Monday, September 15, 2014

Public Input Sought on Proposed Social Studies Textbooks

Posted By on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 5:33 PM

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Ahead of what promises to be a raucous State Board of Education hearing Tuesday, yet another study has found factual errors and misrepresentation in some of the proposed social studies textbooks, this time dealing with climate change. The SBOE is slated to take public input on the proposed texts, which will ultimately be approved in November.

The National Center for Science Education, along with public education and civil liberties watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network, found that some of the proposed texts include unreliable sources and misleading facts as to how scientists view climate change.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” said Minda Berbeco, NCSE program and policy director. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

The State Board of Education is taking public comment on the proposed world history, geography and U.S. government textbooks to be used in Texas public school classrooms for the next 10 years. The proposed texts, some of which are posted online, are based on the 2010 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum standards, passed by a politically charged largely conservative board that landed Texas’ SBOE in national headlines as being a cesspool for cultural warfare.

Writing to meet at least 50 percent of TEKS standards, publishers submitted their texts for review earlier this year, and citizens and organizations have sent comments to board members already, citing a range of factual errors, misrepresentation of history and distortion.

TFN, which has fought to illuminate political biases among SBOE members for years, released its first review last week. A group of 10 scholars found factual inaccuracies and misinformation regarding the origins of American democracy, an overemphasis on Moses’ influence on the founding in the United States, mischaracterizations of Islam and examples of offensive language, such as a cartoon likening affirmative action beneficiaries to aliens.

SBOE board member Marisa Perez, representing San Antonio and counties south of the city, said the errors and misrepresentation and public outcry are to be expected given the nature of the TEKS standards and aren’t necessarily the publishers’ fault.

“At the very root of this issue are the flawed standards that were passed by a very divisive board in 2010,” she said. The board “failed to recognize to what our students truly needed in terms of true history.”

Perez said she has heard from several citizens about the proposed texts, and she expects to hear more as the November meeting to approve the textbooks approaches.

“The representation that we’ve been receiving correspondence from runs the gamut,” she said.

The SBOE will also hear from the state’s review panel for the first time. Review panelists, who are volunteers, are nominated by individuals board members and ultimately approved by the Texas Education Agency. The volunteer panels have often reflected the social conservative nature of the board itself and to correct that, the 15-member board unanimously passed a rule that prioritizes teachers and scholars for those review panels.

Still, according to an analysis by the TFN, many qualified scholars nominated were ultimately bypassed and that out of more than 140 individuals who made it onto review panels, only three are faculty members at Texas higher education institutions. Many are at least current or former teachers and educators, but others don’t have any of the scholarly expertise needed to vet the texts. The TFN analysis even found that a pastor and retired car salesman and Republican nominee for Texas House of Representatives, Mark Keough, was given an appointment by SBOE chair Barbara Cargill.

Some, including one grassroots organization called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition, criticize the lack of public participation in the review process and argue average citizens are just as qualified to review the texts. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Roy White, who heads the group, said he believes citizen review of the texts ensures a check on all potential biases. (According to a Patriots Rally for Freedom website, White also founded San Antonio's ACT for America local chapter, which according to its Facebook page is an organization "supporting the U.S. Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution and educating others on the threat of Islamic ideology to our culture, way of life and our freedoms" and purports to be the "only grassroots organization dedicated to national security and terrorism," according to the national website. White couldn't be reached in time for followup on his involvement with this organization).

White said he believes the texts should include balanced coverage of history and said TTT has trained volunteers to do their own reviews, which he wants to make public online. While he won't be present himself, he has encouraged people to attend SBOE hearings to give feedback. He said he believes all reviews—scholarly or not—should be taken into consideration.

“I would argue with the premise that you have to go out and have experts,” he told the Current. “We do have those but we also have a lot of average citizens.”

Perez, a Democrat running for reelection this November, said she believes public input should be taken into consideration and promises a busy day at the hearing and in the weeks leading up to November.

“When there are concerns being brought up, I think it’s worth looking at,” she said. “I know I will be working with publishers to address factual errors identified and make sure that we adopt textbooks that prepare our students.”

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