On Friday, November 21, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) rendered its final decisions in on the new Social Studies instructional materials up for adoption. Following a contentious multi-month process fraught with attacks from education progressives like the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), the SBOE voted 10-5 to approve new materials that retained coverage of Moses and Judeo-Christian principles and their impact on American law, government and its founding. A celebrated victory, albeit the realities of Senate Bill 6 (SB 6) point to a win that may only be skin deep.
For years, Texas was a large and influential textbook market. Second to California in its number of students enrolled in public schools, Texas bought lots of books and wielded lots of weight when the SBOE mandated content changes.
However, with the advent of individual state standards followed by the Common Core and the growing use of digital instructional materials, Texas and its influence has been greatly diminished in the textbook marketplace. More than anything, SB 6 dismantled most of the SBOE’s role in the textbook adoption process.
That is no exaggeration. At the November 19 session, the 15-member, publicly elected SBOE voted 7-6, with one absence and one abstention, to recommend that the 84th Legislature restore its ability to approve that textbooks cover 100 percent of the state standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Right now, that threshold of approval is at 50 percent.
The Austin American Statesman reported that the SBOE “debated whether to ask the Legislature to let it again require school districts to only buy instructional materials off the state’s approved list, but stopped short of doing so.”
SB6 was authored by former state senator and education committee chair, Republican Florence Shapiro and co-authored by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) in 2011 during the 82nd legislative session.
Before SB 6, Texas book adoption process was centralized. School districts only used state taxpayer dollars to purchase textbooks that were approved by the SBOE.
Even though the state Legislature had given the authority over that list of instructional materials to the Commissioner of Education, present Commissioner Michael Williams and his predecessor, Robert Scott, allowed the SBOE to participate but once passed, SB 6 limited the board’s scope to reviewing and commenting solely on the commissioner’s list of instructional and open source materials.
SB 6 also consolidated technology and book funding into one pot, ending the two separate revenue streams which existed.
The real game changer under SB 6 was the creation of an Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA). These provided funds directly to school districts, open-enrollment charters, and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP).
IMAs were set up to purchase electronic or “online” instructional materials approved by the education commissioner, state and university developed open-source materials, electronic instructional materials approved by the education commissioner, technological equipment (i.e., laptops and tablets) that delivered instructional content. The IMA could also pay for educational training for staff.
Also, SB6 gave districts the freedom to choose their own instructional materials independent from the state’s approved list. Schools are doing just that.
KXAN-TV reported how the Round Rock Independent School District (ISD) was working to replace their history books. Teacher committees have been combing through all kinds of textbooks and digital materials and they will meet through February to “make a decision on our top two choices,” said district Social Studies Curriculum Specialist Tina Melcher.
Round Rock’s IMA Committee will make recommendations to the school board, who will make the final call in the Spring.
While they do not have to chose state-approved books, Melcher told KXAN-TV that those materials cover the education standards that are to be taught in the classroom and it helps to have the SBOE stamp of approval.
But for how much longer will districts want that approval?
The SB 6 purchasing option is more prominent with school districts and open-enrollment public charters than buying SBOE approved instructional materials, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“This year, Texas districts spent $284 million getting both board-approved and non-approved materials independently before seeking state reimbursement — $3.7 percent more than what the state spent on providing approved-only textbooks,” they wrote.
Although Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told the news outlet that state officials do not track dollars spent on approved and non-approved SBOE materials because the districts can purchase them directly from the publishers, the Star-Telegram sourced a survey done by the Instructional Materials Coordinators’ Association of Texas which found that 94 percent of recent respondents bought at least some non-board approved books.
Still, the 50 percent rule matters. TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson previously explained this in greater detail to Breitbart Texas that to be eligible for adoption, instructional materials must only meet at least 50 percent of the TEKS and 100 percent of the ELPS (English Language Proficiency Standards) in the student version and teacher version of the instructional materials.
Texas school districts must certify that their instruction materials cover all of the TEKS but does the 50 percent rule leave a gaping hole for non-conforming materials to enter the classroom?
According to the Statesman, “by slashing the TEKS percentage for textbooks in half,” it gave school districts the authority to buy whatever instructional materials they want without board approval as long as they verify that they meet that threshold.”
Common Core is banned in Texas and technically, there are only standards for Math and English Language Arts (ELA) but Breitbart Texas reported that the Social Studies framework is tactically embedded in Common Core ELA.
It is readily available to read in documents like the US Department of Education’s College, Career and Civic Life C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards.
It is not clear what is filtering into the classroom because of SB 6. Former state Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston), who co-sponsored the bill, told the Statesman that the idea behind the 50 percent threshold was “that some excellent materials might not cover the entire curriculum, but might cover the part it covers very well, and a district might want to use supplemental materials to cover specific areas within the curriculum.”
He added that with the popularity of online instructional materials, it was “no longer necessary or even desirable, to require every bit of content to be in a single textbook, or (more likely) a single electronic source.”
SBOE Board Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff (R-Mt. Pleasant) also said in the Statesman article, “a lower percentage prevented board members from strong-arming publishers into making last-minute changes for political reasons and that increasing the threshold would have the ‘unintended consequence’ of scaring away publishers.”
Schools are flexing their muscles and straying from the SBOE approved list, according to Ratliff, who commented in the Star-Telegram article, “I do see it happening more and more.”
Jay Diskey, executive director of the Pre-K-12 Learning Group of the Association of American Publishers, pointed out to the Star-Telegram that for all the “clamor over some content” a school “can buy things that are not approved by the board at all.”
In the TFN Education Fund’s 2011 breakdown of SB 6, it stated: “It may take time for school districts to take full advantage of the changes in SB 6. But Texas is now moving toward a system in which what children learn in their classrooms will no long be held hostage to the personal and political agendas of SBOE members.”
Time will tell if the unintended consequences of SB 6 turn out to be an education progressive’s dream come true.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.