Live-Blogging the Texas Social Studies Textbook Vote

by Dan Quinn

9:13 – The State Board of Education (SBOE) is set today to vote on which proposed new social studies textbooks to adopt for Texas public schools. Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade. The SBOE meeting agenda includes a variety of preliminary agenda items before board members take up the textbook issue. We’ll keep you updated.

10:15 – The SBOE is taking up the textbook adoption now. Board member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, is proposing that the SBOE not consider any publisher changes that haven’t yet been posted on the TEA website because the public hasn’t had a chance to review them.

10:21 – SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, asks board members to look at changes publishers have offered this morning. Oh sure. Fine. But what about scholars and teachers having an opportunity to review the materials before the SBOE votes? This is absurd.

10:24 – SBOE member Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, asks about the hundreds of pages of changes publishers have submitted that haven’t been vetted by anyone? Good question. He’s pointing out that this isn’t an open process. He’s right. Cortez is echoing concerns noted by SBOE member Martha Dominguez, D-El Paso.

11:19 – It appears board members are moving toward an adoption of all of the textbooks, although publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has withdrawn its government textbook from consideration. A statement from the publisher says the reason for the withdrawal is that the textbook didn’t meet all of the state’s curriculum standards. Board members are now debating also whether to remove products from WorldView Software from the adoption list. On Thursday WorldView submitted hundreds of pages of revisions and responses to public complaints about its textbooks.

11:35 – The board has taken a break and will return to their debate shortly.

12:06 – SBOE David Bradley, R-Beaumont Buna, is crediting Mel and Norma Gabler for making textbook adoptions a big deal. He’s serious, of course. But let’s be clear: the Gablers were notorious textbook censors who pressured publishers to revise and delete information — on topics like evolution, environmental problems, slavery and civil rights — that they didn’t like and didn’t want students to learn about.

12:25 – SBOE Republicans have voted down a recommendation by their Democratic colleagues to delay final adoption of the textbooks until Dec. 1 so that late changes by publishers can be vetted for accuracy.

12:26 – And now the board has voted to adopt, on a 10-5 party-line vote, all of the social studies textbooks except submissions from WorldView Software and a Grade 6 world cultures textbook for Discovery Education. They will consider those separately.

12:28 – The board has voted to reject the WorldView products for adoption.

12:30 – Some Republican board members appear to oppose adoption of the Discovery Education world cultures for Grade 6. SBOE member Tincy Miller, R-Dallas, claims that a passage about 9/11 has errors regarding the use of the term jihad. Other board members, including some Republicans, are puzzled about what the problem is.

12:34 – The board votes 9-6 to adopt the Discovery Education text. It’s still unclear just what the objection was.

12:42 – We just sent out the following press statement:

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller had the following statement on today’s State Board of Education vote to adopt new social studies textbooks for Texas public schools.

“What we saw today shows very clearly that the process the State Board of Education uses to adopt textbooks is a sham,” Miller said. “This board adopted textbooks with numerous late changes that the public had little opportunity to review and comment on and that even board members themselves admitted they had not read. They can’t honestly say they know what’s in these textbooks, which could be in classrooms for a decade.”

Miller was critical of board Republicans for rejecting a common-sense proposal by their Democratic colleagues to delay adoption of the textbooks until Dec. 1 so that late changes could be vetted for accuracy.

The Texas Education Agency posted scores of pages of publisher comments and textbook revisions after the last public hearing on Tuesday. Miller said scholars did not have an opportunity to review and comment on the numerous changes publishers have submitted since the last public hearing on Tuesday. Some of those changes appeared to have been negotiated with state board members behind closed doors.

During a months-long process, publishers made a number of improvements to their textbooks. Those improvements included removing inaccurate information promoting climate change denialism; deleting offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens; making clearer that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War; and revising passages that had promoted unfair negative stereotypes of Muslims. Scholars and the general public had ample opportunity to review and comment on those revisions.

However, the new textbooks also include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. Scholars from across the country have said such claims are inaccurate and mislead students about the historical record.