23, Sept. 11 and Nov. 14. A final decision is expected Nov. 14.
Public hearing
The first public hearing on proposed textbooks is from 8 a.m. to
5 p.m. Wednesday in Room 1-104 of the William B. Travis Building,
1701 N. Congress Ave. in Austin. It is too late to register to
speak at this hearing. Those interested in speaking at subsequent
hearings may fill out a registration form at the board's Web site