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Science texts awaiting approval are criticized Publishers defend books that groups say show political bias

BY Terrence Stutz
by Terrence Stutz on 9/7/01.

AUSTIN - Proposed science textbooks for Texas schools came under fire Thursday from dozens of critics who asserted the books are full of factual errors and political bias.

Leading the attack were two conservative groups that objected to the books' attention to controversial topics such as global warming, acid rain and endangered species.

"Classrooms are no place for fear mongering and the manipulation of students," said Peggy Venable of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, citing passages in some books that she maintained "frighten" students about global warming.

"We should be teaching science, not science fiction written to promote an activist agenda," she said.

Major publishers defended the textbooks and said they would correct any errors before the books are up for final approval in November.

The comments came during the State Board of Education's annual hearing on textbook selection. Science textbooks are up for adoption this year, and nearly $ 100 million will be spent buying those books for the 2002-03 school year.

Duggan Flanakin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation objected to the books' treatment of acid rain and tropical forest destruction, which he argued exaggerated the problem and could not be supported by statistical evidence. He noted that three books had widely different estimates on the amount of rain forest that has been destroyed.

"The publishers have a lot of work to do on these books, and until that work is done, no Texas school child should be forced to use any of these textbooks," he said. "We recommend that the board send all these publishers back to the drawing board."

Most of criticism was aimed at science books under consideration for middle school students.

In response, publishers defended the accuracy of their materials while promising they would clean up factual errors before the board votes on the textbooks at its next regular meeting.

"We stand by the information that we have put in these textbooks, but there is not a publisher here that will say they have error-free books," said Robert Cox, senior vice president for Glencoe McGraw-Hill.

"If we see there are errors, we will correct them."

Terry Smith, vice president of Holt, Reinhart & Winston, said his company also will do what it can to correct any mistakes before the November vote.

"Unfortunately some errors do get through," he said. "But when they do, we address them."

State Board of Education President Grace Shore said the board will not approve books that are found to contain numerous errors, but she added there is little that can be done about accusations of bias in textbooks.

"Factual errors can be most easily corrected. Bias errors are much more difficult to address. Actually, the board has no jurisdiction over bias. About all we can do is express moral indignation when we see it," Ms. Shore said.

State board members lost much of their authority over textbooks several years ago as the Legislature gave more discretion to local school boards in selecting books.

But board members do review books for factual accuracy and whether they conform to state curriculum standards.

Ms. Shore said publishers should still be concerned about allegations of bias because such publicity can hurt sales.

As for potential problems with science books up for adoption, Ms. Shore said she will wait to see a written report from publishers and the Texas Education Agency about any errors.

Among those who testified against the science books on Thursday was Richard Carron of Dallas, who said the books read "more like political science than science."

"Texas can do better than this," he said, suggesting that the material in some of the books appeared to come from "subtle propaganda mills."

Don Beeth, a former physics teacher from Friendswood, gave the books a grade of F.

"I would rather have my son not take science than take it out of these books," he said.

Michael Franks of Wharton said the books "need to be thrown in the trash."

"I think we have found the alternative fuel source everyone has been looking for," he said, joking.

Publishers will be allowed to make corrections before their books come up for board approval in November. There are provisions in board rules for financial penalties to be imposed if errors are not corrected before the books are distributed to schools.

Texas is one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation and is a critical stop for publishers, who sell books adopted in Texas to dozens of other states.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO(S): (HARRY CABLUCK/Associated Press) Texas Board of Education member Richard Neill receives a stack of science textbooks from Linda Janney (left). The books come up for board approval in November.