Monday, April 03, 2006

How Texas dictates what may be taught in high school

via Ann Bartow at Sivacracy

The Muddle Machine - Confessions of a Textbook Editor

The big three adoption states are not equal, however. In that elite trio, Texas rules. California has more students (more than 6 million versus just over 4 million in Texas), but Texas spends just as much money (approximately $42 billion) on its public schools. More important, Texas allocates a dedicated chunk of funds specifically for textbooks. That money can't be used for anything else, and all of it must be spent in the adoption year. Furthermore, Texas has particular power when it comes to high school textbooks, since California adopts statewide only for textbooks from kindergarten though 8th grade, while the Lone Star State's adoption process applies to textbooks from kindergarten through 12th grade.

If you're creating a new textbook, therefore, you start by scrutinizing Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). This document is drawn up by a group of curriculum experts, teachers, and political insiders appointed by the 15 members of the Texas Board of Education, currently 5 Democrats and 10 Republicans, about half of whom have a background in education. TEKS describes what Texas wants and what the entire nation will therefore get.

Texas is truly the tail that wags the dog. There is, however, a tail that wags this mighty tail. Every adoption state allows private citizens to review textbooks and raise objections. Publishers must respond to these objections at open hearings.

In the late '60s a Texas couple, Mel and Norma Gabler, figured out how to use their state's adoption hearings to put pressure on textbook publishers. The Gablers had no academic credentials or teaching background, but they knew what they wanted taught--phonics, sexual abstinence, free enterprise, creationism, and the primacy of Judeo-Christian values--and considered themselves in a battle against a "politically correct degradation of academics." Expert organizers, the Gablers possessed a flair for constructing arguments out of the language of official curriculum guidelines. The Longview, Texas-based nonprofit corporation they founded 43 years ago, Educational Research Analysts, continues to review textbooks and lobby against liberal content in textbooks.

The Gablers no longer appear in person at adoption hearings, but through workshops, books, and how-to manuals, they trained a whole generation of conservative Christian activists to carry on their work.

It's time to start messing with Texas.