The Texas State Board of Education usually makes headlines when it adopts new textbooks because of ideological debates about the content. The time is no exception. This week, the board heard testimony from people on the left and right who are concerned about information in proposed social studies textbooks.
But just how are textbooks chosen in Texas, and who is involved?
Step One: Issue a Proclamation
When the State Board of Education revises any part of Texas’ curriculum, it needs to make sure its textbooks are aligned with those standards. If not, they have to review and adopt new ones.
To start the process, the board issues a proclamation. In this case, it’s called Proclamation 2015. The board started talking about the new books in January 2013.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for those social studies books," said TEA President Barbara Cargill during that January meeting.
After the board issues the proclamation, the Texas Education Agency talks with publishers to see who is going to submit new books for review.
Step Two: Appoint Review Panels
Once the TEA receives the materials, it organizes review panels made up of teachers, parents, business leaders and anyone who is considered an expert in a certain subject. Those panels met this summer.
“Anybody can come watch," sayas Kelly Calloway with the TEA. "They wouldn’t see a lot because there’s a huge hotel ballroom with 20-25 tables, panels and all the panels are quietly working with each other."
Their job is simple: look at the textbooks, look at the state standards and make sure those state standards are properly explained within the textbooks.
“It’s fascinating to watch how many steps getting those instructional materials involved and how careful those steps are," Calloway says." It’s not a random process. It’s not a salesmanship process, not a case of publishers selling their books to state of Texas.”
If a textbook has at least 50 percent of the Texas curriculum standards in it, it’s put on a list and sent to the board for consideration. But Calloway says a vast majority of the textbooks meet 100 percent of the state curriculum, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills(TEKS).
Step Three: Public Comment
Then, the board holds a hearing in September where the public can comment on the proposed materials.
After that testimony and discussion, the board sends requests for changes to the publishers. They accept or reject them. Then the list comes back to the board for final approval in November. There, we get another round of public comment.
Textbooks in Texas
Because a large portion of the nation’s public school students live in Texas, in the past, the books adopted by Texas were also adopted across the country. But Jay Diskey with the Pre K-12 Learning Group Association of American Publishers says times are changing.
“There’s a vast amount of customization in books now," Diskey says. "The workflow is digital and states and school districts are asking for very customized materials."
He says districts and states are reviewing books and asking publishers to remove parts of texts they disagree with, such as an educational motive, specific state standards or a political statement.
Texas is one of the few states that did not adopt the national curriculum standards known as Common Core. But now, more and more states are also deciding to opt out. Diskey says textbook publishers could see other states follow Texas’ lead and ask for their own standards, too.
“We’re starting to wonder if the Common Core is becoming something less than common," Diskey. "There still might be a fair amount of customization and it may not only be Texas asking for Texas materials. Other states might ask for more customization than originally thought.”
Plus, in 2011 Texas lawmakers said school districts could purchase instructional materials that aren’t on the state board’s approved list of textbooks. While most school districts still order books off that list, the TEA says it’s unclear how many school districts buy materials that aren’t on the list.