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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. The curriculum is basically the lessons and academic content taught in a school. It includes learning standards or objectives. It also includes the materials teachers use to teach their students. 

Decisions related to a school's curriculum lie with the local education authorities. Yet, there are standards these education authorities must follow when deciding on a school's curriculum.

Educational curriculum and textbook review for public schools need several considerations. For example, having high-quality instructional materials for all subject areas is crucial. This includes English Language Arts (ELA), social studies, social sciences, and technical education.

State law guides how schools select their instructional materials. The U.S. Department of Education is often involved with this process, too. It is their job to ensure each student receives a high-quality education. This includes students in middle school, high school, and special education programs.

The decisions made by local education authorities don't always make everyone happy. As a result, many school districts have developed textbook review processes. These procedures allow citizens to review the curriculum. They can voice their opinions about a proposed textbook. This article provides a brief overview of the textbook review process.

Reviewing Educational Materials

Educational programs in public schools are regularly reviewed. This is where board members step in. These board members come from various backgrounds. They may be from higher education and secondary education institutions, or they might be stakeholders in the community. 

During their reviews, board members look at various aspects of the educational program. They check if the curriculum matches the grade level and competency of the students. They also ensure the materials support students' learning in all subject matters.

Sometimes, schools need to use supplemental materials to support their main textbooks. This can be especially helpful in charter schools as these schools may have more flexible curricula than public schools. The use of supplemental materials also comes under review. This is to ensure quality and alignment with the entire curriculum.

In some states, enrollment numbers can impact the curriculum and instructional materials. For example, a school with a high enrollment might need more resources than a smaller one. Educational frameworks also guide what students learn at each grade level.

Besides reviewing the curriculum and textbooks, schools also have important initiatives. One of these is professional development for teachers. Through webinars and mentoring, teachers can improve their skills. They can stay updated with the latest teaching methods. These training opportunities may come from partnerships with higher education institutions or other educational organizations hosting these opportunities.

The goal of all these efforts is to make sure each student has access to a good education. The school does this by reviewing instructional materials. They also provide professional development to teachers. By doing this, schools can help students reach their educational potential.

Common Objections to Textbooks

Citizens may object to a particular textbook for any number of reasons. Their objections can be about anything, but these objections are often based on a person's ideology rather than facts.

In Florida, for example, the citizens of Lee County in 2014 had issues. Community members were upset with a sixth-grade history book. They believed it had a pro-Islam agenda because Islam had more space in the book than Christianity and Judaism. Other complaints didn't have to do with religion at all. People also objected that the book excluded certain figures, such as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Another example of objections comes from Texas. In 2014, the Texas school board approved new history textbooks after months of objections for numerous reasons, including: 

  • Politics 
  • Religion
  • Downplaying President Ronald Reagan's achievements 
  • Being too sympathetic to Islam 
  • Overstating the importance of Moses to the Founding Fathers 
  • Too much 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. They also limit the role each should play in the education of children in 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. The decision to change the textbook review process resulted from years of debates. These debates were usually over science and religion.

In recent years, religious and social conservatives have dominated the citizen review panels. Many objected to including climate change and evolution in science books. The new textbook review process involves professors and teachers. These members have priority on a 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 reviewing textbooks. The new policy allows the superintendent to appoint people to committees. These committees review textbooks.

The superintendent ensures the committee has up to one-third teachers. One-third are administrative staff and academic coaches. The remaining third are community members and parents. However, after a Florida Supreme Court case in 2022, the Court found this process violated Florida's Sunshine Laws.

Legal Challenges and Textbook Review

People have taken court action because of disagreements during the textbook review process. These cases usually occur when there is a disagreement about the content of a textbook.

One such case occurred in California. A sixth-grade history textbook was being reviewed. Certain groups were unhappy with how the book portrayed Hinduism. After the review, the California State Board of Education approved certain changes.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was still unsatisfied with the portrayal. The California Parents for Equalization of Education Materials (CAPEEM) also opposed the changes. 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. They retained the textbooks as the State Board of Education approved them. As for the CAPEEM case, it ended with a settlement and general release agreement.

Getting Legal Help

You should speak to a lawyer if you have questions about your state's textbook review process. They can help with any issues related to education in American law.

Contact an education attorney in your area today.

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