Texas Board of Education Refuses To Allow Professors To Fact-Check Textbooks

A woman in the audience holds a sign during a meeting of the State Board of Education, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: HARRY CABLUCK
A woman in the audience holds a sign during a meeting of the State Board of Education, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: HARRY CABLUCK

Conservative members of the Texas Board of Education don’t want to create a group of state university professors to fact-check students’ textbooks for potential errors, despite recent controversies over factually inaccurate information about slavery in schools’ educational materials.

Currently, only the publisher and public have the responsibility to fact-check. The Republican vice chairman of the board made the proposal to expand the process to professors.

This suggestion comes after a Houston mother and doctoral candidate, Roni Dean-Burren, recently took to social media when she discovered her son’s McGraw-Hill textbook referenced slaves as “immigrants” and “workers.” Her Facebook post went viral and was widely covered in the media, resulting in McGraw-Hill’s decision to publish a corrected version and offer free textbooks to teachers as well as cultural competency training.

But conservative board members rejected the proposal, saying that nothing is stopping from professors from calling out errors now. One of the Republicans in opposition, Geraldine Miller, said, “I don’t want to send a message that … we feel the college people are more important,” according to the Dallas Morning News. Instead, the Republican members who opposed the academic panel said they preferred a different proposal to ensure the current panels that a majority of members with “sufficient content expertise and experience.”

However, some board members pointed out that the public mainly reviews content that is dictated under the curriculum guidelines and leaves the rest of the textbook untouched. Although the panel that reviews the textbooks includes some people who are experts in the subject matter, including teachers, many of the of the members of the panel don’t have particular expertise in the subject area the textbooks reference.

The outrage over the McGraw-Hill reference to slaves as workers is only one of many controversies over inaccurate content the Texas Board of Education has become embroiled in over the years. In past years, board members didn’t want to mention the Crusades in history books, provide an explanation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was largely favorable to Israel, or allow students to study “Islamic fundamentalism and the subsequent use of terrorism by some of its adherents.”

The board has also been criticized for whether it acknowledges the existence of climate change, by both the left and right, depending on the content. A Texas textbooks that used to read “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change,” now reads “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society.” Those kinds of changes have motivated coalitions to campaign against “anti-Christian” and anti-American” changes in textbooks.

Texas has major sway on textbook publishers such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill because it purchases so many textbooks, although some experts say that influence is beginning to wane.