Members of the Texas Board of Education have rejected a push to create a group to fact-check textbooks used in student classrooms. The vote passed 8-7 against the measure, even though the Texas textbook industry has faced controversy in the past, most recently for referring to American slaves as “workers” in a history textbook.
Currently, checking for factual inaccuracies falls in the hands only of the publisher and the public as they catch such errors. In the case of the “workers” incident, the mother of a Texas school student called the publisher and the book out on social media; her post went viral, and McGraw Hill decided to publish a corrected version of the book as well as to offer free textbooks to teachers and training in cultural competency.
However, conservative board members did not see any need for a group of professors to comb through textbooks, as nothing stops them from calling out errors now. The board preferred an alternative proposal that would make sure current textbook panelists had a “majority of members” with more expertise and knowledge.
Texas is one of the largest users of textbooks in the country, with an average of 4.8 million students, and because of its market size, Texas books have the power to influence the books of other states. Other states could be taking their cues from Texas textbooks, despite the fact that the state has been embroiled in a number of different controversies over inaccurate content being taught in schools. In 2009, the department’s chair claimed that “evolution is hooey;” the following year, teachers working on course guidelines were supposed to be working with supposed “experts,” one of whom believed that the income tax is contrary to the word of God.
“The public opinion of our process, unfortunately, is not positive,” says Erika Beltran, a Democratic member of Texas’s Board of Education. She’s not wrong. Few other states have had as many problems with their textbooks as Texas, whose books have “been a target for the religious right” since the 1960s.
The larger problem is that because Texas purchases so many textbooks, publishers like Pearson and McGraw Hill depend in many ways on pleasing the state to make any profit at all. Whatever is published in Texas school books is likely to be found in the books of other states, compounding the state’s problem of inaccuracies into a national one.