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Texas Education Board Postpones Action On New Textbooks

By Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News (TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas state Board of Education members postponed action Tuesday on new social studies textbooks and e-books after learning that several publishers were still making corrections and other changes to ensure final approval of their books later this week.

After listening to several hours of testimony and debate on the nearly 100 books up for adoption, several members said they were not ready to cast an initial vote on the materials because of uncertainty over what the products will look like after all changes are included.

A motion to tentatively approve the list of books failed as five board members voted yes, five voted no, and four abstained. One other member was absent.

The five no votes were cast by Democrats, while GOP members split on the motion with five voting yes and four abstaining.

Most of the books are still expected to gain final approval on Friday, but one or two could be rejected unless their publishers make changes acceptable to board members. For example, one social studies book for sixth-graders was criticized for referring to the national “common core” standards for schools — a phrase that is anathema to many Republicans in Texas. Lawmakers passed a bill last year that banned use of common core requirements in public schools.

Board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, a Republican, was among those who abstained. She said she was not ready to vote for books that are still being revised.

“I am just not comfortable voting for something until I read it. I want to see the responses. I don’t want to lead the publishers on, making them think I am going to vote for them on Friday because I voted for them today,” she explained.

“I will have my mind made up by Friday morning. The publishers have made some important changes (in their books), but I think there are still a few concerns that we need to think about a little more.”

Among the criticisms that surfaced during Tuesday’s public hearing were the textbooks’ coverage of global warming, descriptions of Islamic history and terrorism, and the importance of Moses and the Ten Commandments to the founding fathers.

Democrat Marisa Perez of San Antonio said she and other Democrats also did not like the idea of voting for books that may look different when the final versions come out.

“I want to be able to take a look at the 11th hour changes. I think our publishers have done a great job. But for me, I was a little bit apprehensive over the last minute testimony and recommendations that have come in. I want to make sure I am making an informed decision,” she said.

The postponement came after the board was urged by more than a dozen critics to force additional changes in the books. Once approved by the board, they will be used in U.S. history, world history, U.S. government, geography, and other social studies classes beginning in the fall of 2015.

The social studies textbooks and e-books will replace materials that are now 12 years old and in many cases out of date. Board members did give tentative approval Tuesday to new high school math and fine arts books.

Publishers agreed to correct hundreds of errors that were found after the initial drafts of the materials were released earlier this year, but several witnesses at Tuesday’s public hearing were still not satisfied.

While some key publishers agreed last week to improve their coverage of global warming issues, conservative critics complained that they had gone too far in highlighting the problem.

“The climate change debate is not about saving the planet, but about the redistribution of wealth,” said Merry Lynn Gerstenschlager, vice president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum.

“I implore you to teach our children both sides of the climate change debate instead of teaching them only unproven theories as facts. I don’t believe human activity is causing global warming, and I think it is wrong to teach our children something that has not been proven scientifically,” she said.

A U.N. panel of experts on climate science finished a report on global warming earlier this month that concluded that humans are altering the Earth’s climate system, primarily by burning fossil fuels.

Just weeks ago, publishers were criticized for not adequately presenting the generally accepted view of leading scientists that global warming is accelerating.

Some publishers were accused Tuesday of watering down their coverage of Muslims and the history of Islam in response to objections from key Muslim groups.

“Five million Texas schoolchildren will not learn the facts about Islam with these books,” said Roy White of the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition. “The over 500 battles fought (in history) to promote Islam, the killing of Jews, the lopping off of heads. None of that is talked about.”

Other groups, however, said some of the books unfairly stereotype Muslims as more prone to violence than other religions and cultures. Meanwhile, a group of 50 college professors and academics presented a letter to the board calling for less coverage of Moses as an influence on the founding fathers and the U.S. legal system.

University of Texas, Austin professor Jennifer Graber said some of the books have gone overboard in their coverage of Moses, Mosaic law, and the Ten Commandments in the founding of the U.S.

“These are not accurate representations for Texas schoolchildren,” Graber said, urging the board to revise the materials.

Still other critics complained that some books contain mostly positive coverage of former Communist leaders Joseph Stalin of Russia and Mao Zedong of China, while giving short shrift to former U.S. leaders like Ronald Reagan.

Conservative groups have not been as active on textbooks this year in part because they are based on curriculum standards adopted by the state board in 2010 that reflected a more conservative view of U.S. history.

As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has a strong influence on textbooks and digital books used in other states.

Although school districts in Texas are free to choose whatever books they want to use, most stay with the list adopted by the State Board of Education because it tracks the state’s curriculum standards as well as the questions that are asked on state achievement tests.

