I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Effect of Texas science standards on textbooks

One of the main concerns about the new Texas science standards' rules concerning evolution is what effect these rules are likely to have on textbook selection both in Texas and elsewhere. IMO many predictions of this effect are exaggerations and I want to set the record straight here.

Here are some excerpts from the Texas textbook statutes:

Sec. 31.023. TEXTBOOK LISTS. (a) For each subject and grade level, the State Board of Education shall adopt two lists of textbooks. The conforming list includes each textbook submitted for the subject and grade level that meets applicable physical specifications adopted by the State Board of Education and contains material covering each element of the essential knowledge and skills of the subject and grade level in the student version of the textbook, as well as in the teacher version of the textbook, as determined by the State Board of Education under Section 28.002 and adopted under Section 31.024. The nonconforming list includes each textbook submitted for the subject and grade level that:

(1) meets applicable physical specifications adopted by the State Board of Education;

(2) contains material covering at least half, but not all, of the elements of the essential knowledge and skills of the subject and grade level in the student version of the textbook, as well as in the teacher version of the textbook; and

(3) is adopted under Section 31.024.

(b) Each textbook on a conforming or nonconforming list must be free from factual errors.

(citations omitted)

Sec. 31.024. ADOPTION BY STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION. (a) By majority vote, the State Board of Education shall:
.
(1) place each submitted textbook on a conforming or nonconforming list; or

(2) reject a textbook submitted for placement on a conforming or nonconforming list. . . . .

Sec. 31.025. LIMITATION ON COST. (a) The State Board of Education shall set a limit on the cost that may be paid from the state textbook fund for a textbook placed on the conforming or nonconforming list for a particular subject and grade level. The board may not reject a textbook for placement on the conforming or nonconforming list because the textbook's price exceeds the limit established under this subsection.

(b) Subject to Section 31.151, if a school district or open-enrollment charter school selects a textbook from a conforming or nonconforming list that exceeds the limit established under Subsection (a):

(1) the state shall pay the publisher an amount equal to the limit established under Subsection (a) multiplied by the number of textbooks the district or school requisitions; and

(2) the district or school is responsible for the remainder of the cost.

-- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sec. 31.101. SELECTION AND PURCHASE OF TEXTBOOKS BY SCHOOL DISTRICTS. (a) Each year, during a period established by the State Board of Education, the board of trustees of each school district and the governing body of each open-enrollment charter school shall:

(1) for a subject in the foundation curriculum, notify the State Board of Education of the textbooks selected by the board of trustees or governing body for the following school year from among the textbooks on the appropriate conforming or nonconforming list; or

(2) for a subject in the enrichment curriculum:

(A) notify the State Board of Education of each textbook selected by the board of trustees or governing body for the following school year from among the textbooks on the appropriate conforming or nonconforming list; or

(B) notify the State Board of Education that the board of trustees or governing body has selected a textbook that is not on the conforming or nonconforming list.

(b) If a school district or open-enrollment charter school selects a textbook for a particular subject in the enrichment curriculum and grade level that is not on the conforming or nonconforming list, the state shall pay to the district or school an amount equal to the lesser of:

(1) 70 percent of the cost to the district of the textbook, multiplied by the number of textbooks the district or school needs for that subject and grade level; or

(2) 70 percent of the limitation established under Section 31.025 for a textbook for that subject and grade level, multiplied by the number of textbooks the district or school needs for that subject and grade level.


(c) A school district or open-enrollment charter school that selects a textbook that is not on the conforming or nonconforming list:

(1) is responsible for the portion of the cost of the textbook that is not paid by the state under Subsection (b); and

(2) may use funds received from the state under Subsection (b) only for purchasing the textbook for which the funds were received.

(d) For a textbook that is not on the conforming or nonconforming list, a school district or open-enrollment charter school must use the textbook for the period of the review and adoption cycle the State Board of Education has established for the subject and grade level for which the textbook is used.

These are the facts as I see them:

(1) There is nothing in the state science standards that would prevent the Texas state board of education from approving a science text that contains criticisms of evolution or that omits particular criticisms of evolution (some last-minute out-of-the-blue additions that the board of education made to the state science standards could be considered to be critical of evolution).

(2) The names "conforming list" and "non-conforming list" are misleading -- local Texas school districts are entitled to reimbursement by the state for books from either list. A textbook has to be pretty bad to not make the "non-conforming" list -- books on this list are allowed to contain as little as one-half of the essential knowledge & skills required by the state standards. A book must not contain factual errors, but it may be difficult to prove that a book contains factual errors. The Texas textbook statutes also allow for whole or partial reimbursement by the state for supplemental textbooks in some cases.

(3) There appears to be nothing to prevent a local Texas school district from choosing a state-unapproved or state-rejected textbook for a "foundation curriculum" course (I presume biology is such a course) if the district pays the full cost of the books (if the course is in the "enrichment curriculum," the state pays 70% of the costs of state-unapproved or state-rejected textbooks). If a textbook costs, say, $100 and is used for five years, that is a cost of only about $20 per student per year.

(4) Public-school systems outside of Texas are not stuck with the textbooks that Texas approves -- too much has been made of the fact that these systems tend to adopt Texas-approved textbooks. It is easy and cheap to ,make separate editions of biology textbooks by adding or removing sections containing criticisms of evolution. There are already regular, Texas, and California editions of the very popular textbook Biology by Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine, and it would be interesting to know how these editions differ.

IMO there should be no supplementary books about evolution that are required reading -- such books imply that the main textbook's treatment of evolution is inadequate or suspect. IMO the main textbooks should cover criticisms of evolution. IMO it is OK to have a list of reference books concerning evolution that are not required reading, and such a list should contain books presenting all points of view. IMO the Dover school board made a mistake by choosing just one book, "Of Pandas and People," that presents just one point of view.

Here is an interesting article about a Texas hearing on biology textbook approval (this is probably the 2003 hearing):

This website gives detailed information about the textbook laws and regulations of all the states and also US territories (published Jan. 2005 -- recent rule changes are here). I have discovered an error on this website -- the website says of the Texas regulations, "Districts may use books not included on either the conforming or nonconforming list, but the board will pay only 70% of the cost of these textbooks, the remainder being the responsibility of the district," but that is only for textbooks for "enrichment curriculum" courses, not "foundation curriculum" courses.

We should do away with state standards for education anyway -- they have become a joke.
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