Tex-books Part 1: Texas control of text book industry keeping slavery out of schools?

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/6/2012, 2:19 p.m.
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Even so, the textbooks have to adhere to the standards approved by the SBOE, Republican member Patricia Hardy said in a recent phone interview. "While the textbooks can have their own interpretations, they must be in accordance with our standards," said Hardy, a 10-year board member (the length of time in which the board meets to set new standards) from the town of Weatherford. "They must cover these standards 100 percent. Sure, they can add things, but they must be evaluated and approved by our review committee."

Hardy took exception to the charge that slavery wasn't discussed broadly enough in the eighth grade guidelines. "If you look carefully at the guidelines, you will see that it's mentioned in several places," she asserted. Reading through the guidelines, the word "slavery" does not appear in the discussion about the Civil War, Reconstruction or the Emancipation Proclamation. However, as Allen has advised, those are really curriculum items and may appear in the teacher's lesson plans.

There are only a couple of citations on civil rights and only James Farmer Jr. is mentioned among the prominent leaders, perhaps because he was from Texas. And maybe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other notable activists come up at other grade levels; Hardy explained that Kwanzaa, for example, is examined in the third grade, and Juneteenth in the seventh grade.

Another factor that mitigates the power and hostility of the SBOE and Texas textbooks is the increasing utilization of new technology that allows teachers to supplement course materials with online publications, iPads and other digital learning tools. For example, there is the Biobook developed at Wake Forest University that facilitates accessing content from the web.

"Now with the miracle of technology," Tom Luna, an Idaho school superintendent, told a reporter, "states and school districts can customize what they want their textbooks to look like."

Such a trend is in accord with the vision of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who believes that in the next few years textbooks will be extinct. "The world is changing," Duncan said during a recent appearance at the National Press Club. "This has to be where we go as a country."

The new technology and digital developments, notwithstanding, these innovations will still have to adhere to the SBOE standards, said Mavis Knight of Dallas; a 10-year member of the board. "True enough, in this digital age it is easier for the publishers to make changes in the textbooks, but they still have to conform to our standards here in Texas," she said.

Knight agreed that the impact of the SBOE has been somewhat minimized with the advent of national standards and that the majority of states will go along with a "common core"--45 or 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted this standard for higher achievement in math and reading--when it comes to the content of textbooks, because "it may be more economically feasible to go that way," she related.

"Each individual school district in the state has its own local board of trustees and they can determine their own textbooks and materials, so long as they don't contradict the state's standards," Knight said.

Even so, she contends, there is no equal distribution of funds for the school districts, with the poorer ones getting the short end of the stick.

A recent study conducted by the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University confirmed Knight's conclusion. The survey found that schools with no media outlets for students tended to have a large percentage of low-income or minority students. "The schools that had no media for students had an average student body where minorities made up 56 percent of the student body," the survey found. While this was a study mainly of high schools, the findings would probably be no different for intermediate and elementary schools.

It is not difficult to imagine impoverished school districts with budgets incapable of equipping their students with laptops, tablet computers or e-readers. Or some so strapped for funds that can't afford the bandwidth.