In last week’s broadcast, Need to Know covered the Texas education board’s push to rewrite textbooks. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that has uniform adoption standards from K-12, meaning all public schools get money to purchase specific textbooks based on the state board’s decision. (It’s not a district-by-district decision, like it is in some other states.) Because of the influence the state wields with publishers, some fear that these revisions could affect history textbooks for other parts of the country. Need to Know asked three experts whether changes to Texas’ social studies curriculum will have national ramifications or if claims about the state’s influence have been overstated.
Texas reporter, KUT NPR member station
Finding an answer to the question of the influence of Texas textbooks has been hard because you are relying on what other people will tell you. You can find someone to say anything. People like Jay Diskey [the executive director of the school division of the Association of American Publishers] will tell you Texas was very influential 10 to 15 years ago but now the industry is modular and can produce curriculum for every state without much cost. However, the issue is a matter of dispute. It is possible that states without uniform adoption could end up using Texas textbooks since the industry is less likely to make a textbook for individual districts. You can find a good [anecdote of Texas' influence] in this New York Times article.
Professor of history and history education at UNC; Chairman of board of trustees for National Council for History Education, Inc.
That’s what everybody thinks and that’s what I think. It makes sense to me but if you really wanted to study this you would have to research by each district because states [without uniform adoption] don’t buy in bulk. I think the more important issue is that people need to consider what the role of politicians should be in the creation of curriculum. People with a political agenda have created curriculum for the state of Texas. Is that a precedent that people want to follow or is that something that people want to reject? I think we need to reject this. People with political agendas are creating what the past means. People should make sure that it’s history teachers and experts in history creating state or local curriculum rather than those with a political agenda.
Former director of curriculum at the Texas Education Agency and lobbyist whose clients include a major textbook publisher
[The state's] buying power was what drove textbook companies to [accommodate changes to] Texas’ textbooks. In the late 1980s, Texas developed elements that became state standards. That and population increase and its buying power made it influential from the 1990s through to this last decade. Publishers responded to the clear cycle and secure market. Texas spent a lot of money on textbooks and would purchase 100 percent of the books in year one because the state would pay, where as other states, like California, broke money for textbooks into a formula for districts that didn’t guarantee an order. Texas still has buying power and it wont change a bit in the next year. However, we will see a decrease in this buying power three to four years from now. There have been more options created for Texas educators to choose instructional materials based on districts’ teaching approaches from the Commissioner’s list, released next year. Also, everything is being developed digitally so its much easier [for publishers] to customize and make changes for each state.