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Panel Would Alter Procedure for Choosing Books for Texas

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Austin Tex--If a special committee studying Texas' method of selecting school textbooks has its way, significant changes will be made--including allowing positive testimony as well as negative about proposed books during public hearings before the Texas State Textbook Committee.

The continuing fight over Texas' lucrative school-textbook business, as well as over the information and images the books offer the state's schoolchildren, moved into a new arena this month as some old and some new combatants spent a Saturday testifying before the State Board of Education's ad hoc committee on the textbook-selection process.

Fifty witnesses testified with a six-minute time clock hanging over them. The committee met in an extraordinary Sunday session the following day to sort through the testimony and craft the recommendations it was to present to the full board.

Public Hearings

The committee last week recommended to the board that in future public hearings on textbook selection, positive testimony about proposed books be permitted. At present, only those who oppose textbooks are heard during the selection hearings.

The committee also recommended that the state board:

Increase the membership of the textbook committee from 15 to 27 people and pay them an honorarium. Members now receive expenses, but not compensation.

Augment the textbook-committee staff with lay advisers.

Require petitioners before the committee to reveal their affiliations with any organization or publishing company.

Eliminate most of the public hearings on textbooks before the state board of education. The board would serve as an appellate body in choosing textbooks rather than a public forum.

Among the witnesses at the marathon hearings was Mel Gabler, who, with his wife Norma, has monitored Texas textbooks for two decades and effectively attracted the attention of the media, the publishers, and the public.

The Gablers have turned their Longview, Tex., home into a headquarters for their nonprofit research organization devoted to the study of proposed textbook adoptions. Their continuing participation in the annual textbook hearings was largely responsible, officials acknowledge, for the state board of education's decision to examine whether and how the process should be revised.

No Changes

A dozen witnesses supported the Gablers' position that no changes should be made in the present textbook-selection process. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," said James Parcell of Leander.

The lead witness for those advocating a change in the system was Michael Hudson, Texas coordinator of People for the American Way, a national lobbying group formed last year to counter activities its members consider unconstitutional.

The organization has issued "As Texas Goes, So Goes the Nation: A report on Textbook Selection in Texas," a document based on a six-month study of the state's selection process.

"The most critical problem with the Texas adoption procedure," Mr. Hudson testified, "is the one-sided nature of public participation. Public comment is restricted to specific protests against books. Texas citizens who want to comment favorably on certain books or in favor of including specific ideas, concepts, or topics cannot be heard in any phase of the process.

"Only protesters and publishers," he added, "have been permitted to testify before either the state textbook committee or the state board of education."

Steven Schafersman, president of the Texas Council for Science Education and professor of geology at Rice University, contended that Texas children are being denied their "right to learn" under the present system.

"For too long," Mr. Shafersman said, "the textbook-adoption process has been the favored tool of a small number of individuals who use it to promote their own narrow, sectarian, and antiscience views by eliminating legitimate opposing views from the state's public-school textbooks."

Witnesses arguing in favor of changing the process emphasized that the intense competition for the textbook market in the state prompts publishers to change their books to suit protesters rather than defending their content.

Texas is the second-largest purchaser of textbooks in the country. Through its centralized book-buying policy, it controls 8 percent of the total school-textbook market in America; it spends $60 million a year to buy textbooks for its 1,150 school districts.

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