Buy the Book?

Ideology concerning the creation of man and evolution is expected to evolve today as people share concerns about textbooks being considered for use in public school classrooms.

But the State Board of Education’s textbook power only extends to selecting properly bound, error-free textbooks and materials that meet the state’s curriculum. The board will have a public hearing regarding instructional materials submitted for adoption at 1 p.m. today in the William B. Travis Building in Austin.

Textbooks and materials up for consideration include biology, career, technology and English as a Second Language. Although textbooks won’t be selected by the board until November, educators and organizations already have begun the arduous task of reviewing material in hopes of finding problem areas before they make it into classrooms.

Cynthia Thornton, who represents District 10 on the state board, recalled finding several errors in social studies textbooks last year. Thornton, who taught for 31 years, said one publisher had Ann Richards listed as the governor and another misspelled “Thornton.”

“I hope that the proclamation will go well and that everybody will be willing to work hard so that we’ll have real good books for the children,” Thornton said.

Casey Kaplan, political director of Texas Freedom Network, said he expects debates on issues such as evolution versus creationism, the age of the Earth, and medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education.

“We want to make sure that the best textbooks are in the hands of our students,” Kaplan said. “We want to make sure radical religious rights are not putting undue influence on texts.”

In the past, Kaplan said, far-right groups have lobbied to keep various topics from textbooks.

* References to the Ice Age and other events occurring “millions of years ago” were changed to read “in the distant past” in history books, so ancient geological events did not conflict with Biblical interpretations.

* A self breast exam line drawing, which board members called “embarrassing” and “objectionable,” was deleted from textbooks.

* Far-right groups said history books went “overboard” on including pictures of minorities and worked to replace a picture of an African-American family with a white family to accompany a discussion of the American family.

Those are just a few examples of censorship exhibited in the past, according to Kaplan. “The education of children is what is important,” he said. While Texas Freedom Network doesn’t plan to deliver testimony today, members will be in attendance.

Although material for career and technology were submitted for consideration, Thornton said she didn’t believe they would have the money to pay for career and technology

material at this point. The material will be approved, but Thornton said the Legislature will not sign the checks because of the state’s budgetary dilemma.

“A lot of people think the permanent school fund didn’t raise the money but we did,” Thornton said. “Being an educator, I think of the children first. … They’re having to cut back, which we understand. I want people to know this. Legally, the Legislature controls how we look at textbooks.”

Effects of budgetary problems continues to concern educators.

“Our greatest concern has been with all the budget cuts and the impact it’ll have on children in the classroom,” said Sena Yates, executive director of curriculum and staff development for Columbia-Brazoria ISD. “We still want to get quality instruction and material in place.”

About two years ago, officials from four Brazoria County school districts said they caught factual errors and erroneous information in science textbooks before it became a part of their lesson plans.

The Alvin, Angleton, Brazosport and Sweeny school districts were using five of 12 textbooks identified from a two-year study as having 500 errors. The mistakes ranged from a misstatement of Newton’s Law to a photograph of Madonna incorrectly identified as silicon crystal. After adopting the books in 1992, local teachers found spelling errors and confusing information that was not corrected by the publisher.

Yates said the district usually begins reviewing textbooks in August. As part of the process, a committee is selected and educators rate textbooks on 10 components, which include how it correlates to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, the state’s curriculum. The district also has a textbook hearing to gather comments locally.

The process is similar at other school districts, including Sweeny and Brazosport. Tommy Zajicek, Sweeny High School principal and the district’s textbook coordinator, said publishers submit samples to the district throughout the year and material is reviewed by a committee. So far, Zajicek said he isn’t aware of any concerns raised about this year’s material.

Textbooks will be selected by the state board in November. School districts select material for use in local schools based on the state board’s decision.

“We hold off a great deal because some of these books won’t make it through the state’s process,” said Karla Christman, coordinator of media services for Brazosport ISD. “These books change a great deal.

“I think initially what we’re looking at is how it coincides with our state curriculum, the scope and sequence and to make sure the information is accurate,” Christman said. “Our deeper look will begin in the fall.”

DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, said about 40 people have signed up to speak at today’s public hearing. They range from associations such as the Sierra Club and Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy to individuals. In the past, people testifying have raised concerns about one particular book or a particular passage in a book, she said.

Errors identified by the Texas Education Agency will be brought up at the meeting, Culbertson said. The last time biology books were selected was in 1998. More than 35 publishers have submitted materials for adoption. The material is available for the public review at education service centers. About $434 million will be used for textbooks for the next biennium, Culbertson said.