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Textbook Review in Public Schools

A hot topic when discussing schooling is education reform. One common form of education reform involves updating the curriculum. A curriculum is basically the lessons and academic content taught in a school. That includes learning standards or objectives and the materials that teachers will use to teach their students. Decisions related to a school's curriculum lie with the local education authorities. However, there are general standards that these education authorities must follow when deciding on a school's curriculum.

The decisions made by local education authorities don't always make everyone happy. For example, sometimes a school district adopts a textbook containing information that conflicts with the ideals and beliefs of certain students and parents. As a result of these disagreements, many school districts have developed textbook review processes. These procedures allow citizens to review and voice their opinions regarding a textbook that has been proposed as part of a public school's curriculum.

Common Objections to Textbooks

Although citizens' objections to a particular textbook can be about anything, they are often based on a person's ideology rather than facts. In Florida, for example, citizens in Lee County were upset with a sixth grade history book because they believed it had a pro-Islam agenda, mainly because Islam was given more space in the book than Christianity and Judaism. Other complaints didn't have to do with religion at all. People also objected to the fact that key events and leaders, such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, were omitted from the textbook.

Another example of objections comes from Texas. In 2014, the Texas school board approved new history textbooks after months of objections for several different reasons. Some objections were grounded in politics, while others were based on religion. Certain people felt that the books downplayed President Ronald Reagan's achievements and were too sympathetic to Islam. Others believed the books overstated the importance of Moses on the Founding Fathers of America and were biased in favor of a free-market system.

Reforming the Textbook Review Process

Some states have changed their textbook review processes in an attempt to limit the debate between religion and science and the role each should play in the education of children attending public schools. Texas is one state that has changed its textbook review rules. In January 2014, the Texas Board of Education imposed stricter rules on citizen review panels that scrutinize proposed textbooks. The decision to change the textbook review process resulted from years of ideological debates over science and religion. In recent years, the citizen review panels had been dominated by religious and social conservatives who objected to including climate change and evolution in science books. With the new textbook review process, professors or teachers will be given priority for serving on a textbook panel for subjects in their area of expertise.

Other areas of the country have also changed their textbook review process. In Florida, Collier County changed its policy for adopting textbooks. The new policy gives the superintendent the power to appoint people to committees that review textbooks. When appointing members to committees, the superintendent must ensure that the committee is made up of one-third teachers, one-third administrative staff and academic coaches, and one-third community members and parents.

Legal Challenges and Textbook Review

Court cases have been filed as a result of textbook review processes. These cases typically occur when there is disagreement regarding the content of a particular textbook and the changes suggested by citizens or various organizations were not accepted. One such case occurred in California. A sixth grade history textbook was being reviewed and certain groups were unhappy with how Hinduism was portrayed in the book. After a textbook review, some edits were accepted by the California State Board of Education.

However, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the California Parents for Equalization of Educational Materials (CAPEEM) - which was founded after the California State Board's decision regarding the textbook - were still unsatisfied with the portrayal of Hinduism in the textbook. As a result, these two organizations filed separate lawsuits against the school board. In the HAF case, the court ruled in favor of the State Board of Education, retaining the textbooks as they were approved by the State Board of Education. As for the CAPEEM case, it ended with a settlement and general release agreement.

Getting Legal Help

If you have questions about your state's textbook review process or any other issues related to education law, you can contact an education attorney in your area.

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