SBOE Politics as Usual: Textbook Review Once Again Plagued by Lack of Expertiseby
The Texas State Board of Education will vote in November on new social studies textbooks that will be in Texas classrooms for the next decade. Earlier this month, official state review panels met in Austin to vet those books. As we did during the science textbook adoption process last year, the Texas Freedom Network researched who got appointed to the social studies panels this summer. We just sent the following press release describing what we found — the news isn’t encouraging.
When you’re done reading, head to tfn.org/history to sign the petition calling for classroom materials that offer an honest, accurate portrayal of history and are free of political agendas.
A Texas Freedom Network analysis has revealed that numerous qualified scholars were bypassed for appointment to official state panels assigned to review proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools this year. Equally shocking, individuals with no qualifications in a relevant field or teaching experience got places on the panels.
State Board of Education (SBOE) members nominated many of the unqualified reviewers. In one instance the chair of the SBOE facilitated the appointment of a Texas House candidate who argues against separation of church and state.
“This is just the latest example of how a flawed process opens the door to ideologues who can have enormous influence on textbook adoptions and, ultimately, what students learn in our public schools,” TFN President Kathy Miller said. “It’s especially stunning that so few faculty members at our state’s institutions of higher education got appointments to the review panels.”
TFN analyzed panels assigned to review textbooks for courses such as U.S. and world history, geography and economics. Out of more than 140 individuals appointed to the panels, only three are current faculty members at Texas colleges and universities. TFN has identified more than a dozen other Texas academics – including the chair of the History Department at Southern Methodist University as well as faculty at the University of Texas at Austin – who applied to serve but did not get appointments to the panels.
But the TFN analysis found that political activists and individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got places on the panels. One reviewer, Mark Keough, a Republican nominee for the Texas House District 15 seat, got an appointment to a U.S. History panel after being nominated by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill. Keough, a pastor with degrees in theology, has no teaching experience listed on his application form. Keough recently retired from a career in car sales to run a ministry in Cargill’s hometown of The Woodlands and to run for office.
In an interview conducted prior to this year’s primary elections, Keough told the Montgomery County Tea Party that he does not “believe that there is a separation of church and state in the Constitution.”
While Miller said it was encouraging to see many teachers on the panels, she criticized Cargill’s appointment of a politician running in this year’s elections: “Will she report his nomination as an in-kind contribution to his campaign?”
“It is amazing that missing from these panels are many faculty members from our best universities who were willing to serve,” Miller added. “Yet someone like Mr. Keough, who denies the existence of one of our country’s most important principles, is granted a platform he could use to play politics with the education of millions of Texas schoolchildren.”
The review panels met in Austin earlier this month to vet new social studies textbooks submitted by publishers for use in Texas public schools. The SBOE will vote in November on whether to adopt those textbooks. But the board could pressure publishers to make changes to the books based on the input from the review panels.
If approved, the textbooks could be in Texas classrooms for the next decade.