A dispute last summer over a biology textbook that did not include information on creationism has turned out to be a major catalyst for revamping the way the State Board of Education reviews proposed texts.
In the recent past, the battles over science vs. religion and conservative vs. liberal curricula in history, government and social studies in particular have generated fierce contention among citizen review panels and the board members about what material should be included in textbooks.
For years, one social or religious activist on a review panel could force inclusion of subject matter into a text or hold up adoption of it altogether. That tactic would result in a major coup for opponents in a state that has 5 million public school students, and whose decisions can affect the textbook publishing industry nationwide.
After the fight over the biology text, which was adopted without the creationism theory, the state board apparently realized that its decision to have three of its members pick a group of independent experts to review the book before final approval was a more effective approach.
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Last week, the board made modest changes in its rules for textbook review that should not only improve the selection process, but should also remove some of the politics and theology that have dominated much of the discussion for so long.
Under the new guidelines, all portions of proposed books must be reviewed by at least two panel members so that a single volunteer cannot force change, The Associated Press reported. The rules would allow for majority and minority reports about material to be presented to the board, but would restrict contact between board members and the citizen reviewers.
A major problem in the past is that at least one board member spent an inordinate amount of time trying to influence members of the review panel.
The 15-member elected board, which has been improved through recent votes at the ballot box, appears to be getting back on track. Its role as a policymaker to help ensure the children of Texas get the best education possible must not be confused with, or contaminated by, individual members’ ideology.
We can only hope this move in a new direction continues.