Texas Board Member Proposes Changes to Textbook Review Process


Before selecting a new textbook for classrooms in the state of Texas, a State Board of Education member is proposing that an extra level of fact-checking by university experts take place.

According to Peggy Fikac of the San Antonio Express-News, Republican board member Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant said that even if his proposal had been in effect, it is still doubtful it would have prevented a textbook passage that referred to slaves as “workers” from causing a national furor.

The original error came to light when a Houston mother, whose son brought the textbook home, saw that a text used the word “workers” to describe the African slaves who had been forced to migrate to America, says Claire Ricke of KXAN-TV.

The implication is that there was some sort of benefit, you know, that they were working and applied for a job,” said Burren’s mother, Roni Burren.

“That specific error – the sentence said the African slave trade brought over workers or something to that effect. It did reference the slave trade. Is it factually inaccurate? No. Is it not worded very well? Absolutely,” Ratliff said.

There will always be errors, Ratliff added, because humans are involved in the fact-checking and humans make mistakes. But he hopes he can help make the process as exact as possible so when errors are found, people will work to correct the error and not use it to undermine the credibility of the entire process.

Open review of textbooks in Texas is already in place with teachers, academic experts and parents working to ensure the contents comply with curriculum standards. The panel checks for errors, and mothers, fathers or anybody else can check the textbooks online or at education service centers as well.

The changes proposed by Ratliff could go into effect by 2018, but David Bradley of Beaumont, a Republican, who is often in conflict with the more moderate Ratliff, says he does not trust the idea, although he supports the goal of accuracy.

Bradley said the notion would require the board to abdicate authority to the commissioner. He also suggested that there would be arguments over the definition of the word “expert.”

Because Texas has more than 5 million students, publishers who make edits because of the state’s curriculum can affect content for other districts in the country. Controversy that has erupted in recent years, such as when conservative board members supported minimizing climate change and the theory of evolution in science texts. The same consort has approved history and social studies content that critics point out overemphasized the importance of Moses on America’s founding fathers, reports Will Weissert of the Associated Press.

The current board is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

“The problem is you get some political ideologues, like some of my colleagues like to appoint, instead of people who can think for themselves and not be told what to think,” said Ratliff.

The board also approves curriculum standards, and its conservative members have united to establish social studies teachings such as stating the words “separation of church and state” are not in the US Constitution and encouragement to question whether the United Nations undermines US sovereignty.

The board will be voting on the proposal on Wednesday.