On Wednesday, the Texas School Board of Education decided not to require a group of experts to fact-check textbooks used in the state's public schools.
The Dallas Morning News reports that the decision was reached by a 8-7 vote, with all of the Democratic members of the board voting in favor of the secondary review panel. Texas will continue to rely on just one round of reviews for textbooks, from a panel that consists of few experts. The Morning News describes the current process:
In addition to teachers, current panels can include parents, employers, business and industry leaders and subject-matter experts. Sometimes, though, they include members of the public with limited educational backgrounds, critics have said.
The panel mostly checks books for their adherence to a state-set curriculum. The burden of actual fact-checking can therefore fall on the book's publisher or the public—like 15-year-old Coby Burren, a Houston student who last month found a caption in his textbook that described slaves as "workers."
That was far from the first time a wrong Texas textbook caused national outrage. Back in 2014, for instance, reviews of proposed textbooks found several biases and inaccuracies across all subjects. The Washington Post reported at the time:
Ideas promoted in various proposed textbooks include the notion that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy, that in the era of segregation only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality” and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet.
Embarrassing situations like these could have likely been avoided by the proposed secondary review panel, which would employ local professors to comb through the books.
Members of the board who voted in favor of the secondary panel cited avoiding national humiliation as a good reason to put more stringent review standards into place. "The public perception of our process, unfortunately, is not positive,” said board member Erika Beltran, a Democrat who voted in favor of the proposal. Board vice chairman Thomas Ratliff, a Republican also in favor of the change, conceded, "I know that people are concerned about pointy headed liberals in the ivory tower making our process…worse,” but wondered, "Why wouldn’t we reach out to them and say let’s make sure these books are as factually accurate as possible?”
But those who voted against say they saw the additional review as unnecessary and possibly insulting. "I don’t want to send a message that … we feel the college people are more important. I don’t want that,” Geraldine “Tincy” Miller said. They added that a slight change to the current process, which would require that a least half of the panel members be considered by the state to have "sufficient content expertise and experience," to review the textbooks, makes a panel of university professors redundant.
Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network President which was in favor of more stringent reviews of state textbooks, offered harsh words to the school board in light of Wednesday's decision:
With all the controversies that have made textbook adoptions in Texas look like a clown show, it’s mindboggling and downright embarrassing that the board voted this down. Instead of appointing qualified historians, scientists and mathematicians to review proposed textbooks for accuracy, board members are leaving it up to schoolchildren to do the fact checking.
One doctoral student had a this to say on the school board members who made the decision: "I think they're full of poo." She elaborated in a video posted to Facebook.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.