Part 1 of 3 - SBOE Social Studies Textbook Adoption
The SBOE approved 89 instructional materials (IMs) for social studies K-12th grade at our recent meeting. There have been hundreds of media stories written, most writers making little to no effort to read the actual materials under consideration.
Why all the hubbub about the Texas social studies books adoption? It is because our 5 million+ students represent 10% of the public school students in the nation. It is because Texas distributed over 48 million textbooks in 2011, when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was still buying and disseminating books (issue to be discussed in Part 3). We are a huge market for publishers and, as a result, we have influence. Therefore, amidst all of the white noise in the media about the social studies books adoption, here are my thoughts.
Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)
The process Texas uses to get to an approved list of IMs, known commonly as textbooks adoption, is a multi-year process. It first begins with teams of curriculum standards reviewers, primarily teachers but includes community and business representatives, selected by the commissioner to come up with what each student should learn in each subject, in each grade. College and career standards, existing national and international standards, and vertical alignment are typically used to inform the TEKS writing teams. It is a very public process with multiple drafts put out for public review and comment before final approval by the SBOE. The approved TEKS then become part of a call or "proclamation" sent to publishers requesting IMs to include the TEKS. Proclamation 2015 included K-12th Social Studies, 9-12th Math, and K-12th Fine Arts materials.
As you might imagine the overwhelming amount of public input during this proclamation cycle was on the social studies materials. Americans feel very passionately about the study of history. If an individual or group feels the books are leaving out key information, telling half the story or completely getting it wrong on one topic or another, the SBOE allows your voice to be heard by the Board AND the publishers.
Swinging Wide the Door for Public Input
The SBOE always has multiple public hearings when IMs are up for adoption. We added a working session this time to meet face-to-face with the publishers before the final vote. For the first time, we requested that Proclamation 2015 pre-adoption IMs be made widely and publicly available on the internet for the first time without requiring a visit to an education service center (ESC) to gain access. The SBOE really opened up the process. This was an area of spectacular success. HOWEVER, we were simply unprepared to efficiently process the deluge of comments to come.
Many Voices Are Heard
The outcome of the new widely available public access to all the IMs up for adoption was that MANY voices were heard. Instead of primarily hearing from our 130 commissioner-appointed reviewers (110 of the reviewers were educators), the publishers heard from various religious and cultural coalitions; a large group of volunteers made up of professionals, educators, community members and academics; numerous unaffiliated citizens with varying expertise; and a group comprised of three academics and seven doctoral students hired by an organization in Austin to critique certain parts of the IMs. For our part, we simply did not have the mechanisms in place that would have made comments received easy for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to organize, publishers to review and respond to, and for the SBOE to track as publishers considered each comment and rejected a change or agreed to make corrections. Lesson learned.
Though the publishers were not required to continue to respond to public comments after the early September report, they chose to do so even after the final public hearing held three days before the SBOE vote. As a result of all the comments received, there were numerous 2+2=5 errors uncovered and corrected. Comments citing inaccuracies or incomplete portrayals, one-sided or misleading information about historical people and events were all considered. The publishers were the umpires, in essence, calling “balls and strikes” for the public testimony and comments received.
A Lesson in Democracy
It was messy. It was challenging. It was an exercise in democracy. In spite of the fact that our procedures for handling all this public input left the Board running to keep up and frustrated with the amount to review, the fact that we made the avenue available is important. The Board continued to review comments and responses. Publishers kept working on responses until the end. It was a beautiful thing. All the books will be stronger and better materials for our students to use.
Tomorrow we will discuss the vote on the IMs and start a discussion on the Moses sensation hitting the nation. Stay tuned!!
As always, I am honored to serve you and the children of Texas!