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Texas Board Rejects Plan to Have Academics Fact-Check Textbooks

By Liana Loewus — November 19, 2015 2 min read
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Yesterday, the Texas board of education shot down a plan to have a panel of university experts fact-check textbooks before they are adopted.

The vote comes on the heels of a Houston mother’s social-media revelation that her son’s history textbook referred to slaves as “workers.”

The Texas state board adopted dozens of new social studies textbooks last year for the first time in over a decade—though that vote was rife with controversy. Left-leaning groups said some of the books exaggerated the influence of religion on the founding of the United States. Right-leaning groups said some books were too pro-Islam.

The process in Texas for adopting K-12 textbooks has long been a source of debate. The board nominates review panels to help determine whether the materials are aligned with state standards. Members of the public can also offer testimony about the books. Critics have long argued that some board members allow their religious and ideological views to drive decision making.

Recently, Republican board member Thomas Ratliff proposed bringing in academics to check books for factual errors. “I know people are concerned about pointy-headed liberals in the ivory tower making our process different or worse,” said Ratliff, according to the Associated Press. “But I hold our institutions of higher education in fairly high regard.”

The measure failed on Nov. 18 with an 8-7 vote.

Instead, the board voted unanimously to mandate that review panels be made up of “at least a majority” of people with “sufficient content expertise and experience,” reports the AP.

Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning watchdog group the Texas Freedom Network, called the decision to reject help from academics “mindboggling and downright embarrassing.”

“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,” she said in a statement.

But Retired Lt. Col. Roy White, chairman of the conservative Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition, said Texas “is fortunate to have the current system” and that “no further review panels are required,” reports the Dallas Morning News.

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Image: Texas board of education Chair Donna Bahorich, left, listens to Texas Education Agency counsel Von Byer during a meeting on Nov. 18 in Austin, Texas. —Eric Gay/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.