Texas Board Fines Publishers Over Error-Filled Textbooks

By Debra Viadero — January 22, 1992 3 min read

The Texas Board of Education voted this month to approve new U.S. history textbooks provided that their publishers correct more than 3,700 mistakes in the books and pay a substantial penalty.

The history textbooks have been the subject of intense public scrutiny since November, when Mel and Norma Gabler, a husband-and-wife team of conservative textbook critics from east Texas, pointed out that they contained 230 factual errors. (See Education Week, Nov. 20, 1991.)

The mistakes ranged from incorrect dates to more serious errors, such as describing Sputnik as “the first successful intercontinental ballistic missile.”

Alarmed by the mistakes, the school board postponed its adoption vote and gave the publishers until Dec. 16 to identify all errors. The companies were also required to sign “certificates of accuracy” for their textbooks.

Four of the five publishers whose books were targeted filed the certificates and lists of errors. The fifth--the Glencoe Division of Macmillan McGraw-Hill School Publishing--declined, saying that it did not have enough time to do the job properly.

In their reviews, the companies and the state education department found thousands more errors.

However, the Gablers came back to the state school board this month with more than 160 errors that had not been identified in those reviews.

Among the newly discovered errors, according to a state education agency spokesman, were statements that the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 to free slaves, took effect in 1963, and that Britain owned parts of Mexico in 1753.

“It is disheartening,” Lionel (Skip) Meno, the state’s education commissioner, said at the Jan. 10 board meeting. “The temptation was to just cancel.”

The $223,000 fine ordered by the board is thought to be the first ever imposed by state school officials for textbook errors, said Donald A. Eklund, the vice president of the school division of the American Association of Publishers.

Slated to purchase more than $20.2 million in history textbooks this year, Texas typically is the third-largest textbook publisher in the nation after New York and California and wields considerable influence in the textbook market.

“Other states tell me they’re looking to Texas for leadership in this area so that when the books get to them they’ll be better,” said Jane Nelson, a state school-board member who opposed the adoption.

South Carolina Delays Action

On Jan. 8, school officials in South Carolina also voted to delay adopting about $1.9 million in history textbooks a certain school-board member there noticed that three of the books recommended for adoption in the state had come under fire in Texas.

Pamela Pritchett, the director of the office of instructional technology development in the South Carolina Department of Education, said the board gave the publishers another month to identify all errors and to guarantee that they will be corrected. Texas school officials said they decided to approve the textbooks provisionally this month to ensure that there is adequate time to get the books, generally considered better than those now in use, in the hands of schoolchildren next fall.

The board approved the books by a 12-to-2 vote.

Ms. Nelson said she favored delaying adoption for a year in order “to step back and look at the whole review process.”

“If they have errors in them,” she said, “they’re not good enough.”

The board also voted to require the five publishers to submit plans for avoiding future errors and to provide the state every six months with lists of any additional errors found. The fines will triple after Jan. 24, the deadline for identifying corrections.

The Glencoe Division was also given a second chance to participate.

The board also voted to create a task force to find ways to improve the state’s textbook-adoption process.

Joe Bill Watkins, a lawyer representing the publishers in Texas, said his clients “looked forward” to working with the task force.

“What all of this suggests,” he said, “is that there are problems in the process.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1992 edition of Education Week as Texas Board Fines Publishers Over Error-Filled Textbooks