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Groups upset over science textbooks, education board rule

by CONNIE MABIN on 9/6/01.

Dozens of people want to testify before the State Board of Education about the adoption of new science textbooks.

But because of a little-noticed Aug. 7 deadline, whether their opinions are heard Thursday remains to be seen.

Only one person made the deadline. Some 86 others have requested to be allowed to testify despite missing the deadline.

"People got caught unaware," said David Bradley, who is among the board members who plan to ask for a vote to allow the deadline to be waived.

It is not unusual for there to be criticism of the content of textbooks, particularly science books. In past years, complaints ranged from typographical or factual errors to differences of philosophy.

This year, some are objecting to what they say are inaccurate facts and omissions of scientific information.

The conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation wants to present a study to the board the group says highlights errors in middle-school science books, such as vastly different amounts of destroyed rain forest acres in books by three different publishers.

Another conservative group, Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, said many of the middle-school science texts are biased in the presentation of issues such as global warming, endangered species and land management.

The group claims one eighth-grade textbook "uses data to frighten students about global warming and to motivate them into action."

"Unfortunately, portions of the textbooks under review don't teach sound science. In fact, they promote an environmental or political agenda," said Peggy Venable, director of the group.

The education board, which could order publishers to revise texts, has required people who want to speak about textbook adoption to register before the meeting since 1999, said Debbie Graves-Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

The notice was posted on the agency's Web site, she said.

Because last year's adoption of English texts was unusually quiet, this year 's deadline may have slipped by unnoticed, Graves-Ratcliffe said.

"The industry is always open to suggestions about how the material may be better and to suggestions about errors," said Bill Joe Watkins who represents the Association of American Publishers.

Most publishers want adequate time to be able to respond to complaints or fix factual errors, Watkins said.

The deadline rules "were not designed to stifle public opinion. They're designed to create a fair process," Watkins said.

Approving the purchase of textbooks is one of the elected board's main duties.

Texas will spend $640 million over the next two years on textbooks. The market is one of the country's largest and trends are closely watched because publishing firms sell textbooks adopted in Texas to dozens of other states.

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