Expertise rejected in Texas

11.19.2015

At its meeting on November 18, 2015, the Texas state board of education voted 8-7 to reject a proposal to add "a state review panel that could include college and university scholars assigned specifically to look for factual errors" in textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman (November 18, 2015). 

Although the proposal was considered on the heels of a controversy in Houston involving a geography textbook in which a photograph caption described slaves in the United States as "workers," Thomas Ratliff, the board member who suggested the new panel, said that he had it in mind ever since his election to the board in 2011.

The current review process is designed to ascertain only whether textbooks are aligned to the state's standards; review panels are not charged with performing a systematic review for accuracy. "We need more experts looking at these books and catching factual errors before the fact, not after they've made it to the classroom," Ratliff commented.

NCSE's Josh Rosenau expressed disappointment at the vote. "In the past, a handful of reviewers  have tried to undermine the treatment of evolution and climate change in Texas's schools by offering misguided criticism of the textbooks submitted for adoption," he commented, alluding to the 2013 textbook review process in particular.

Then, as NCSE reported, the board quarreled about whether to heed a review panel's criticisms of Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine's popular biology textbook, published by Pearson, but decided to adopt it, contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts selected by members of the board.

Ultimately, the panel unanimously approved the book and it was adopted. "The resolution to the controversy over the Miller and Levine textbook in 2013 shows that the board understands the relevance of actual expertise in assessing the content of textbooks," Rosenau said. "It's a shame that it couldn't summon the will to make expert review a matter of routine."