Photo via Glenn via Flickr

New Texas Social Studies Textbooks Draw Fire During Public Hearing

By Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN, Texas — Too much negative about former President George W. Bush, too much positive about Hillary Rodham Clinton, and way too much coverage of Moses.

Those were among a long list of complaints — from both sides of the political spectrum — during an all-day hearing Tuesday on new history and social studies books for Texas public schools.

Most of the complaints centered on alleged biases in the textbooks and e-books that the State Board of Education will vote on in November. But more broadly, the hearing demonstrated how pitched battles over culture and politics are reflected in Texas’ schools and their curriculum. The materials will be distributed to schools in the fall of 2015.

Southern Methodist University history professor Kathleen Wellman told board members that several of the books on U.S. government and U.S. history exaggerate the influence of biblical figure Moses on America’s Founding Fathers.

“These books make Moses the original Founding Father and credit him for virtually every distinctive feature of American government,” Wellman said. “Moses shows up everywhere doing everything.”

She said publishers are trying to follow an ill-conceived curriculum requirement approved by the state board four years ago that called for more coverage of Moses and Mosaic Law in textbooks.

“This epitomizes the wrong-headed idea that the United States was founded on biblical law. The publishers are trying to conform to a standard without knowing how to do it,” Wellman said.

If the books are adopted as now written, she added, Texas schoolchildren will grow up “believing that Moses was the first American.”

On coverage of political figures, Emily McBurney of Temple said the Worldview company’s world history book has virtually nothing good to say about Bush, including the “increasingly low approval ratings” during his White House tenure and his continued resistance to evidence of human-caused climate change.

But Clinton, the former secretary of state and first lady, receives 38 lines of glowing descriptions in the book, McBurney told the board.

“Her roles as secretary of state (2009-2013) has often been seen as having a dual purpose: to improve the image of the United States and its relationships with foreign nations that were seen as damaged by the Bush administration, and as an advocate for the impoverished and the hungry around the world,” the high school textbook read.

Extended criticism of the Worldview books led board member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) to remark: “Do you own any Worldview stock? Because I would recommend that you sell it.”

Bradley was part of the social conservative bloc on the board that in 2010 pushed through new curriculum standards for U.S. history and other social studies courses that reflected a much more conservative tone than the previous standards.

Several speakers who criticized the books Tuesday blamed many of their problems — including factual errors — on the standards adopted four years ago over the objections of Democrats and mainstream education groups.

But board president Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) warned those in attendance that complaining about the standards now won’t do much good because they are now required in classroom instruction, achievement tests, and textbooks.

“We are not here to dive back into the curriculum standards,” she said. “That was over in 2010. We are here now to discuss textbooks.”

Other people testifying Tuesday cited unfair treatment of Muslims, Latinos, American Indians, and various minority groups.

Mustafaa Carroll of the Council of American-Islamic Relations told board members that some of the books unfairly blame the rise of international terrorism on Muslims and Islamic fundamentalism.

“Terrorist groups with nationalist and political agendas have formed in every part of the world,” said Carroll, who has headed the regional CAIR office in Dallas and Houston. He cited the Irish Republican Army and “Jewish-Zionist terrorist groups who committed acts of terror in their quest to establish a Jewish state.”

Jacqueline Jones, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, criticized the Pearson U.S. history text for encouraging ideological biases “that are either outside the boundaries of established mainstream scholarship, or just plain wrong.”

The authors, she said, “seem determined to shield impressionable (high school) students from some of the unpleasant facts of our history.”

That includes former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, whose opposition to school integration and glorification of white supremacy is watered down, she said, to make it sound “as if he was appealing to those who did not like the Beatles’ music or their haircuts.”

“We do our students a disservice when we scrub history clean of unpleasant truths, and when we present an inaccurate view of the past that promotes a simple-minded, ideologically driven point of view,” she told the board.

Karin Gilliland of Garland, who said she spent more than 130 hours reviewing some of the books this summer, criticized the world history books that are now using B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era) to replace B.C. and A.D. when citing historical dates. Some scholars use B.C.E. and C.E. to avoid using the central figure of Christianity, Jesus Christ, as the reference point for the important dates.

She also said that one of the books devalues the good in America. “I don’t see people flocking to Russia or Arabia or Africa. I see people flocking to America,” she said. “Our values are what make us great.”

Texas last adopted new social studies books in 2002. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, the state has a strong influence on books marketed in other states.

Photo: Pesky Library via Flickr

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